1920 Seattle Rapid Transit Proposal
1920 Seattle Rapid Transit Proposal. Flikr user afiler.

This is an open thread.

38 Replies to “News Roundup: Slowly Falling Apart”

  1. Is it horrendously more expensive to add in stations after the system is built? It looks to me (and a lot of other people) that we simply didn’t put in enough stations (they are just too far apart). Obviously, one is First Hill, but there are plenty more. I didn’t realize until recently that the Convention Place station is going away. Why is that, and what would it take to add it?

    1. With Convention Place, I hope they keep their options open for the future. As far as a station it is pretty close to Westlake so I don’t mind it going away as a station, but as a possible portal for other lines and a staging area for future construction projects, it is pretty valuable. Initially I was skeptical of its value as a portal for another line, but now that headways are so limited through University/North Link (ughh), that junction doesn’t necessarily need to be woven.

      That said, it looks like all the proposals for northwesterly expansion lines connect at Westlake or University or need a new 2nd ave subway tunnel, so maybe Convention Place just isn’t needed. Once there are no buses to stage or let on/off the express ramps, maybe its value as transit infrastructure goes mostly away. I think I saw recently they’re looking at options to sell the air rights over the station or using it as a convention center expansion.

      1. Yeah, who knows what value that station has a gateway to the northwest. As we build a BRT (or something resembling it) on Aurora, then a station like this makes sense (how else to link folks from Link to Aurora). But I think the station has merits just because it is surrounded by really big buildings. The stations downtown make sense (thank you George Benson). The area around the Convention Place station is way more dense than 90% of the Link stations that are built, or planning to be built.

      2. To whatever extent Rapid Ride E will be BRT on Aurora, it sure as hell ain’t going anywhere near Convention Place. Why, that would make about as much sense as sending BRT from Ballard down Mercer and Queen Anne Ave. (OK, I’ll stop trolling now.) People will get from Aurora to the tunnel at the same stations they do today: Westlake if they’re changing direction, University Street if they’re not.

        If there aren’t buses in the tunnel Convention Place doesn’t do anything an on-street stop doesn’t do better.

      3. I’m coming around to the idea that the most Metro/ST should sell off at CPS is the “air rights”. If shortenting the distance to get a semi-disabled train out of the way is the overriding reason to build a turn-back track in the middle of IDS, then it makes huge sense to also build one in CPS as well, or at least the approach to CPS. If we convince ST to build the center platform at IDS, then CPS appears to be a necessary location for a turn-back track.

        Rather than drift off-thread, I’ll say a few more things about what to do with all the central space in each of the tunnels, and how to make use of the mezzanines, in the next open thread.

    2. Convention Place Station was axed because the angle and incline from there to the (later-dropped) First Hill station was infeasable. Whether it would be possible with the current routing, I don’t know, but ST did not consider re-adding the station.

      Another factor is that Convention Place station never achieved its original goals. It never attracted droves of riders from the Convention Center, and Capitol Hill riders were nonplussed with its distance from the eastbound bus stop on Pike Street. If only Seattle would make Pine Street two-way for buses, but so far it has not been willing.

      In any case, a better location for an intermediate station would be Bellevue & Pine, where the thousands of people in the Pike/Pine and Summit areas wouldn’t have to walk across the freeway to it. (This station was never suggested to ST at the time, at least not that I heard; it was a d.p. invention after the fact.)

  2. Everytime I see those Amazon “spheres”, I just think of Bezos trying to flaunt his manhood.

  3. Hey, [ot]-worthy thread!

    Now that I’ve reached my two-year anniversary of riding transit as my primary mode of transportation (I still have a cheap car that doesn’t get much use), I’ve figured out why I prefer rail: consistency.

    There is no wondering where the train is going to stop. Sometimes the bus driver stops at the bus stop sign, sometimes the driver pulls all the way past the stop (Sound Transit drivers on 4th in downtown are especially random, buses behind them or no). This is annoying on crowded routes when I’ve managed to get there before most other riders because it means the difference between a seat and not, even when traveling my usual after-8pm-commute. Sometimes the bus doesn’t stop at all (“ding”) and then the driver gets irked when I walk to the front and ask to be let off, per the “Stop Requested” sign.

    There is no question about paying fares. Fare enforcement happens often enough on Link that most people do it and it doesn’t hold up the system. On many of the bus routes I ride, the bus is often held for several seconds to multiple minutes for people to fumble around with change, give the driver their life’s hard luck story, or make a great show of depositing $0.19 in the box, declaring “that’s enough for today,” and strolling to a seat. (I happen to be one of the people who thinks that fares should be eliminated, but I realize that I’m in the minority. If the rule stands as-is, then it should be followed.)

    Smooth ride. Brake gently, like I know they taught you in CDL class. From my class back when we studied by candle light, remember, “slow to brake, slow to break.” :)

    I still love riding transit (even buses), almost as much as I love open threads. It beats driving for almost every trip I take and I take some pretty oddly-timed and weirdly-routed trips.

    1. All of the things you mention (payment, fare enforcement, prominent stops, good wayfinding), except ride quality, are not functions of buses or trains, per se, but of the way our agencies choose to operate buses and trains. And of course, even then, the difference is not as clear-cut as you suggest: fare collection on the SLUT is an embarrassing farce played out at the expense of clueless tourists.

      As no credible plan exists to turn even a large subset of the high-performing bus routes in the city into trains, we need to make buses more like trains. That is what I have devoted my advocacy to, and it is happening — very slowly, but it’s happening.

      1. I think that a lot of it comes from the human element in buses. Bus drivers are people with foibles, good and bad days, preferences, biases, and emotions. Train conductors are also people but they have a lot of automation at their fingertips. Buses have to put up with a lot more than trains (infrastructure, for starters).

        By way of example: One of them that you called out, prominent stops, hasn’t, in my experience, been a function of the infrastructure. In downtown, the stops are very prominent and I, like others, wait for the bus next to the very prominent sign. 50% of the time, the bus driver will blast right by the sign and proceed to the curb corner where we all run like chickens to board. A small minority of the time (<10%), I've had drivers cruise right past me and others at those same stops while it's never happened that a local route driver has missed me at a poorly-lit and even-more-poorly-marked stop on the 65.

        Lest it sound like I protest too much, I love public transit. Buses, trains, SLUT; I want it all. My ORCA card is the most used card in my wallet, surpassing even my debit card. Maybe I'm too robotic to genuinely appreciate that humans are running this system.

        (A driver on ST 522 yesterday was awesome, for instance. At 125th/Lake City Way, he announced "last stop before downtown Seattle, next is 6th and Union. Also, last stop for Dick's Drive-In. I'm not a paid spokesman but two Deluxe, a fry, and a chocolate shake are only $9.01 with tax. Laaaaast stop for a cheeseburger!" He also drove that bus smoother than a Town Car with a dignitary in the back. I could have played checkers without dropping a piece.)

      2. So we get better automated on-board announcements and train drivers not to make their own. We improve the way that stops are marked on the surface, and train drivers to pull to the post (or wherever) every time, just like the DSTT (with outbound buses).

        All this takes is people on high at Metro and SDOT to care about it. I hope to make them care. I believe we can do this much less than the $20-50 million/mile that seems to be the starting point for rail construction in the US these days.

      3. Note the difference between Swift and Rapid Ride. Swift is pretty far out of the way for… well… almost everyone, but the one time I went pretty far out of my way to ride I thought it all those little differences really added up. They have raised boarding platforms and consistent stop positions so, in theory, the ramp isn’t needed very often. They’ve totally eliminated on-board payment (yes, they have full ticket machines at every single station). There are few pull-out stops, lane changes, or turns. They have bike racks in the bendy part of the bus. I didn’t see all the improvements in action (it was a pretty quiet day, in both boardings and traffic, and nobody with a wheelchair or walker boarded), but one guy tried to board with cash (Swift was pretty new at the time) and was left at the curb to figure it out before the next bus came, with no extra dwell time. Some kids boarded with bikes and didn’t cause much extra dwell time, if any, on either end of their trip.

        And then I took the 358 the rest of the way home, and it was really slow. To be fair, the 358 has a much harder job than Swift, but it has greater opportunity, too. How much could it possibly cost to Do Aurora BRT Right? By “right” I mean no pull-out stops, no deviations, no on-board payment (requires a systematic low-income fare solution but we knew that), half-mile-ish stop spacing, consistent stop conditions, quality (convenient, safe, accessible) access from the east slope of Phinney Ridge, lower Fremont, Westlake, and eastern Queen Anne… the whole wish list except a 2nd Ave tunnel…

      4. “Swift is pretty far out of the way for… well… almost everyone”

        Swift makes more sense in the context of Snohomish County. Highway 99 is the highest-density street they have, and its high speed limit makes Swift fast. That’s why Swift and the 101 are CT’s highest-ridership local routes, significantly higher than when the only route was like the 358 on Swift’s routing. Lynnwood has promised TOD nodes around all Swift stations. Highway 99 is full of underused big-box stores and car dealerships, which means there’s huge, huge, potential for vastly increased housing and a continuous TOD corridor someday, when/if the cities are willing.

      5. Haha, Mike, I agree and disagree.

        I agree that Swift makes a lot of sense up there. It’s a major arterial corridor but one up in the far north of the urban area, so it’s certainly out of the way for anyone that isn’t going to the middle of it, because people going end-to-end are going to end up on freeway buses anyway. But Swift-style improvements (and sometimes even more) would make just as much sense on the King County portions of 99. The 358 is a pretty high-ridership route for King County today, even though Aurora essentially bypasses several dense neighborhoods that it passes near.

        It isn’t the high speed limit that makes Swift fast. Max speed is a vastly overrated factor in transit operation (and most urban/suburban driving). Highway 99 moves faster in SnoHoCo than King because there’s less traffic, fewer intersections, and fewer stoplights. But Shoreline and Seattle have built bus lanes and implemented TSP in some of the most important parts of the route, which mitigates these effects — by the time the E Line launches I don’t think there will be many permanent street-based excuses for not being able to operate a fast, reliable transit service on Aurora (Mercer construction will still be rough, downtown will still be awful).

        Swift has additional advantages over the 358, and they matter: fewer stops, no onboard payment, fewer ramp deployments. I don’t think ideally we’d want such wide stop spacing on the 358, and it’s hard to stretch it out much more than it is without local shadow service. But nobody that rides the 358 could seriously claim that Swift’s capital improvements would go to waste in King County. Every one of those improvements would be laser-targeted for Aurora, to a greater degree than on any other BRT line in the region (Swift and the A and B Lines don’t have such high ridership; Swift and the B are in parts of town where lots of people rely on other routes that don’t take paper transfers; the B, C, and D serve richer, more technophilic areas where ORCA adoption is higher; few routes, and no expresses, carry more riders with mobility difficulties than the 358). So where RR’s half-measures are sufficient to make the B Line move (except when traffic in Bellevue is really bad), the E Line really needs the hard stuff that Swift got.

      6. The buses are already ahead of our local train system in a couple regards.

        For one, they can get rid of deviations, which requires immense expense to do to a train line. (I’m talking about the cost of a SODO bypass line.)

        Second, as of last November, nearly all Metro buses have implemented the Spanish Solution — exit through a different door than the one through which you entered.

      7. If CT and Metro were the same agency, I’m not sure that Swift would be where it is. It would probably be somewhere in King County where the need and ridership is greater. But given that CT is a separate agency, highway 99 is the most logical place for Swift in CT’s service area. This example shows one of the negatives of a regional uber-agency, and why the separate agencies and cities exist. Of course, there are also advantages of an uber-agency; e.g., Germany has more urban streetcars, light rail, and heavy rail where it’s needed, and it runs more frequently. But the tradeoff to that is, a “Snohomish County” in Germany doesn’t get precisely the lines it wants, if it contradicts the region’s overall needs.

    2. The other day, a 512 I was on took a good 10 minutes to clear 6th and Olive, due to the all the change fumblers. By contrast, when the 545 passes through OTC in the afternoon, about the same number of people get on, but since everyone has Orca cards, dwell time as little as 1-2 minutes. Getting more people to use Orca will make a huge difference.

      1. And RapidRide B stops, with off bus ORCA readers and passengers who know how to use them, have dwell times measured in seconds, even with a handful of passengers still paying cash. 2 or 3 people in the front door with cash in hand, 20-30 loading in the back doors.

  4. Just thinking, It has been quite a while since LINK was closed down due to a car hitting a train. Are people finally realizing that they shouldn’t try to drive past the lowered arms? Have conditions changed thru the Rainier Valley that have made drivers not want to cross the tracks?

    1. There are no crossing arms along MLK. I think it’s people getting used to the train being there and of course realizing that in train vs. car, train always wins.

  5. In NYC, police cruisers are routinely parked in both bike lanes and in bus lanes. Trucks making deliveries do the same.

    If the police don’t show any respect for bike and bus lanes, how can they expect motorists to do so?

    1. I was riding my bicycle today, safely as always up on the sidewalk along 256 Avenue SE in Kent, when it struck me. A low hanging tree branch! Ouch.

      But what also struck me was a thought.

      Today, it is getting impossible to get into a car without strong 5mph or more bumpers. Safety belts. Airbags. Unibody construction. Safety glass. Crumpling steering columns. Anti-lock brakes.

      All of these things create a giant shield around people travelling within a car. You would never think of riding around, on say, an open chassis, with no insulation between the air and your body and nothing to hold you to the vehicle.

      Yet, in this world of super enclosed and protected people, travelling at 30-35 mph, we somehow think it natural to ride as a person, naked except for his clothing, on a small two wheeled vehicle, right in the midst of all these (very safe for others) vehicles.

      I think of the movie Surrogates, where no one leaves his home except using his robot surrogate and then Bruce Willis goes out with his regular body and gets pummeled by everyone just hustling down the street. That is what a bicyclist in a street is like!

      You say that a car in bike lane is crazy. I say, a bike, in a bike lane (next to enclosed, unibody vehicles going 30 mph) is moronic!!!

      Cars and bikes should not be anywhere near each other…except maybe on crossings and even then I would prefer bridges or tunnels to keep them apart.

      1. There are two problems with separated bike lanes: direct routing and incompleteness.

        The former problem is obvious: when the road goes from A to B in a straight line and the bike lane meanders about as if I were a tourist first seeing your glorious city, why should I take the bike lane day after day on my commute? I just want to get to my destination as fast as possible, just like the drivers of cars want.

        The second is a bit more subtle, but obvious in places like Kirkland. If you have a separate bike lane that disappears when it gets to an intersection, what have you achieved? The long straights aren’t the problem. The busy intersections are what cause fatalities. It’s a crime that we should ever see a sign saying “bike lane ends” but these exist all throughout our region.

  6. Data Indicate Apartment Rents Falling (Slightly) in San Francisco

    There is some early evidence that rents in San Francisco, which have generated widespread concern in recent years, might finally be leveling off.

    According to data gathered by the rental startup Zumper, median rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments actually fell slightly between May and July.

    The company, which says it carries the “vast majority” of listings in the city, calculates the median one-bedroom rent at $2,695 in July (down from $2,764 in May). The median rent for a two-bedroom also dipped slightly, from $4,000 to $3,950 over that two-month period.

    http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/07/19/104106/-rents-falling-in-san-francisco

    1. Rents fell in San Francisco during the 2008 crash. It’s possible that they’ve reached their sustainable ceiling now and slightly overshot it.

      I also read recently (perhaps from an STB link, I don’t remember), that rents around the Silicon Valley shuttle-bus stops, specifically their 10-minute walk circles, have increased dramatically compared to the rest of the city, in some cases doubling. Of course, the shuttle-bus stops themselves followed the tekkies, to where they most wanted to live. But now even more rich tekkies want to live near the shuttle bus.

      I’m experiencing a similar phenomenon, as I live in a building which seems to be half Microsofties and half Amazonians. I didn’t realize that when I moved in soon after the crash, or that the Microsoft shuttle and 545 bus stop within a block of here, and that others walk down to Convention Place Station to take the 255 to Google. So my neighbor’s rent just went up over $200, meaning mine will probably too next spring. Which means it may be time for me to get off the Hill and to a more price-sustainable neighborhood. Which probably means a place with fewer buses and further away from things. :( I won’t mind missing the Capitol Hill nightlife. It’s funny how as soon as I moved to within walking distance of El Corazon and the bars, I stopped going to them. But I will miss the crowds of pedestrians walking on the sidewalks 24 hours, so I don’t feel like the only non-driver. I haven’t decided where to move yet. Most likely close to Link because it’s the most frequent route and it’s a train. It partly depends on whether I’ll be working at the same place next year, and where Metro’s cuts will be. Possibly I might to one of the places I’ve considered too remote in the past: outer Greenwood or 8th NW or Ballard or Lake City. And just wait for David L’s network to make the bus routes more frequent. I could possibly see myself living halfway between the 5 and the E, or between the D and 28. But it would be a significant drop in mobility.

      1. An enterprising apartment management company might want to fund their own shuttle, or fleet of shuttles, if it makes the location that much more appealing.

        For example, you could build away from a LINK station, but have round the clock on demand shuttles for the last mile.

        Say two drivers covering 16 hours a day, at $55,000 a piece or $110,000 a year. Spread among 110 tenants that’s $1000 a year or less than $100 additional rent per month.

      2. @John Bailo, I think that’s the best idea you’ve proposed yet! I’ve seen something like that done with apartment complexes in a college town: they fund shuttles to campus running every ten or fifteen minutes. Since parking is inconvenient and students don’t like to drive, I’d imagine they get great ridership. In a larger city, though, I’d be concerned that frequency might start getting cut. But as it is, it sounds great. Bring back the era of property developers building outside the existing cores but funding streetcars/shuttles!

      3. As someone who recently moved from Capitol Hill to Ballard, I can say that Ballard isn’t nearly as remote as you might think. It’s very easy to get from Ballard to downtown, Belltown, LQA, Fremont, Wallingford, the U-District, and Northgate. About the only major destination that isn’t readily accessible from Ballard is, well, Capitol Hill. Which, I think, is part of what contributes to many people’s perception that Ballard is “way out there”.

      4. “An enterprising apartment management company might want to fund their own shuttle, or fleet of shuttles, if it makes the location that much more appealing. ”

        That can be a great idea in some cases, but $100 a month in additional rent is quite a bit of money, so it needs to be something that everyone really needs, considering the other available options.

        For instance, if the drive from the apartment complex to the station is 7 minutes each way, one bus will only get you 20-30 minute headways at best after turnaround and layover time is factored in. Even a not-so-great bus like the 50 has good enough frequency to make a special apartment bus have very little marginal value over the Metro bus, given the high price to pay for it.

        Nevertheless, no matter how you slice and dice it, any location requiring a shuttle connection to a core transit line will never be as attractive as a location where you can just walk there and be done.

      5. We’ve talked a lot about the Silicon Valley shuttles to San Francisco, but many companies and office buildings also have shuttles to the nearest Caltrain station. That works very well, and it’s simililar to Bailo’s idea of apartment feeder shuttles. In suburban DC there are van shuttles from metro stations to isolated shopping centers and hotels, and these also encourage transit use. We should have the same. $100 a month is too steep because that corresponds to at least half a parking space. But buildings could band together to offer a common shuttle on their street. And Metro could partner with them to help lower the cost, like setting up a vanpool program for it.

      6. I worked in Ballard for four years and lived there for nine months. (Unfortunately I was laid off a month after moving there.) I love Ballard’s relaxing unassuming atmosphere, and when I left I thought I may go back to it when I’m older. But what made me leave was I found I was going outside the neighborhood for almost everything, mostly in the east side of the city, or the gym at 100th & Aurora. Shopping I could do at the Ballard Market and Fred Meyer, but everything else was elsewhere. That could be different now I guess, now that there’s more in Ballard and I could adjust what I do. And I liked the 15 bus and how fast it moved on 15th Ave, so I’m not worried about RapidRide.

      7. “Even a not-so-great bus like the 50 has good enough frequency to make a special apartment bus have very little marginal value over the Metro bus, given the high price to pay for it.”

        This is for the suburbs, where there’s no Metro bus like the 50 within a mile.

  7. New plan: medium speed trains, not high speed

    The government will switch its railway investment from high-speed to medium-speed trains following strong criticism about the cost-effectiveness of the scheme, says Pansak Vinyaratn, chief policy adviser…

    Medium-speed trains capable of 250 kilometres per hour carry a lower investment cost than high-speed ones and are suitable for product shipments, he said without elaborating.

    http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/transport/366910/government-lowers-speed-of-railway-megaprojects

    250 kph = 155 mph
    Vancouver-Seattle-Portland 2 Hours

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