Sound Transit Board Wants To Accelerate ST3 Planning

Potential Approaches for Sound Transit

With corridor studies for rail from Downtown Seattle to Ballard and extension of Link south to Federal Way both moving forward next year, it looks likely that the Sound Transit board will move to accelerate planning work necessary for development of a Sound Transit 3 (or ST3) package. Yesterday, much of the board met at a workshop to answer three main questions:

  1. How aggressively should ST push forward planning work such as corridor studies and the Long Range Plan update?
  2. Should ST continue to focus on the light rail “spine” as their primary goal?
  3. Should ST engage state level transportation funding and authorization issues?

You can see all of the meeting documents here. For those interested in background, I would suggest reading this.

On the first question, there was a general desire among the board members in attendance for a more aggressive schedule than what ST is currently pursuing. Three planning processes were presented to the board:

  • Status Quo – would continue the status quo and take 8-12 years
  • Corridor Study – would initiate accelerated corridor planning followed by the Long Range Plan update taking a total of 6-10 years
  • Jump Start – would incorporate corridor studies in the Long Range Plan cutting the total planning timeline to 4 years

Many board members felt that the more aggressive planning schedule, the Jump Start, was preferable – including WSDOT chair Paula Hammond, who said she’d like to see ST3 as soon as possible so it can be integrated with WSDOT’s planning. Some board members had reservations about shooting for a 2016 ST3 package and felt that a 2020 package was more realistic. Not only would 2016 be a very tight planning window, but it would also mean that voters in the region would be asked to vote ST3 before Lynnwood Link and East Link construction were clearly visible. The tight planning window could also complicate the process of getting additional funding authority from the state (more on that later). Continue reading “Sound Transit Board Wants To Accelerate ST3 Planning”

Lynnwood Adds a Common-Sense Bus Stop

Community Transit

Shortly after Seattle and Metro finally got together to make bus-rail transfers adequate at Mt. Baker, the City of Lynnwood has now relented to make transfers at their Transit Center a little less arduous:

Route 196 began serving two new stops on 196th Street at 48th Avenue in Lynnwood [Tuesday]. The stops are near the Fred Meyer complex and provide the closest connection between this route and Lynnwood Transit Center

The city has allowed these new stops on a temporary basis and will be monitoring their use and traffic impacts. As part of the agreement with Lynnwood, the bus stop on westbound 196th at 50th Avenue has been removed.

Up until now, the City had refused Community Transit’s requests for Route 196 to have a stop at its nearest point to the Lynnwood Transit Center, due to traffic volumes at that location. But it’s better for riders, at least for now.

With two down, there are two other stop placements we’ve written about at major transfer points:  5th & Jackson and 4th & Lander.

North Sounder: Cities Should Step Up

The cost per rider statistics of North Sounder that Bruce cited a month ago are indeed quite damning, and have sparked additional reporting at the Times, PubliCola, and The Sun Break. I support reforming transit service to maximize long-term ridership for the amount spent, and Sounder seems to fail that test. Nevertheless, I hesitate when I hear calls to wind the service down.

Defenders have some valid points.

I’m unable to be as furious about the line as others seem to be. North Sounder is not deserted like the 42. Each train is carrying around 150 people; it’s just that it’s so expensive to provide the service that exists.

If it stands for anything, STB stands for high-quality service on selected corridors. North Sounder has elements of high-quality service (off-board payment, traffic-independence) but also is lacking important ones (frequency, span, freedom from mudslides).

Continue reading “North Sounder: Cities Should Step Up”

On Passenger Miles and Greenness

Route 522 in Downtown Bothell

Matt Yglesias had a great short post on why passenger-miles-travelled is a poor metric for measuring the greenness of a mass transit system:

The whole idea of trying to talk about which city’s mass transit system is greenest in terms of emissions per passenger-mile is terribly flawed.

Just think of it in terms of cars. Driving 5 miles in a 20 mpg car takes a quarter of a gallon of gasoline. Driving 25 miles in a 45 mpg car takes over half a gallon. Being the guy with the 5 mile commute and the 20 mpg car is considerably greener than being the guy driving much further in his Prius. The point of intra-urban transportation networks—whether you’re talking about the mass transit element or the private cars or bicycles or whatever—isn’t to transport people arbitrary distances, it’s to get people where they’re going. Having trips that aren’t very long isn’t cheating, it’s a great way to achieve efficiency.

Of course, greenness isn’t the only useful measure of a transportation system. I’ll just add two points on top of what Matt has said.
Continue reading “On Passenger Miles and Greenness”

News Roundup: Your New Chair


This is an open thread.

Rainier Beach Planning Open House Tonight

Proposed Station Area Zoning Changes. Codes 1 and 4 are Low-Rise L-3; 2, 3, and 5 are 85′ Heights

Tomorrow evening from 6pm to 8pm, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development is hosting an open house on the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan Update:

Wednesday, November 28, 6:00 to 8:00pm

South Shore K-8 School, 4800 S. Henderson Street, Seattle

The final plan has a bunch of strategies for making the area more inviting. Transit and zoning are not the emphasis, but beginning on Page 32 it discusses the station area and how it can become more active, to include transit master plan improvements and development.

This meeting is not about the plan, which is complete, but its implementation. Rainier Beach is not a neighborhood where private development interests are rushing in, so it’s important to have an affirmative strategy to get things started.


What’s Next for Pierce Transit?


Projected Service Hours

Today the Pierce County Auditor is slated to certify the failure of Pierce Transit Proposition 1 by a thin margin of 704 votes, out of more than 200,000 votes cast (49.83% Approved to 50.17% Rejected).

There is really no way to sugar coat the potential impacts of the failure of Prop 1. This will mean an uncertain future for many riders in Pierce County, restricting access to jobs for low-income individuals, health care for people with disabilities, and schools for college and high school students. With the failure of Proposition 1, Pierce County is on course for drastic service reductions in 2014 in the realm of a 50% cut of current service levels. That is on top of a 43% cut in service since Pierce Transit’s 2007 peak of roughly 625,000 fixed route service hours.

Weekend and weekly midday service are slated to disappear and no buses would run after 7pm on any day. Paratransit service for seniors, disabled veterans, and other people with disabilities will vanish along with the fixed route.

For comparison, bus service would be lower than when Pierce Transit first began operating back in 1980. If nothing is done, it would mean less service than cities smaller than Tacoma such as Olympia and Bellingham. It would render the local transit system incapable of providing even a minimal level of mobility.

By the Numbers

Continue reading “What’s Next for Pierce Transit?”

Tomorrow: Open House for Greenwood Stop Improvements

King County Metro 5 on Aurora
The 5 doesn’t often go this fast

Tomorrow, from 5 to 7 PM, at Greenwood Public Library, SDOT is hosting an open house to discuss a program of bus stop improvement and consolidation on Greenwood between 87th St and 105th St. Similar to the recent Ballard stop consolidation and improvements, this program arises from SDOT’s Bridging the Gap funding for small transit projects: the money will pay for bus bulbs or bus islands, and the stop consolidation is necessary to reap the gains in speed and reliability from those stop improvements.

For this section of Greenwood, there’s a twist: the road mostly lacks sidewalks. In these areas of north Seattle where sidewalks were not built before annexation by the city, they are generally only built when an adjacent property is redeveloped, or SDOT receives a grant to do so. The improved stops may therefore not connect to a continuous sidewalk, however SDOT expects to design most or all of them so they directly connect to a corner with curb ramps for wheelchair access.

SDOT’s packages of small-capital improvements to transit corridors in outlying urban villages make incremental but real improvements in service quality and rider experience, and I’m pleased to see this continue in Greenwood. My only regret is that it doesn’t go far enough: the stops south of 85th St are in just as dire need of this treatment, and the payoff would be even greater (because there are more riders on the bus closer to downtown).

If you live the area and would like bus service that sucks less, I urge you to attend the open house and give feedback on the proposed improvements, and in support of the stop consolidation.

Seattle Times: More Housing Means Lower Prices

Whatever one might think of the Seattle Times editorial board, there is one story that the paper is running this week that confirms that their reporters are at least in touch with reality. The headline—Apartment boom in Ballard comes with risk of overbuilding—is a little bit odd and displays some of the basic prejudices held by many about density, housing, and affordability. Reading the headline one would think “overbuilding” was a crisis for Seattle. But the story simply confirms what many of us have been arguing for a while now: if you want lower housing prices, allow the construction of more housing. The only people hurt by too much supply are developers.

Increasing housing supply could mean lower rents, more jobs, and developers eating themselves!

The article by Eric Pryne reads like a primer in the economics of housing supply and demand.

Developers are building [apartments] because demand has risen, led by a demographic surge of young adults who prefer in-city living, at a time when there’s little new supply.

Few projects were built during the recession. The last new complex in Ballard opened more than two years ago.

Because of the economy—it is harder to buy a single-family house these days—and the appeal of living in the city younger people are opting for living in Seattle rather than other places. This is exactly what transit advocates, sustainability  and smart growth proponents all want to see happen. But all these people need a place to live, and the market is responding by building more housing.

What does that do to the price of housing in the Seattle market?

Owners of new rental projects, with loans to pay off, will do whatever it takes to fill units, Gardner says, and that will put pressure on other landlords to cut rents or offer concessions to keep up.

“By the end of 2013,” he says, “it’s going to get ugly.”

Ugly for whom?

Continue reading “Seattle Times: More Housing Means Lower Prices”

King County Council District 1: The Candidates on Transit

One of the more underappreciated outcomes of the election is the vacancy in Attorney General-Elect Bob Ferguson’s old seat on the King County Council. Of all the various levels of government, the County Council is probably the most important legislature for determining how transit actually operates, as it exercises tight control over King County Metro and approves the Executive’s appointments to the Sound Transit Board.

To fill the vacancy, Executive Dow Constantine will soon nominate three candidates, and the Council will pick their next colleague from that list. To find out what we’re in for, and allow readers to tell their representatives what they think, STB asked all seven contenders simple questions about their views.

STB’s endorsement will come in a few days. If you live in District 1, you should let Executive Constantine know who you want to represent you. If you live in one of the other districts, tell your councilmember how they should vote in this process.

Briefly, the candidates are: Kenmore Mayor David Baker, real-estate attorney Rod Dembowski, Shoreline City Councilmember Will Hall, Shoreline State Rep. Cindy Ryu, former Futurewise attorney Keith Scully, low-income housing activist Sarajane Siegfriedt, and King County Deputy Ombudsman Chuck Sloane. Mr. Dembowski was the only one who either did not check his publicly available email or chose not to respond. [UPDATE: I now have responses for Dembowski, who was able to see his opponents’ responses before sending his.]

We’ve summarized all the responses in the chart below the jump; they are my characterizations . The names in the header row link to a pdf of their full replies.

Continue reading “King County Council District 1: The Candidates on Transit”

Bellevue Council Spins Tales, Seattle Times Repeats Them

Three of the East Link maintenance facility study locations

The blurb is enough to show the Times didn’t investigate this story at all:

“Bellevue City Council members are angry Sound Transit didn’t tell them it was considering building a large rail yard in the city last year”

Basically, anti-rail Bellevue City Council members Kevin Wallace and Jennifer Robertson have found a new way to oppose East Link. They claim that they had no idea that Sound Transit was considering maintenance facility locations in Bellevue! No idea at all!

Except that not only have these identical maintenance facility locations been in the final environmental impact statement for East Link for over a year, they were also in the draft environmental impact statement published in 2008 (see section 2, “alternatives considered”). They’ve even been displayed at Sound Transit open houses – including at least one physically in Bellevue City Hall. Furthermore, comments on maintenance facility options are included in correspondence dating as far back as 2009 between the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit on East Link options.

Given that I’ve personally spoken to more than one Bellevue City Council member about possibilities for a maintenance facility, and that it came up in the investigation of council member Kevin Wallace, it’s clearly a falsehood that they are in any way surprised about this part of the East Link project.

The Times says one thing to try to cover this ridiculous allegation:

“But Sound Transit officials told Bellevue in 2009 they had decided instead to locate a major rail yard south of Seattle and store a limited number of trains on the Eastside.”

In discussions I’ve had with Sound Transit staff, that option has never been a long term solution, and I don’t believe that a rail yard was ever cancelled, just delayed.

The supposed paper of record for our region shows significant bias in this piece, and fails to fact check Bellevue city council members, or accurately portray their knowledge of the largest infrastructure project in their city. I look forward to a correction from the Seattle Times.

Slightly Subsidized Parking for Sounder North

Photo by Sound Transit

I was all set to slay Sound Transit for leasing 103 parking spaces in Edmonds for $150 per month each, following a news cycle of recriminations over high operating costs. Park-and-rides are necessary evils, good money after bad, and all that. But when I sat down and worked out the numbers, I found that it may be one of the more cost-effective things an agency has done in a long time.

Let’s build a little model with the following assumptions:

  • Every space is full and brings a single rider, or two boardings. No carpools.
  • Each boarding generates the 2011 North Sounder Average of $3.30, as stated in the 2011 Fare Revenue Report (p. 24). Edmonds is the lowest fare to Seattle, so that’s probably a slight overestimate.
  • None of the lot users previously walked, biked, kiss-and-rode, carpooled, or took the bus to the station because it was too hard to park. We simply don’t have the data to evaluate this properly, though I suspect this is more true than not.
  • The marginal cost of carrying a rider on the train is zero.*

Assuming 255 work days per year, the parking contract comes out to $3.55 per boarding, meaning the net subsidy is 25 cents per marginal ride. That’s an order of magnitude lower even than putting on another bus, providing lots of margin for the model assumptions to be wrong while still making it a relative bargain. It’s one advantage of building attractive high-capacity transit: simple schemes can boost ridership and attract high fares for little or no net cost.

* According to ST’s Kimberly Reason, insurance and 1.96% state tax on fares mean this isn’t strictly true.

Bellevue Launches Downtown Livability Initiative

Photo by Flickr user Patricksmercy

Next Thursday, Bellevue will host an open house and scoping meeting on its newly-launched Downtown Livability initiative (.pdf), which is expected to address a range of topics, from building height limits to street-level pedestrian amenities.  While the City is still in the early stages of pre-scoping, there’s a fairly comprehensive list of analysis areas online (including street food, wahoo!).  The impetus behind the initiative is largely moving downtown Bellevue away from its current character as a monolithic office-oriented district to a more vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.

Design and planning wonks will appreciate what the open house will have to offer.  From the news release:

The open house will engage a wide range of stakeholders including property owners, design professionals, residents and the Downtown workforce. Participants can visit four display stations that will highlight enjoying downtown, downtown design features, mobility and a 3-D modeling of downtown.

Maps and visuals will examine many facets of downtown living which include public spaces, parks, building form and height, design guidelines, sign criteria, maintenance standards, the pedestrian corridor, and more. Staff will be available to take public input on the scope of the Downtown Livability Initiative. The public comment scoping period runs through December 31, 2012 and early public comment is encouraged.

While the initiative is separate from the Downtown Transportation Plan Update, both projects will be advanced in conjunction with one another, borrowing elements and work where appropriate.  Building mid-block crossings and through-block pedestrian connections, for example, will go hand in hand with the Livability Initiative’s design and wayfinding elements.  The project will also be complementary with ongoing Transit Master Plan work and East Link implementation.

The project reflects one of Bellevue’s most serious downtown planning efforts to-date, so ped/bike/transit and density supporters would do well to have a say in the process.  The open house and scoping meeting will be held at Bellevue City Hall Room 1E-108 next Thursday, November 29th, from 5 to 7pm.  Comments will also be accepted through email at

News Roundup: Happy Thanksgiving


This is an open thread.

ST 3Q 2012 Ridership Report

Sound Transit recently released its 3rd Quarter ridership report, and it is good news all around for Link, including improved reliability, solid ridership growth, reduced operating costs, and reduced customer complaints.

Reliability: Comparison across years and across modes is a bit of a mess because each mode’s definition of reliability is different, and Central Link moved from a schedule-based reliability metric to a headway-based one this year. These metrics are defined every year in the budget.

ST Express defines “on-time” as no more than 10 minutes late. Sounder must be no more than 7 minutes late at the terminus. Central Link now defines on time as maintaining headways within three minutes of the expectation but the budget doesn’t specify a time standard.* In previous years, a train was defined as late in accordance with the internal Link schedule.

With all those warnings, here’s the chart:

Continue reading “ST 3Q 2012 Ridership Report”

Restructuring Renton Service for RapidRide F

Route 110 in Renton
Route 110 in Renton, and the possible F Line extension to The Landing

While Metro won’t be making any changes in north-central Seattle with the opening of RapidRide E next September, the agency is proposing some minor changes to the bus network in Renton with the concurrent opening of RapidRide F. The F Line will replace Route 140, boosting peak headways to ten minutes, and extending frequent service into the evening and weekend; Metro is also seeking funding for an extension of the F Line to The Landing, an urban village development a couple of miles north from the 140’s eastern terminus at Renton Transit Center.

The are five routes near the 140 alignment which Metro proposes to modify or delete:

  • Deleting Route 110. This seems to be a Sounder-Boeing commuter shuttle with very modest ridership numbers, which duplicates the 140 for much of its length, and is within a quarter to a third of a mile of the Landing extension for almost all the rest of its length.
  • Deleting underperforming DART route 908, replacing most of its fixed route with minor changes to DART 909 and Route 105.
  • Converting the little-used hourly Route 155 to a DART route.

These changes seem straightforward and sensible, and I hope Metro is able to come up with funding for the Landing extension, as it looks like a cheap and east way to boost ridership and mobility in that area. I particularly like how Metro staff have, for the 110, shown the number of boardings along segments of the route which don’t directly overlap the F Line. Getting real ridership data out to the public in an understandable form is essential for having intelligent public debates about spending transit money.

Metro is having two open houses on this subject, at the following times and locations:

Tuesday, Nov. 27
Renton Technical College

Room C-111
3000 NE Fourth Street
6-7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 29
Renton High School

400 S Second Street
6-7:30 p.m.

You can find more information, including maps and a survey, at the Have a Say website.

Finally, not a Metro proposal at all, but something which I think would be a huge mobility improvement for area: a concept I outlined on the blog a while ago, to restructure the 8 and 106. This would double the daytime frequency of the 106, and much better connect riders in Renton to their neighbors in Skyway and the Rainier Valley, at minimal cost to Metro.

RapidRide C & D: No Schedule, No OneBusAway

OneBusAway Alert for C/D Line
Note that “8 minutes” is simply the headway divided by two.

RapidRide, notoriously, lacks a published schedule at all times at which the service operates at a frequency of every 15 minutes or better, which is from the start of service until 11 PM, every day. Moreover, OneBusAway has never worked reliably (if at all) for the C & D Lines (except for the late night publicly-scheduled trips). For myself, I know this lack of information makes me prefer the new Route 40 for most of the Ballard-Belltown trips I make, even though RapidRide serves the doorstep of my apartment building. While exchanging emails with Metro staff a few weeks ago, I inquired about these issues:

What is the rationale for not publishing a schedule for RapidRide in the periods where the bus runs less frequently than every 10 minutes? I’m aware of the given reason that it makes it easier to add buses, but it’s highly unlikely that Metro will ever need to add service in the off-peak on these routes, and 15 minutes is not, in fact, “so frequent you don’t need a schedule” (especially when the real-time arrival signs default to “refer to schedule” when one doesn’t exist). Moreover, it’s not possible to reliably plan a trip using the provided public data, as travel times vary so much throughout the day (particularly on the D Line), its not possible to know immediately how long your trip will take.

Alternatives already exist which provide peak-period operational flexibility to the agency while conveying to riders the off-peak timepoints required to plan reliable and fast connections; for example, Vancouver’s schedule layout, which is used for all of its bus routes:

Will Metro acknowledge the inadequacy of the current schedule information and commit to finding a format to better inform riders, for RapidRide and all frequent-service routes, as is done by other agencies across North America? Because no significant restructures will be happening next year, lots of staff time should be available to address this and other service-quality problems with RapidRide and the frequent transit network.

Since I wrote that email, Metro seems to have enabled real-time arrival signs at almost all the “station” stops outside of Downtown and Belltown (I mentioned why those stops were delayed previously), so many riders will know, once they get to a stop, how long they will wait. That is an improvement, but much of the point of a bus schedule, or OneBusAway realtime information, is to minimize time spent sitting in bus shelters, and it’s too late by the time you get there.

Metro’s response, and a discussion, after the jump.  Continue reading “RapidRide C & D: No Schedule, No OneBusAway”

Alert: Sounder North Canceled Due to Mudslide

Sound Transit has announced that a mudslide between Seattle and Everett has occurred and Sounder North service will be canceled until Wednesday evening at the earliest. Amtrak service will also be canceled.

Northline Sounder service between Seattle and Everett is canceled for the evening commute on Monday, 11/19 because of mudslides.  Sounder northline trains will not be available until the Wednesday, 11/21 evening commute due to the 48 hour moratorium for passenger train service.