Tomorrow: ​Seeattle through Metro Vision​

Artopolis Poster

Ever wanted to see photo gallery of how Metro employees see the city? It sounds fascinating to me, and indeed, such a thing is happening tomorrow night, from 6-8PM at Metro’s Atlantic Base:

The showing, organized by graduate student Calley Vandegrift from the Seattle University Master of Fine Arts Program, will showcase the photography work of our Metro Transit operators. In proposing the show, Calley said, “Metro employees see more of the city than the average person does and I envision a photography show where King County Metro Transit employees take over as many venue places as possible to show how they see their city of Seattle”.

And they did. The theme of the show is, “Seeattle through Metro Vision“. The response to Calley’s call for photos was huge and impressive. About 70 photos will ultimately be displayed at Saturday’s showing.

Atlantic Base is located at 1270 6th Ave S, near Stadium Station, and several south Seattle bus routes; attendees can also park in the employee garage.

Support the Burke-Gilman TIGER Application

Last Friday, we wrote about a proposal by the University of Washington for a major upgrade to the section of the Burke-Gilman trail that traverses the UW campus. Community support is a component in considering TIGER applications, so the STB Board would like to throw our support behind this application, and urge readers who care about safe and effective pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Seattle to do the same, by filling out the form at this page.

There are multiple reasons for our support:

  • The current trail is inadequate, obsolete and under-designed for its current level of traffic. Trail users are particularly poorly served by the multiplicity of (largely non-wheelchair-accessible) connection points and unsafe road crossings. The UW proposal solves those problems.
  • These problems will only increase with the opening of University Link in 2016, as the light rail station to the southeast of the university, and anticipated property development to the west, increase demand on this regional active-transportation highway.
  • This TIGER funding cycle represents the best (and likely the only) way to fund these improvements in time for the 2016 opening of University Link. Before the station opening is the smart time to perform this unavoidably-disruptive construction work.
  • This section of the Burke-Gilman trail is of regional importance, connecting all of northeast Seattle and the northeastern suburbs to the five-year interim northern terminus of Link Light Rail, the region’s transit backbone, and to the UW and downtown Seattle, two of our regions’s biggest travel demand centers.

We strongly urge the United States Department of Transportation to consider and approve the University of Washington’s Burke-Gilman connector proposal, and for our state and federal elected officials to support and advance it however they may.

STB’s Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Bruce Nourish, and Sherwin Lee.

Northgate Tunnel Bids Coming in Low

Good news for North Link:

Sound Transit today opened six bids for the contract to mine 3.4 miles of twin light rail tunnels between Husky Stadium at the University of Washington and the Northgate Mall area in Seattle.

The engineer’s estimate for the work was $594,803,500. The six bids opened today ranged from $440 million to $517 million.

The apparent low bidder was JCM Northlink LLC, a joint venture formed by Jay Dee Contractors of Livonia, Mich.; Frank Collucio Construction Company of Seattle; and Michaels Corporation of Brownsville, Wis. with a bid of $440,321,000. JCM recently completed work mining the light rail tunnels between downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill Station as part of the University Link project.

Another reminder that this is a great time to be building infrastructure. We should do more of it!

3rd Round Trip to Bellingham Begins May 31

Photo by Joe Kunzler (Flickr)
Photo by AvgeekJoe (Flickr)

Tickets are now available on for the 3rd round-trip Cascades train to Bellingham. Beginning tomorrow May 31 and running until further notice, the extra train will depart Seattle at 8:15am and will return from Bellingham at 5:15pm. Because the extra train will use Sounder equipment, running time to Bellingham will be 2h 40m, 28 minutes longer than the 2h 12m that the Talgo sets achieve. The full schedule is as follows:


  • There will be no food service on the extra train.
  • The $5 bicycle fee is waived on the Sounder equipment due to the ease of loading.
  • It is unclear how many cars the trains will have.
  • Fares to Bellingham will range from $17-$23. A quick check of tomorrow’s prices yield $9.50 to Edmonds, $13 to Everett, $15 to Stanwood, $17 to Mount Vernon, and $23 to Bellingham.
  • An entirely accidental benefit of this: As long as the extra train is running, it will be possible to transfer from the Empire Builder to Cascades at Everett (westbound only). Spokane to Bellingham anyone?

News Roundup: Opus

Slack Action/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Help Us Prevent Bridge Disasters

I-5 Skagit River Bridge (via WSDOT Flickr)
I-5 Skagit River Bridge (via WSDOT Flickr)

When the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed last week, after hearing everyone was okay, my next thoughts were of prevention. How do we stop that kind of accident from happening again? What’s wrong with our priorities that it wasn’t prevented?

At first glance, prevention seems easy – fund our backlog! There are several categories of unsafe bridges in Washington: “structurally deficient” and “fracture-critical” are the two basic categories in the most need. Structurally deficient bridges are unsafe just sitting there. They’re the highest priority. Fracture-critical bridges aren’t immediately unsafe, but they’re not resilient – they can fail easily in earthquakes or from impacts. The I-5 bridge that collapsed wasn’t structurally deficient, but it was fracture-critical: It could (and did) fail after only a small impact.

The Seattle Times has an interactive map of all the structurally deficient and fracture-critical bridges in the state.

So with a good understanding of what’s needed to prevent disasters like this, what’s the legislature doing? What’s the governor doing? Highway expansion, of course! At the Cascade Bicycle Club breakfast a few weeks ago, Governor Inslee spent much of his time at the podium talking about the Columbia River Crossing project (which Cascade opposes) – a massive expansion, replacing a bridge that’s not on either of those lists. And at the 36th District Democrats straw poll a week and a half ago, Senator Ed Murray touted the SR-99 tunnel project as one of his accomplishments – a project that requires the structurally deficient Alaskan Way Viaduct to be kept open for four years longer than the other (cheaper) options that were on the table – not only increasing risk, but using money that could have been spent to fix dozens of other bridges.

There are legislators who disagree. On Transportation Advocacy Day in February, Reuven Carlyle, one of my two representatives in the 36th, talked about how a majority of the House transportation committee Democrats don’t want to build more megaprojects. But, unfortunately, the current House transportation package is mostly new highways. It barely begins to work on our safety problems.

This isn’t easy to solve. Legislators need to be re-elected, largely by a voting population that doesn’t have the time or energy to pay attention to the details of what their representation is doing in Olympia. Big, flashy projects mean more PR for less outreach work. And when a bridge on an Interstate falls down, the federal government steps in to fund most of the replacement – 90% for the Skagit bridge. This is true for direct votes as well – as Prop 1 in 2011 showed us, a lot of small projects doesn’t do anywhere near as well as a handful of large ones. There isn’t much incentive for legislators in swing districts to get their hands dirty.

However, Democratic legislators in safe seats don’t have good reason to ignore safety issues and support megaprojects. They’re the ones who have the power to take difficult votes and to be more progressive without as much risk. So I was pleased to hear Rep. Carlyle speak against megaprojects – and very disappointed to hear Senator Murray, in possibly the safest Senate seat in the state, speak in favor of the highway 99 tunnel, when it was his leadership of the House Transportation Committee that chose to fund expensive highway expansion projects over replacing bridges like the one that collapsed.

As transportation advocates, our job is to hold our policymakers’ feet to the fire – so that they can’t use safety, gridlockor transit as buzzwords to push a tiny number of expensive highway expansions instead of making sure the hundreds of unsafe structures in the state are repaired or replaced.

You can help us – without actually going to Olympia. CREDO Mobile reached out to us (I had no idea they were so active) to help us petition legislators to fixing unsafe bridges *before* building new highways. Add your name and we’ll make sure your voice is heard by the governor and House Transportation!

Steinbrueck on Transit

Curitiba BRT (wikipedia)

Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck had an interesting quote in the Times ($) last week in an question about the maintenance backlog:

The current mayor is talking about an almost three-quarter-billion-dollar bridge over the ship canal — new infrastructure — to serve light rail that we have no funding for. I think basic infrastructure has to come first.The most striking advances globally have not been subways or rail systems but bus rapid transit, rubber-tired rail. It’s much less expensive. It’s faster to implement. It has dedicated lanes so it’s not stalled in traffic. It’s been transformative in places like Mexico City and Brazil.

Pro-rail Steinbrueck skeptics will read the last paragraph as a dog whistle to the BRT “advocates” whose first priority is to fund transit as little as possible. On the other hand, as a context-free statement it’s entirely accurate. I asked Mr. Steinbrueck if there were any policy implications from this quote.

Q: In other forums, you’ve stated your support for light rail and the streetcar network. I find it difficult to square these statements. I’d like it if you could clarify (1) as a potential ST board member, your support for a large new light rail package [Sound Transit 3] as soon as Olympia authorizes the revenue, as opposed to one focused on buses; and (2) your relative spending priorities among (a) basic maintenance, (b) bus corridor capital improvements from the transit master plan, and (c) the streetcar routes from the TMP.

A: What our city and region (we are all in this together) need most is a seamless inter-modal system including ped (the first form!) and bike, transit, street cars, BRT, and yes light rail and heavy rail. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages… We need light rail ( I was an early supporter in 1990’s) , especially for the regional corridors and should be planning Link 3 for the next generation and beyond. Land use (housing affordability, location, compactness and travel distances to regional and local transit)  must also be considered as important part of the solution.

I don’t think Mr. Steinbrueck took my invitation to state clear policy priorities for city spending, which perhaps isn’t a surprise mid-campaign, but he re-iterated his support for ST3. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Full text of his response after the jump.

Continue reading “Steinbrueck on Transit”

WSDOT Seeking a Third Cascades Round Trip to Bellingham


As the Skagit River Bridge collapse wreaks havoc with both travel plans and commerce, WSDOT is working to add another temporary Cascades round trip to Bellingham:

To assist travelers affected by yesterday’s I-5 highway bridge collapse in Skagit County, Amtrak Cascades will add one round trip route between Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., in the coming weeks.

Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, BNSF Railway and Sound Transit are working together to add this service, a morning departure from Seattle to Bellingham with an early evening return, to help those who normally drive this route. More details will be released as they become available.

WSDOT spokesperson Laura Kingman says that none of the details beyond the excerpt above are final, although more resolution may come this week.

If there’s a silver lining to this debacle it’s the extra train and the fact that there were no serious injuries. Spin aside, the argument for more emphasis on maintenance is no stronger than it was before. No plausible level of maintenance spending would have replaced this bridge, and indeed the collapse will be used to justify massive freeway capacity expansion with a small sliver of safety improvements.

On the other hand, this is a rich state and we can afford to do both, just as it’s possible in principle to maintain decent bus service and build a rail system for future generations at the same time. It’s not  that capacity expansions are unaffordable; it’s that they’re bad for the future.

Metro Low-Income Fare Committee Almost Done


King County Metro’s Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee (LIFOAC) is close to wrapping up its work and sending a recommendations document to Metro and the County Council. It has two remaining meetings scheduled to come to a consensus: May 29 and June 12, both at 4 pm in the 8th floor conference room of the King Street Center, 201 S Jackson St.

They will also continue taking comments online. For those who want a full play-by-play, you can access all the committee materials, meeting notes, and written comments here.

The bulk of the committee seems to agree that a general low-income fare program is far more expensive than what Metro can afford right now. The value of the program has to be weighed against the service that could be deployed for the same money.

A no-income fare program (namely, free) might be a much smaller and more doable program in the here and now, and can be done in a way that reduces current administrative costs, while enabling recipients to gain real mobility.

Personally, I think the committee should discuss giving out free monthly passes on regular ORCA cards, which they have not done to date. Funding for the no-income fare program, and hopefully an eventual low-income fare program, is unlikely to come from any source other than a Title VI mitigation fund (another idea the committee has not discussed).

Formally, the committee was charged by the county council with seven tasks. I’ll discuss them in order below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Low-Income Fare Committee Almost Done”

Commuters and All-Day Riders

Comprehension! (TriMet)

With extensive restructures just completed and less happy cuts on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about the difference between serving commuters and all-day ridership. This is all a hypothesis based on my own thought process, not survey data, so let me know what you think.

For someone going to work, transit quality is mostly about speed and reliability. If itinerary A takes 5 minutes longer than itinerary B, no matter how simple or frequent A is, that’s 5 minutes every day of one’s life. Reliability is obviously crucially important, but even if it runs once an hour one can just be out there at 6:53am every morning. It’s part of the routine of work.*

In contrast, a mid-day trip is likely to have unknown start and end times, and will consist of a variety of destinations. Long headways and complicated itineraries are both major deterrents to choosing transit. As we know, single-seat rides are the enemy of high frequency, so systems can only avoid both with a comprehensible, transfer-oriented system of frequent routes, which is exactly what this space agitates for quite frequently.

I’m generally sympathetic to the all-day cause. My instinct is to support a general shift of resources to that market even if it makes the system less productive by most metrics. I suspect that overcoming the idea of transit as a last resort is crucial to changing the debate and doing some real open-field running on our issues. But even with no shift between categories, are there implications for network design?

One outcome of having freeways radiating out from our most important destinations is that during congestion-free times it’s nearly impossible to beat nonstop, single-seat rides operating on the freeway. Any sort of regional trunk line ought to stop pretty often. That’s the ultimate objection to inconvenient terminations at rail stations, such as South King buses at Rainier Beach.

However, these are very hard to run frequently, and the route map ends up looking like, well, Metro’s route map. Perhaps our all-day network should be fundamentally different, not just a stripped-down version of the peak network. Maybe it makes sense to run the 545 (after East Link) and the 150 and the 577 all the way downtown to handle peak loads, but at other times Metro and ST could more profitably increase frequencies on the 542, a truncated 150, and 574 to both reduce headways and simplify the system.** I think that most midday travelers would appreciate a little more frequency and legibility over the 5 or 10 minutes that direct routing might save.

On the other hand, a different set of routes adds to complexity. At a minimum, Metro would have to produce entirely different maps for its peak only and all-day services to make the latter at all legible.

* Granted, I have the good fortune of a workplace with flexible hours. Employees with firmer shifts will care more about frequency, as will those who have little control over when they leave work.

** It is likely that running buses to parallel North Link will never make sense due to congestion and superior running times, barring congestion pricing on this corridor.

Obama’s Nominee for Next USDOT Secretary

Anthony Foxx, via City of Charlotte

Late last month, President Obama nominated Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx to fill the void that will be created by retiring Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  First, I think it’s appropriate to give credit where it’s due.  Although Secretary LaHood wasn’t the perfect progressive pro-transit stalwart, he was still a staunch advocate of transportation choices and likely instrumental in preventing MAP-21 from turning into the transit disaster it could have become.

Moving on, however, I think it’s safe to say that few out there would make a better successor than Foxx.  During his tenure as mayor of Charlotte, Foxx has been an outspoken proponent of expanding the LYNX light rail system, building a new streetcar line, and focusing development and planning efforts in downtown Charlotte.  It’s a track record that closely aligns with STB values.

Lastly, any reasonable transit advocate will probably appreciate the comments that Foxx made at his confirmation hearing on Thursday:

Foxx, who grew up in poverty in Charlotte, recalled riding the bus to get to his first job at a local museum when he was 12 years old.

“The Number 6 connected me to the larger world of opportunity, and I truly believe, whether it is a bus route, a road, a train, a plane or a ship, our transportation system at its best connects people to jobs and a better quality of life,” Foxx he told senators.

UW Proposes Major Upgrade to Burke-Gilman Trail

Proposed Burke-Gilman Connections
Proposed Burke-Gilman Improved Connections

The University of Washington has released a proposal for a major upgrade to the section of the Burke-Gilman trail that runs through its campus, for which it is seeking federal funding through the TIGER program. Of all the parts of the current Burke-Gilman trail, this is possibly the most important, as it provides access to the UW — a massive source of demand — as well as the primary connection between downtown Seattle and northeast Seattle, and the suburbs to the northeast. It’s tremendously busy, and it shows its age in some ways, being basically the same trail today was it was when the Burke first opened in 1978, despite decades of growth in population and ridership.

By way of explanation, the university has released a one-pager and a slick conceptual design booklet that’s full of statistics, maps and beautiful renderings, along with quite a bit of jargon and flowery prose (“eddies of open space” being perhaps my favorite marriage of the two). The first third of the booklet is background; the meat of the design begins at PDF page 36. Tom over at Seattle Bike Blog has gone into detail on how the trail will look and work, with lots of visuals taken from that section, and I recommend reading his post. Briefly, there are three major components to the new design:

  • The trail will be rebuilt with separate bike and pedestrian sections, separated by a ramped curb. At every place where the trail intersects a trail or overlook, a “mixing zone” will be created; this is an area where the demarcating curb will disappear, and pavement and striping pattern will signal to all users to expect crossing traffic. These two features should make the trail much less stressful for all users.
  • Bike and pedestrian connections to the Burke will be rebuilt, reorganized, and made wheelchair-accessible where possible. Current connections to the Burke are mostly ad hoc, unmarked, of wildly varying quality, and, in many places, spaced very close together.  The new design consolidates them down to a much smaller number, evenly-spaced and clearly-marked. These changes will improve matters both for cyclists passing by campus and accessing campus.
  • At one of the road crossings — Brooklyn Ave — the crossing will be “tabled”; i.e. the road will be raised up to the level of the trail, which should calm traffic and improve safety.

Overall, the finished product looks to me like it would be a dramatic improvement over the status quo. Paving and wheelchair-accessibility work is always expensive, and these improvements don’t come cheap — the total price tag is $12 million — but it seems worth it. My only complaint is that this plan does not address the scary and substandard connection between the University Bridge and the Burke, although I suspect it is primarily an issue of jurisdiction and scope, and the city will be the agency responsible for improving that connection.

TIGER projects consider community support as part of their funding criteria. If you support this project, you should click here and fill out the form to endorse it. Unless some major objection to the design appears, STB will likely editorialize in favor of this project, so if you’re a regular rider of this segment, we’re interested in your opinions.

Breaking: I-5 Collapses in Skagit County


The I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mt Vernon has collapsed.  Information is sketchy at this point, though multiple outlets are confirming vehicles in the water.

UPDATE 7:10 AM: Seattle Times has more details. Briefly: No deaths; the proximate cause at this point appears to be a strike from an oversize load; and the bridge will be closed for “weeks”. The bridge had an FHWA “sufficiency rating” of 57 out of 100; to put that in context, the Alaskan Way Viaduct has an SR of 9, and the old South Park Bridge had an SR of 6 when it was finally closed by the County. This Times article has a good discussion of FHWA bridge ratings in the area. — Bruce

East Link Station Access and Names in Downtown Bellevue

East Link map, via Sound Transit

In yesterday’s open thread, commenter and long-time reader Mike Orr pointed out two surveys that Sound Transit is using to solicit input on East Link final design for the downtown Bellevue segment.  One survey is a fairly straightforward multiple-choice form for station naming options, while the other wants slightly more comprehensive input on station access, specifically for pedestrians,  bicycles, and transit.  Responses and comments are due by the end of tomorrow so be sure not to dilly dally.

The station-naming form gives a few predetermined choices for the three “downtown” segment stations: East Main, Bellevue TC, and Hospital Station.  Respondents also have the option of submitting names of their own, although I’d guess that option is probably abused more often than Sound Transit would like.  While I don’t exactly get riled up about station names, I tend to lean toward those that incorporate cross-streets, which help give some reference to the grid.

When it comes to pedestrian and bike access, I’m not sure there’s much more that can be done aside from what’s already being considered in the Bellevue’s Downtown Transportation Plan update.  Obviously, bike facilities are severely lacking downtown so there’s a lot of progress to be made on that front.  The most feasible improvements for pedestrian access, on the other hand, are likely going to be mid-block crossings, through-block connections, more pedestrian-friendly signals, and other stuff that will help break up the grid a bit.

Transit-wise, however, the great shame with the NE 6th station is that it negates all the benefits of great bus-rail transfers that the old C11A surface design made possible.  Also terrible is the fact that on-street bus stops along NE 6th Street are pretty much infeasible, thanks to the steep grade and the fact that station entrances will be on opposing sides of the block anyway.  Although I’ve been rather partial to the idea of decentralizing Bellevue TC bus service in the past, the new station design makes planning bus-rail interface a few degrees more challenging.

Shoreline Light Rail Powwow



Shoreline started its Link station area planning with a public meeting on May 22nd at Shoreline City Hall. It was mostly an informational meeting, introducing the planners and the study areas. There was a wide variety of speakers, ranging from city staff to Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Council, King County, a TOD consultant hired by the city, the activist group Futurewise, a seniors’ outreach group, and citizens’ groups. Roger Iwata from Sound Transit explained the rail line’s status along with Alicia McIntire, a Shoreline transportation planner. Shoreline land-use planners Miranda Redinger and Steve Szafran explained the station study areas and the process to reevaluate their zoning.

Continue reading “Shoreline Light Rail Powwow”

News Roundup: Phased Out

Photo by KurtClark

This is an open thread.

Northgate Open House This Thursday (May 23rd)

Image from Sound Transit
Image from Sound Transit

The Northgate Station: Design and Access open house will be held at Olympic View Elementary School, 504 NE 95th Street from 6pm to 8pm May the 23rd.  The presentation will begin at 6:30pm.

Sound Transit staff will discuss:

  • Refinements to station and plaza design.
  • Preliminary results of Northgate Station Access Study (pedestrian and bike improvements).
  • King County Metro’s transit center plans.

For more information, visit the Northgate Station page or contact the Northgate Link Extension project team at 206-398-5300 or

Thanks to Publicalendar for the heads up.

The Theater of Last Tuesday’s Public Hearing

Last Tuesday's hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.
Last Tuesday’s hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.

Anyone who attended last Tuesday’s public hearing witnessed hundreds rallying to save Metro from imminent, draconian cuts.  It reminded me of a similar hearing two years ago, when a few swing votes on the King County Council were persuaded to approve the $20 Congestion Relief Charge, staving off the cuts that we again have to face.  But despite a much more difficult path this time around, many of the efforts to save Metro again amount to mere theater, acts that could easily be falling on deaf ears.

Unlike the successful 2011 effort, King County’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee and County Council are nothing more than the middlemen this time around.  Neither body will be able to do squat.  Like many other local jurisdictions in the Puget Sound area, they’ve openly lobbied for local transit funding options to no avail during the regular State legislative session.

But regardless of what’s happening in Olympia, a show of enormous local support from multiple sides might provide some semblance of comfort to the thousands who rely on Metro.  It has certainly been sold that way– large pro-transit signs were prevalent at the hearing, as if county lawmakers were the ones who had the power to save Metro.

Continue reading “The Theater of Last Tuesday’s Public Hearing”

Link Excuse of the Week: SDOT’s Route 7 Improvements and Columbia City Farmers Market

Image via SDOT

To highlight their Rainier Corridor work SDOT is conducting a Ride Route 7 promotion.  They’ve put together a website, a facebook page, sent postcards to residents, and will be hosting outreach events in the Rainier Valley this summer:

Columbia City Farmers Market (3698 S Edmunds St)

Wednesday, May 22, 3 – 7pm
Wednesday, June 5, 3 – 7pm

Saar’s Marketplace (9000 Rainier Ave S.)

Saturday, June 15, 11 – 3pm
Saturday, June 22, 11 – 3pm

SDOT staff will be there with information and to answer questions.  Those who come to one of the events and pledge to Ride Route 7 receive a $25 ORCA Card.  The Columbia City Farmer’s Market is a great excuse to check out the Rainier Valley in its own right.  If you have the money (it is not cheap, but worth it) check out the award winning La Medusa around the corner.  Every Weds during Farmers Market Season they will have a special menu featuring the freshest produce of the day.

Just be sure to ride the 7 back to Downtown and check out the improvements along the way.

See past Link excuses here.