Light Rail Excuse of the Week: Plate of Nations

The light rail excuse of the week series highlights activities in the Rainier Valley for those of you that might want to try riding Link occasionally, but have little reason to go to the Southeast or the airport. This week’s selection is the Plate of Nations:

From March 24 to April 6, ten MLK restaurants will offer special $15 and $25 meals to share. New this year, a “passport” invites diners to earn stamps for sampling the global cuisines of all 10 restaurants and to become eligible for PRIZES, in addition to ten contests on facebook to win GIFT CERTIFICATES to Plate of Nations restaurants!

Not all of these restaurants are as exotic as the theme suggests, but they’re all inexpensive. Bananas Grill and St. Dames are both former LREOTWs, and Rainier BBQ was on the Travel Channel, so it’s a step above the same old chains.

Steinbrueck on Density and Transit



STB’s posting last Friday morning challenged me on a couple of my comments at the recent Seattle Neighborhood Coalition breakfast meeting. I spoke and answered questions for 45 minutes– the brief quotes you picked up from PubliCola were only a small fragment of what I said.

First, let me be clear that “do density right” is not code language for keeping densities low. This is a dissing of caring, thinking people in our Seattle neighborhoods. There are many elements to “doing it right,” and one of the most important is having a thoughtful planning process that engages the affected neighborhoods, transit riders and community. For example, TOD should be planned and coordinated around the established neighborhoods, not the other way around. Well-planned TOD should and can be customized to the neighborhood it serves, using best practices proven to be successful to growing transit ridership and building walkable, livable communities.

Most citizens I speak to throughout the city support growth, but have legitimate issues that go beyond density. Density is a value-less term, and certainly not a panacea for curbing sprawl. Just look at the vast, sprawling metro regions of the densest cities in the U.S., Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles if you think that. Planning should be structured to put the community’s vision for true livability into play. Planning recommendations and decisions should be openly arrived at so ordinary citizens can have some confidence in the outcomes, and support goals for compact walkable communities.

It’s been my observation that most people in most neighborhoods accept that Seattle is going to grow. They hope it will grow sustainably, and I do too. The basic issue is where the new development is going to go, and its look, fit, and feel. I believe it should be channeled into Urban Centers and Urban Villages as called for in the city comprehensive plan. There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods. We have plenty of unbuilt capacity within the Urban  Villages to support growth for decades to come.

Regarding rail transit, I enthusiastically support Sound Transit’s Link light rail program. In fact, I was on the Regional Transit Advisory Committee in the 1990’s, which urged moving forward with regional light rail. The Link system is creating a needed backbone of major trunk lines in the region’s densest corridors. Link will connect almost all of our major Urban Centers in ways that buses could never accommodate. But the rest of the transit system in our region will remain almost entirely buses, one of the largest transit systems in the country, serving thousands of daily commuters.  Good, frequent bus service will always be necessary to connect the rest of our city neighborhoods and our light rail stations.

Successful urban transit around the country is always a multi-modal system, and it includes accommodation of pedestrian, cyclists and transit riders, both bus and rail. Good transit planning should identify the optimum mode in each corridor and not assume that rail (light rail or streetcar) is automatically the best choice everywhere we look. Density should then be planned sensitively to support transit ridership– light rail and buses- around established neighborhoods.

The author is a former City Councilmember and current candidate for Mayor of Seattle.

Metro Delaying RapidRide E & F

RapidRide A. Photo by Oran.
RapidRide A. Photo by Oran.

Moments ago, Metro sent out a news release indicating that the agency intends to delay implementation of new RapidRide Lines E & F:

King County Metro Transit has revised the scheduled launch dates for the RapidRide E and F lines, allowing time to complete needed construction on facility upgrades and features that will make future service more reliable.

Before launching service, construction is needed on over 100 bus stops and stations and upgraded transit signals at more than 60 intersections – which stretch across two corridors, 21 miles and six cities.

Metro reviewed and revised the construction timelines with cities to reflect the complexity of the work needed to launch service on these two lines, said Kevin Desmond, Metro Transit general manager.

“Our customers will agree that it’s better for us to reschedule the launch of service until everything is complete and the technology is tested and working,” Desmond said. Rider amenities needed before launching the service include next bus arrival signs and ORCA card readers at stations, as well as coordinated traffic signals for buses.

“We learned clear lessons after the rocky launch for the C and D lines last year and are taking these steps so things go smoother for our customers with these lines,” Desmond said.

Both RapidRide E and F lines previously were scheduled to launch September 2013. Under the new schedule, RapidRide E will begin service in February 2014, replacing the existing Route 358 which carries nearly 12,000 weekday riders between Shoreline and downtown Seattle. RapidRide F now is slated to launch in June 2014, replacing Route 140 between Burien, Sea Tac, Tukwila and Renton. Route 140 carries about 3,500 weekday riders.

I spoke to Metro General Manager Desmond earlier this afternoon. The decision to delay the introduction of these upgraded services arose from a debriefing ordered by Desmond after RapidRide C & D received a distinctly mixed reaction. The D Line in particular debuted with no signal priority, inoperative real-time arrival signs and ORCA readers, and many stations still under construction; work on electronics in downtown Seattle is continuing in partnership with the city, as is a project to reconstruct 7th Ave NW to provide a proper terminal loop in Crown Hill.

I’ve been hoping to hear this announcement for quite some time. For months, sources at Metro and SDOT have been telling me it was highly unlikely that the E Line would be ready for a proper launch by September. While even a fully implemented RapidRide E will provide neither “rapid transit”, nor a truly transformative level of local-service frequency (for which we would be aiming at five- to ten-minute daytime headways), those things would cost real money that simply isn’t in the cards for now; but within the context of the current budget, there were few things I feared more than another botched RapidRide launch in Seattle. Metro has made the right choice here, to delay the project, and take the time get it right, and I applaud them for that.

Some things aren’t changing: there are still no plans for substantive service restructures around the RapidRide E launch. Desmond assured me that whether or not the legislature gives the agency additional taxing authority to avert the looming 17% cuts, there will be future proposals to restructure and improve the bus network. Unfortunately, though, rather than working on ways to make the bus network better, Metro service planners are currently fleshing out out a 17%-cut contingency scenario. That agency staff must waste their time working on politically-induced crises rather than doing useful work is a tangible cost of the obstructionism and government-by-crisis that we’ve grown used to from Olympia the last few years.

Of the legislature and governor, we ask only for the ability to vote to tax ourselves, to pay for a service that is essential to the economic and social health of the biggest city in Washington state, so our transit agency can get back to planning for a future of growth and improvement. This shouldn’t be hard.

UPDATE: Lindblom has more details; looks like the F Line will be extended to The Landing.

When Small Apartments are Outlawed, We’ll Just Go Back to Having Roommates

47008.1020.ALast month, I made the argument that, in a transit-friendly city, there ought to be a variety of affordable housing options within walking distance of frequent, all-day transit.

I got some interesting responses, including one from Matt Yglesias, who made the point that you can’t force “family-friendly” housing since a 3-bedroom house would be equally attractive to three roommates whom, by virtue of their three salaries, could outbid a 2-earner family.  That’s sort of true, although I would argue that three early-career roommates won’t necessarily out-earn two mid-career parents.  But that’s a quibble.

Yglesias’ response was on my mind when I read this article in the New City Collegianlinked to by Andrew, about the trouble college students on Capitol Hill are having affording rent:

Amy, an international student from Korea, lives on Capitol Hill and rents a two bedroom apartment for $1,300 a month. The contract says only two people may reside there, but skirting the rules Amy now lives with three other roommates. “It doesn’t make sense. I can’t pay this much. As a result, I have three roommates, which means I live in violation of the contract.” The contract violation has left Amy perpetually anxious of eviction saying her manager checks every unit randomly and is “scared every day…I have to sleep with another girl in the same bed. I can’t have my private room.”

To help ease the spike in housing costs, some developers have been building smaller, more affordable apartments such as the aPodment-style units that Tom Rasmussen may want to put a stop to.  But wouldn’t an alternative solution be to build more 3- and 4-bedroom housing that, as Yglesias argues, could be rented out to a few college kids or recent college grads? And if a young family was also interested in such housing, perhaps they might take advantage of it as well?

Come to think of it, the whole reason these small apartments exist is that they’re technically classified as a single dwelling unit in the city code.  That is to say, the primary difference between 4 “aPodments” and a single 4BR apartment is the presence of locks on all the bedroom doors.

I lived with roommates for a while when I was younger, and it has its ups and downs. It’s less lonely and cheaper than living alone, but yeah, sometimes they leave dishes in the sink and don’t clean the bathroom.  So I get the appeal of an affordable apartment that lets you live inexpensively and still have some privacy. What I don’t understand is what Rasmussen’s moratorium is supposed to solve. Young people will still need cheap housing. They’ll just go back to doing what they’ve usually done and use Craig’s List to find roommates.

Put another way, the underlying demand is still there. Some college kids on the Hill are now fanning out to Beacon Hill and the Central District to find houses they can rent and live in with roommates.  But the number of 3- and 4-bedroom houses with good transit access in those neighborhoods is finite and increasingly expensive.  Hence: aPodments, which are just a snazzy new name for the kind of shared housing that 20-somethings in a city have always gravitated toward. Except they have locks on the bedroom doors, individual rental agreements, and meet modern fire codes.

Appreciate Your Bus Drivers Monday, and Everyday

Photo by Oran

Before we let this fine weekend fade to black, I want to remind everyone that Monday is Bus Driver Appreciation Day.  We’ve mentioned this holiday— yes, I’m calling it a holiday– quite a few times in previous years.  But it’s a day that’s very easy to overlook, especially since bus drivers can often be seen as just mechanical extensions of the bus itself.  The reality, of course, is that our transit drivers are human, and as much as we complain about operator wages, slow drivers, mean drivers, etc., these folks are just other people trying to make a living.

It is true that no two transit operators are the same.  They all have varying degrees of personality and operating prowess, so it’s very possible to find an operator who seems like the nicest person on the planet, but also  just about the slowest driver ever.  Conversely, there are drivers with little interest in customer service, but lots of interest in getting to their layover as quickly as possible.  While yes, it is very important to maintain and enforce operating standards, it’s very easy to take our frustrations out on drivers when those standards aren’t met, despite the grueling responsibilities they have daily.

Instead of dwelling on negative feedback, the best thing we can do as riders is to focus on positive feedback and augment it when we see great things happening, while still remaining appreciative of each and every drivers’ work.  For example, operators are often complimented more for their customer skills than they are for their ability to run on time.  So when you encounter an operator doing the right thing, particularly displaying an uncanny ability to stay on schedule, submit a commendation!  You’ll only be creating a positive feedback loop that will help even more drivers do the right thing.

So on Monday, and everyday, for that matter, appreciate your drivers.  And for those that go the extra distance, be sure to let them know.

An Appeal to Megacommuters

commute time 2
Average commute times, WNYC map.

There was an excellent piece in the Slog on Monday, based on both NYU work and a US Census graphic, showing that the Seattle area both ranks 10th in longest commutes, and that we have the 3rd fastest growth for long commutes.  The census piece introduced me to the term megacommuter, someone that commutes over 90 minutes and 50 miles each way.  One out of every 122 full time workers in the US is a megacommuter, and 10.8 million in the US commute more than an hour each way.  With so many megacommuters out there, I’ve decided to address them directly.

Dear Megacommuter,

I don’t know your situation.  I can think of at least a few tragic life situations that would keep me commuting with over 20% of my waking, non-working life(1).  But if you’re similar to a friend of mine that commuted this far just to have a large home, I’d like to make sure you have really thought through your choice.

Let’s take a look at the money you’re spending on this commute.  Looking at only tangible vehicle costs, ignoring softer numbers like the increased number of accidents you’ll be in, the cost of your reduced health from increased hours of sitting, etc., you’ll spend around $220,000 over the length of a 30 year mortgage by driving 50 miles each way(2).

Now let’s look at these 15+ hours a week you’re spending commuting.  If you plowed just half of those back into work by living close by, and made the median income in Seattle of $61,000, over those same 30 years you’d make an extra $229,000 after taking a third out for taxes and assuming no bonus for overtime or promotion for all of your dedication(3).  But rather than working those hours you could spend time with your family, start a hobby, or go to school.  Or you could take 293 extra weeks of vacation(4).

Continue reading “An Appeal to Megacommuters”

Peter Steinbrueck and “Density Done Right”


I’m sure Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck isn’t trolling me, but he might as well have been as he addressed the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, via PubliCola:

Finally, Steinbrueck—the crowd favorite—argued that good design and  walkability are as important as simply creating density. “There is a way to do density right and there is a wrong way to do it,” Steinbrueck, an opponent of the current South Lake Union upzone said. “I know how to do density right.”

In an indirect shot at rail-enamored McGinn, he said that buses, not light rail, are “the most cost-effective, proven mass transit system.”

I’m genuinely astounded that a serious Seattle candidate is arguing buses vs. light rail like it’s 2007, and more so that he’s coming down on the anti-rail side. But that’s way too stale of a fight to reenact.

I have my own aesthetic principles for what a good neighborhood looks like, but I’m willing to subordinate those to what the neighbors want, because the absolute imperative is to have lots of things (households and jobs) per unit area. That’s what the climate, the unspoiled habitat, and the fate of Seattle’s political power in Olympia care about.

So I have a challenge for the “do density right” crowd: the next time there’s some terrible upzoning proposal that would allow X units, I would like to see an alternate proposal with X units “done right.” Unless it were specifically designed to make sure no one could ever economically build it, I’d have no objections to it.

If the issue is aesthetics and form rather than density itself, taking the existing zoning proposal and chopping off 25′ is not constructive. Chopping off 25′ and then freeing up an appropriate number of blocks for multifamily development is constructive. Chopping off 25′ and taking steps to replace parking with units is constructive.

Unfortunately, my suspicion is that a significant chunk of the opposing coalition equates “density done right” with “less density”. After all, many people don’t want to see more low-income housing, or more competition for free city-owned street parking in their neighborhoods, or more local congestion, all of which sometimes happen with more units and more activity. That’s not a crazy set of concerns! But I don’t see why the city should indulge those preferences when they contradict broader goals for our city, region, and world. I hope my suspicion is wrong, because it’s far more important that we get the units than that those units take any particular form.

Car2Go and Paid Parking: A Love Affair

Car2go promo photo

I had to run a couple of errands on my way downtown recently, so I walked a couple of blocks from my house and grabbed a Car2go.  As I entered downtown and started hunting for a legal parking spot to ditch the car, it occurred to me how Car2go and paid parking are, as they say, two great tastes that go great together.

Paid parking, in an ideal Shoup-ian world, is priced so that some percentage of on-street spaces is always free. This, in turn, makes Car2go an attractive option since you know you won’t have to burn minutes circling for parking when you get to your destination.  Car2go would likely not be possible in a world of unrestricted “free” parking.

This makes Car2go a great example of what Steven Johnson calls “adjacent possible” innovation – an evolutionary change that reconfigures the existing system to create something new. The service relies on very little in the way of systemic change, save for the magical parking permit arrangement between the company and the city.  Car2go simply takes existing facts on the ground – smartphones, RFID chips, Smart cars, paid parking – and recombines them into something new and useful.

While Car2go has gotten off to a great start in Seattle, it’s clearly just version 1.0 of what could be a more seismic shift in transportation. Dave Roberts had a great piece in Grist recently about “widgets versus systems” and how driverless cars could be truly transformative on a city or regional level.  Changes at that scale, however will have to go beyond adjacent-possible-type innovation and towards a more fundamental reworking of our infrastructure. As Charles Mudede wrote recently in Slogonly government is capable of such systemic change.

Legislation Update

State Capitol Interior (wikimedia)

Last evening was the cutoff for non-budget bills to pass either the Senate or House. As Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon explained to us in a comment, the main revenue bills for transit are still alive. In an email, he further clarified that Speaker Chopp made the determination that these bills are “necessary” to pass the budget, which allows them to linger until they have the votes to pass.

Here’s what else has a chance:

SB 5088, designed to obstruct light rail in Clark County, passed the Senate 25-24 in what I believe was a straight party-line vote (counting dissident Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon as Republicans).

HB 1563, the bill that allows agencies to sell land below market value to build affordable housing,  passed the House 51-46.

HB 1045, allowing cities to lower their own speed limits, passed the House 86-10.

HB 1648, which extends development funds for urban infill instead of just sprawl,  passed the House 89-8.

HB 1324, which I missed last time, merges County Ferry Districts back into their counties, and passed the House 97-0. According to Fitzgibbon, consolidating King County Ferry District administration with KCDOT will save about $400,000 annually.

News Roundup: The Obvious Answer

Sound Transit
Sound Transit

This is an open thread.

Bellevue Adds Focus Group for Downtown Employees

After a number of you took issue with the exclusivity of Bellevue’s focus groups for its Downtown Livability Initiative, the City responded by adding a new session geared at downtown employees.  While the addition doesn’t make the target audience entirely exhaustive of everyone who will be affected by the plan, it is a big step toward including many who spend a lot of time in downtown Bellevue but don’t necessarily live there.

The new focus group will be held from 4pm to 6pm next Tuesday, March 19th, at Bellevue City Hall.  There’s only one other focus group (for residents) left for tomorrow evening, so if you’re interested in attending, be sure to RSVP at  Again, the City is more concerned with taking your input than it is which group you end up attending, so if you don’t fit in either remaining category (resident or employee), it’s really not a big deal.

Transportation Committee Approves Car2Go Expansion

Proposed New Home Area
Proposed New Home Area

On Tuesday the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee (Rasmussen, Harrell, Godden) approved Car2Go’s request for expansion. (See Car2Go’s letter to the council here.) In his testimony to the council, Car2Go’s Walter Rosencranz specifically cited the influence of social media and ‘local blogs’ in making requests to expand the service area.  In its first 90 days, Car2Go  has enrolled 18,000 Seattle members, triple the number typically seen in other cities during that time.

The proposed new home area is exciting and sensible.

In South Seattle, the proposed boundary is S Orcas St (east of 15th Ave S) and S. Michigan St (west of 15th Ave S).  This effectively captures South North and Mid Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Hillman City, Mt Baker, Georgetown, and SODO.  The only exceptions are Harbor Island and the Duwamish between West Marginal Way and SR-99, which will remain outside the new Home Area.

In West Seattle, the new Home Area covers the Junction, Admiral, Alki, Delridge, and High Point. Interestingly, Car2Go has proposed a Home Area exclave at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, allowing trips to begin/end within the area bounded by Fauntleroy Way, Fauntleroy Pl, and SW Wildwood Pl.

To accommodate this 25% growth in service area, Car2Go will add 30% to its fleet, bringing the number of cars to 430 citywide.  They have additionally asked the Council for a total of 500 permits so that a further fleet expansion of up to 70 cars could be accommodated without further Council approval.

The proposal goes before the full council next Monday. It is very likely to pass, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to send a quick email to Councilmembers voicing your support.

Yes, Sound Transit and Seattle are Studying Subway to Ballard

Now that the Ballard to Downtown rail study work has begun (and don’t miss the open house tonight!), I want to point out some of the best parts of the study scope of work, and reiterate what our next steps should be to achieve solutions that will last us for the next century.

First, remember that the money for this study comes from two sources – Sound Transit, which the ST2 measure tasked with studying high capacity transit to Ballard, defined as operating principally on exclusive rights of way, and Seattle, which has identified a preferred alternative of rapid streetcar (page 3-7) for the Ballard-Fremont-Downtown corridor. These are different policy goals, and they likely fit into different corridors.

As a result, the scope of work is split into two different “tasks.” Task A, High-Capacity Transit, and Task B, Rapid Streetcar. Both have some very clear direction. It will develop up to four “Level 1” alternatives for each of Task A and Task B, and four new maintenance facility locations between both. The potential for grade separation is clearly called out in Task A:

A footprint of a Salmon Bay /Ship Canal crossing for a fixed bridge, moveable bridge and a tunnel will be developed at up to two (2) locations determined in the Initial Concept Screening.

As the consultant releases their Level 1 alternatives for Task A, it’ll be our job as advocates to look at what they produce (page 9 – “Technical Memorandum: Definition of Task A Concepts”), engage in the public process that will result, and influence the two options to advance to Level 2 (starting page 13). Then the consultant will do ridership forecasting, cost estimates, running times, and even land use:

This analysis will potentially be more detailed and quantitative than in Level 1, and may include population and employment analysis and development of schematic urban design drawings.

This particular bit about land use is the outcome of Sound Transit’s updated TOD policy, passed last year. It’ll help start to rationalize transportation and land use decisions, and make it easier for us to put transit where it can have the most economic benefit over the long term, not just in the ridership it’ll generate today.

Task B is the rapid streetcar work. That’s exciting too – all the study work in the past has shown that we need rail transit in both of these corridors. But unless that “rapid streetcar” targets a level of investment as high as Link, which it’s very unlikely to, Sound Transit won’t put it in ST3. And as Bruce wrote this morning, there’s little that surface rail through downtown can do to make transit faster.

Fortunately, this study is as much about separated light rail as it is about streetcar. The way we’re going to get to fully grade separated, fast transit to Ballard will start here, and be determined largely by how well we organize. We need to ensure the highest levels of investment that result from the Task A, Level 1 alternatives are those that move forward to Level 2 so we get cost and ridership information. If we’re successful, the end of this study will have projects for which we can seek funding.

Wonky? Yes. But staying involved in this work – from understanding this study, to championing the right alternative, to winning funding – is the way Seattle Subway turns from a great idea into an inevitability.

Action Alert: Support HB 1898, 1953, and 1959

[UPDATE 3/13: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon says these bills are not subject to Wednesday’s cutoff. Martin hears that there was a late deal to declare them necessary to pass the budget, which frees them of the deadline.]

The below action alert has been sent out by Transportation for Washington. I strongly encourage everyone to take  a few minutes to send an email or call your legislator and get a few friends or coworkers to do so as well.

In the past 24 hours, more than 2100 emails have been sent to legislators to support local funding options for saving bus service and fixing our streets. 

We only have less than 48 hours to get this done and we need you to speak up for transit TODAY .

Three bills — House Bills 1898, 1953, and 1959  which would save transit service in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties and fix our crumbling roads are awaiting a floor vote.  If this bill does not get a vote before Wednesday at 5:00pm, we will lose our chance to save transit.  

Send a letter to your legislator now >> 

We need every single vote we can get, and our transit champions, including Rep. Marko Liias, Rep. Jessyn Farrell, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, Rep. Luis Moscoso, and Rep. Jake Fey, are telling us they need your voice of support right now to show legislators this is critically important.

You already know about the pot holes and missing sidewalks in your neighborhood. We’ve got to give cities and counties the ability to fix them.What has been especially tragic is the loss of bus service in our communities over the past few years. For example, King County Metro was temporarily spared 17% cuts in 2011, but that stopgap measure runs out next year. Pierce Transit has had to slash service 35% and will cut service even more this fall. And the recession has forced Community Transit to similarly cut bus service for thousands of workers, students, and families. 

Besides being a good way to prevent congestion and save money, transit is also a lifeline for thousands of kids, seniors, and people with disabilities. We constantly hear heart-wrenching stories about how single moms can’t get to their jobs or families who can’t get to the grocery store because their bus doesn’t run on Sunday.

Quite frankly, the bus cuts, potholes, and unfinished sidewalks, are all unacceptable. That’s why we need your help to pass House Bills 1898, 1953, and 1959.

We can do this. Send a letter to your legislator now >>

Thank you for everything that you do and have done,


Brock Howell & Kate Whiting
Field Team
Transportation for Washington

Where and How Can We Make At-Grade Transit Faster?

Travel Times Spreadsheet

A Frank noted last week, tonight from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, at Ballard High School, Sound Transit and SDOT are hosting an open house to study the possibility of high-capacity transit from Downtown Seattle to Ballard. I’ll be there, and I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you guys there.

It’s worth reflecting on the problems with today’s transit when trying to design tomorrow’s. Zach has a great post coming up soon, looking at the average end-to-end scheduled speed of Seattle’s transit routes; I won’t steal his thunder, but suffice to say, most of the non-freeway routes, except Link, are pathetically slow. I was inspired by that to look a little closer at a route that’s among the alignments to be studied in this open house, namely Metro route 40. What parts of this route are slow, and what can we learn from this?

The table above is mostly composed of data about one sample Route 40 trip, northbound in the PM peak; it’s time-point data from OneBusAway, travel lengths computed from Google Maps, and speed computed by dividing the two. One caveat upfront: anyone who’s ridden the 40 knows the real schedule can be mess, particularly if it’s a bad traffic day downtown; nonetheless, these are decent ball-park numbers. There are two other data points, from two of Portland’s rail lines as they cross the Portland city center at around the same time: the Portland Streetcar North-South route, and TriMet’s MAX Red Green Line.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Downtown is by far the slowest part of Route 40. Won’t be a surprise to anyone whose ridden a bus here, but downtown, and the downtown-like dense area that extends up to about Mercer Street, is just not a quick place to get around on a bus. To give a sense of how much of that is due to running on the street, Metro planners generally estimate it takes a bus five minutes less to travel the length downtown in the transit tunnel than an equivalent trip on the surface, so that’s maybe a 35-50% speedup, based on the first row of data above.
  • Surface rail through downtown isn’t likely to be much faster. Even with well-optimized signal priority and a dedicated lane*, MAX is barely scheduled faster than Seattle’s surface buses. On a bustling, intimate, pedestrian-oriented street, there’s a limit to how fast a 30 ton vehicle can safely travel, and even excellent signal priority can’t guarantee you’ll make a dozen lights in a row. It seems unlikely that downtown Seattle will do much better, although Seattle’s blocks are longer, which may help.
  • Where right-of-way is readily available, it barely matters. There are two places where surface right-of-way could easily be taken for (semi-)exclusive transit use: Westlake, north of Valley Street; and Leary, east of Ballard and west of Fremont. These streets are wide, have few signalized intersections and very little pedestrian activity, and traffic, including transit, moves pretty freely on them already. It doesn’t seem like ROW would make transit much faster, although signal priority could help by allowing transit vehicles to keep moving.

This is an open thread for anything related to the open house. See you there!

* The MAX Transit Mall is a pair of one-way streets, each with a painted transit lane and a general-purpose lane; this section of the streetcar runs in a curb lane in mixed traffic. All Portland rail services have off-board payment.

Two Links, Two Sides of the Same Story

Not everyone likes apodments
Not everyone likes apodments, photo by flickr user aboyce22

Here’s Tom Rasmussen on microhousing units on Capitol Hill (via), in a discussion on a small-unit moratorium*:

Rasmussen—who visited one such development on Capitol Hill and compares its units to “small dorm rooms”—tells PubliCola he understands the “market for smaller units like that,” but says that Capitol Hill residents, in particular, have expressed concern about the new developments, and are “feeling like too many are being proposed or developed” and want the council to take a look at “whether they fit in to neighborhoods, and whether or not there should be design review. Some of them look pretty good, some of them not so much.”

Meanwhile, the New City Collegian has a story about what high rents have done to a few students in Seattle:

Amy, an international student from Korea, lives on Capitol Hill and rents a two bedroom apartment for $1,300 a month. The contract says only two people may reside there, but skirting the rules Amy now lives with three other roommates. “It doesn’t make sense. I can’t pay this much. As a result, I have three roommates, which means I live in violation of the contract.” The contract violation has left Amy perpetually anxious of eviction saying her manager checks every unit randomly and is “scared every day…I have to sleep with another girl in the same bed. I can’t have my private room.”

It doesn’t sound like Amy’s a citizen, so she can’t vote, but she is a resident of our city and her rights and welfare are just as important as anyone else (same applies to these guys). So I would like to ask Rasmussen to think about Amy and her three roommates living in a two-bedroom apartment, sharing beds and fearing eviction because they can’t afford anything else, before he considers a moratorium on any new housing. We need as many new, affordable housing units as we can get.

*Thankfully, Richard Conlin and Mike McGinn both have more reasonable things to say in that piece.

Metro and the Future of Seattle Transit

The Last 42
The Last 42

Every so often, I’m asked why I care so much about Metro, writing at possibly-exorbitant length about everything from huge structural changes to the bus network, to minutiae like pointless crossbucks and crazy vestigial terminal loops. With about the same frequency, I overhear transit advocates suggest that going into bat for better bus service isn’t worth the effort, because, well, it’s hard, progress is slow, and anyway we’re going to build rapid transit and then we can “forget Metro” or something to effect. I encountered some of this at the Ballard High Capacity Transit open house, and I want to address it.

Think about any first-world city, which exists in a comparable political culture to that of the US, and that’s generally regarded as having good transit, given its size and density: for example, London, Boston, New York, Vancouver, BC.  These cities are rightly known for their rapid transit systems, which in many cases have become not just part of the city’s identity for residents, but an iconic part of those cities’ presence on the world stage. But all of them also have an unsung, yet crucially important bus network that, overall, usually hauls more passengers than the rapid transit network.

For example, Translink’s 2011 bus ridership exceeded its SkyTrain ridership by about 70%, and bus ridership will likely remain about 40-50% higher even after the Evergreen Line and UBC-Broadway Corridor are built out. These buses facilitate trips that aren’t possible, or would be slower or less convenient, on the rapid transit network, because no city has infinite money to cover all its densely-urbanized parts in rapid transit, and most rapid transit systems, of necessity, trade off some amount of local access for speed, by having stops outside the city center spaced further apart than many people can (or want to) walk.

To the people behind these excellent transit systems, the bus network is absolutely not an afterthought, or something they are just keeping alive until they criss-cross the city with trains. You can see this in Translink’s great network maps and seamless bus-rail interfaces at every SkyTrain station; and Transport for London’s design and purchase of a unique and beautiful model of double-decker bus for London, and implementation of a cashless zone and extensive network of bus-only lanes in the city center.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Metro and the Future of Seattle Transit”

ST 4Q 2012 and January 2013 Ridership Report

Avgeek Joe/Flickr

4Q 2012

It’s old news given the December report ST already released, but the 4th quarter report is now out, and it has new information beyond the number of riders per mode.

ST Express increases are inflated by the change in counting downtown rides. Nevertheless, the 550, 554, 555/6, and 577/8 all increased over 20%. The 550 also did it from a huge base of 505,000 boardings, far and away highest in the system. The 555/6 is much smaller, but wasn’t affected by the downtown change and had the largest increase at 31%.

The loss of the ride free area had surprisingly little impact on reliability. ST Express on-time performance slipped from 88.7 to 85.6% from the same time the previous year; Central Link (which uses a tighter standard for reliability) went from 90.8% to 90.2% over the same period.

The other notable event was the drop in scheduled Sounder trips that operated. Largely thanks to a record-shattering mudslide season, ST operated 92.8% of its trips, down from 99.3% (including both lines).

ST Express and Central Link continued their back and forth battle to have the cheapest operating cost per boarding (setting aside Tacoma Link). As Central Link’s ridership peaks in the summer, ST Express was once again cheaper in the 4th quarter, but for the year as a whole Central Link wins 2012 ($6.07 to $6.51).

January 2013

ST also released its January Ridership Summary. Central Link’s Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average was 24,938/16,025/12,718, a 12.6% increase on weekdays over January 2012. Mudslide-infested North Sounder lost 28% of its total boardings, while South Sounder increased an astounding 35%, partially due to the opening of Lakewood Station. 11,142 riders boarded a Sounder train on an average weekday.

ST Express boardings for the month were up over 18%, partially a result of counting former ride free area trips.