Does riding public transit make you happy?

Sushi すし
What does this sushi have to do with transit? Let me tell you. Photo by localjapantimes.

Researchers in Sweden performed a study measuring satisfaction for people who use public transit and people who do not. They performed two experiments, one measuring the satisfaction of transit-users and non-transit users before and after a month of using their preferred mode of transportation, and another where they asked some drivers to switch to public transit for a month and compared their satisfaction with people who didn’t switch, and those who were already using public transit. Their findings:

  1. People who used public transit were happier with public transit than those who don’t
  2. People who switched to public transit significantly underestimated how much they would like using public transit
  3. People who switched to public transit were happier overall than people who didn’t switch to transit

The first point is not at all surprising. People who eat sushi probably have higher opinions of sushi than people who don’t eat sushi have, too. The second is also not hugely surprising. People who can ride transit but don’t must have low opinions of transit to start with, and low opinions can probably only go up. Similarly, people who don’t eat sushi because they think raw fish is gross, might be surprised to see there’s other stuff, asparagus tempura rolls for example. So from the outside number three might seem surprising, but not, I think, when using my tired and stretched sushi analogy. If you think you won’t like sushi, try it, find out you actually really like sushi, you are going to be pretty happy. Here’s this whole new thing you didn’t think you’d like but do. The world is full of new great things, you might think.

This goes back to my point some time ago that Americans don’t like utopias that don’t have cars in them. If your whole life you grew up eating fish and chips and thinking (maybe being told) that sushi was something other people did and it wasn’t for you, you might not want to imagine a future where people ate a lot of sushi (I may have certainly laboured this one to death, now). So people who grew up being driven and driving, people who only see buses as obstacles to getting to their destination faster, I can easily imagine them seeing the world as a happy place when show how nice transit can actually be.

How applicable a study from bus-riders in southern Sweden is to people in Seattle is not totally obvious; presumably these guys didn’t have to ride the 358. Still, it seems the simplest thing to getting people to want transit or cycling infrastructure may be just getting them out of the car the first time.

Seattle with an 80m Sea Level Rise

There was recently a Grist article about Andrew Thaler’s easy technique to visualize sea level rise.  His maps show the near complete loss of some cities with the worst-case 80m sea level rise.  This is roughly the level at which the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have completely melted, along with the world’s glaciers. I’m not a climate scientist, but WUnderground has a good description of the current (3.1mm/yr) and predicted future sea level rise.  They describe the IPCC’s prediction for “most likely” rises of 0.8 to 2 m by 2100.  I include this to say the 80m level is a long, long time from now and only if things go terribly wrong.  But for entertainment purposes, here is Seattle at 80m sea rise, with more after the jump:

Boeing Field no longer looks like the best use of land.

Continue reading “Seattle with an 80m Sea Level Rise”

News Roundup: Happy Thanksgiving

This is an open thread.

ACTION ALERT: North Rainier Rezone

This is extremely short notice, but the Seattle City Council’s land use committee is taking up the long-overdue upzone of the area around Mt. Baker Station today.

A source tells me the usual anti-density forces are trying to mobilize against this. If you can join me at the Seattle Council Chambers by 9:30am today (especially if you live near the station) to testify in favor of this upzone, it would be very helpful.

An informative presentation on the upzone is here. If anything, it isn’t nearly aggressive enough.

Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan

Our Vision has been well publicized so Seattle Subway focused on three other areas in our public comment letter:

Seattle Subway Logo

To: Sound Transit’s Board and the entire Sound Transit staff

Re: We need fast, reliable, transit that is both economically sustainable and designed for future expansion.

Seattle Subway is thrilled to see that Sound Transit has begun the study work for ST3 corridors – which, within Seattle, include Ballard to Downtown, Downtown to West Seattle, and Ballard to the U-District – and that Sound Transit is aiming to run a 2016 ballot measure. Congratulations are also in order for U-Link, which is on track to be both under budget and ahead of schedule. We are writing this public comment letter for Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update to urge Sound Transit to: (1) use driverless technology for all new rail lines, (2) design and construct all future rail lines prioritizing further expansion and (3) select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology.

1. Use driverless technology for all new rail lines

Funding for operations is critical to the economic health of any transit system and the direct Return on Investment (ROI) case for rail projects. The former is demonstrated by the current funding shortfall for King County Metro’s operations. Though the subsidy for each ride on Link will be far lower when U-Link opens, current fares pay for less than 30% of total operating cost per trip. The driverless system in Vancouver, BC covers its entire operating budget via fares; possible due to their low cost per trip. In 2011, Vancouver’s driverless system’s operating expense per trip was $1.97. Using Vancouver’s 2011 expenses per trip, Sound Transit’s revenue per trip in 2011 of $2.05 would have covered operating expenses completely. Such driverless systems convey three immense benefits: 1. Massive savings to taxpayers through faster ROI on rail system investment; 2. A more flexible system, which does not incur cost penalties to run a 1-car train every 2.5 minutes instead of a 4-car train every 10 minutes; and 3. Permanently removing partisan politics as a threat to funding operations of new rail lines.

Continue reading “Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan”

Special Train Service for Thanksgiving Weekend

Photo by Zargoman (Flickr)
Photo by Zargoman (Flickr)

Sound Transit has announced that it will offer special Black Friday Sounder service, with 1 round trip from Everett and 3 round trips from Lakewood. The first trips from Lakewood and the lone trip from Everett will both arrive in Seattle about 90 minutes before the  day’s festivities begin with the 9am Macy’s Parade. Shoppers and families coming into Seattle on the North line will have about 9 hours Downtown, while those on the South line will have 7-hour and 9-hour options. In addition, Seattle residents visiting family in South King and Pierce County have a few reverse travel options as well. Here is the full schedule:

SounderExtra Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland has been dramatically scaled back this year. Where previous years saw as many as 11 added trains, this year we’ll only see a single round trip on both Wednesday and Sunday, leaving Seattle at 12:30pm and with the return trip from Portland departing at 5:45pm.  This paring back is almost surely due to the withdrawal of federal support for state-supported corridors that became effective October 1 of this year. Many trains for the weekend have already sold out, so act quickly if you’d like to take the train this weekend.

Stay safe and enjoy the long weekend, everyone.

Sound Transit LRP: Additional Ideas

It’s been a while since STB has had multiple posts like this and I wanted to quickly add a few ideas to this blue-sky discussion, particularly with relation to projects that I think could fall through the cracks or are more programmatic in nature rather than lines on a map. While I think Sound Transit’s survey is good, as Ben previously mentioned, it sticks fairly closely to the adopted 2005 LRP. Below is a very quick list of some projects or programs that came to mind over my lunch break. I’m not even sure if Sound Transit can do some of these things but I left everything in. Please add to and critique these ideas and send any comments you have to Sound Transit. This is a rare chance to influence the future of regional transit service.

I’d like to see the following ideas or programs addressed in the LRP update:

  1. HCT corridor from Ballard to Northgate.
  2. HCT corridor on BNSF corridor from I-90 to Totem Lake.
  3. HCT corridor between Elliot Bay and 23rd north of downtown.
  4. Third fully-elevated HCT N/S corridor which takes over travel to/from the airport. Extend Central Link to Southcenter/Renton area.
  5. A bus-rail integration program that funds small to major capital projects that improve transfers and bus speed and reliability around Link stations.
  6. Funding to establish a region-wide public development corporation to assist in finance and construction of affordable housing, mixed-use development, and necessary public infrastructure to catalyze private investments along HCT corridors.
  7. A BRT partnering program to fund the capital components of BRT projects with Metro/CT/PT to a ITDP standard of Bronze for 2nd tier HCT corridors.
  8. Regionally competitive grants for small to medium sized transit speed and reliability projects along major transit corridors.
  9. Matching funds for feeder bus service between Link and regional centers not served by HCT with a requirement of very frequent service all day.
  10. Program to fully implement the Growing Transit Communities partnership.
  11. Funds for infill stations where appropriate.

Key Additions to the Long Range Plan

Let’s serve Kirkland right.

We’ve written recently about Sound Transit’s update to their Long Range Plan (LRP). This list of potential projects is what Sound Transit draws from when developing future ballot measures. It can contain projects that range from completely designed and shovel ready to opportunities for study.

Sound Transit has framed their current outreach as serving two needs – updating the LRP, and prioritizing projects for Sound Transit 3. These are different goals. The largest projects likely to be in ST3 are already in the LRP – completing Link’s first spine, potentially expanding Sounder and Tacoma Link make up the bulk of an ST2-sized measure.

Most of the comments I’ve seen people make focus on influencing those projects that are already in the LRP. That’s a solid goal, but it leaves a hole in our advocacy. Just as Sound Transit 2 contained the corridor studies now under way toward Sound Transit 3, Sound Transit 3 will need to contain study work for potential projects in Sound Transit 4 – and Sound Transit 3 projects will need to be designed to accommodate those potential expansions.

Given the advocacy I know has already taken place and the corridors that already exist in the LRP, there are two things I think we need to be sure to add to the LRP for study:

First, a third north-south corridor through Seattle. However we serve downtown to Ballard and West Seattle, a huge swath of the city will still be between the two lines. A new Ballard line won’t serve the Greenwood or 99 corridors, but we’re seeing growth in both, and that will only continue. A West Seattle line can’t serve California, 35th, and Delridge at the same time, much less Georgetown and South Park.

The key here is that any new tunnel in downtown Seattle (as is being considered as part of the Downtown-West Seattle study already) should be designed to carry two lines, not just one, without having to shut down for future reconstruction.

Second, a Sand Point alternative to connect Kirkland to our regional system. Right now, shortsightedly, the Ballard-UW-Kirkland planning focuses exclusively on using SR-520. I wrote about this more than three years ago, and from that post, I’m resurrecting the image above, which shows alternatives considered by a study designed to push rail compatibility on 520.

Using 520 to get from UW to Kirkland would be some 50% longer than Sand Point, costing more and dramatically increasing travel time. Plus, with Children’s Hospital expanding, a Sand Point alternative wouldn’t just serve thousands more people, it would serve tens of thousands more jobs.

Considering the massive political hurdles to building through UW campus again, retrofitting 520 and giving Olympia another hostage, and trying to build new infrastructure in Montlake and Medina, it might even be cheaper to build a new bridge/tunnel/whatever than to build all that extra mileage. We should be studying it, not precluding it before we balance the options.

Sound Transit: Go to the Density

20131113-060625.jpgToday is the deadline for comments on study topics for the update of Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan, which will serve as the list of candidates for an ST3 (and probably ST4) package. Although there are lots of interesting ideas, there is by definition no data. When I start thinking of neighborhoods to serve, I inevitably turn to the ones I know and the ones I’d like to go to, which isn’t a particularly insightful guide to where the need is.

So instead, I’ll say this: Sound Transit, go where there’s going to be density. We should have no repeats of the density fights around Roosevelt, Beacon Hill, and elsewhere. When it’s time to pick corridors in a few years, light rail ought to go where there are already lots of units per acre, or where cities have already zoned for lots of units per acre. For various reasons, Link will have to go some places where the political will exceeds the development potential. In those cases, look for commitments to improve access: bus priority, municipal expenditures on parking, and so on.

Lastly, the plan should separate long corridors into discrete segments that can be evaluated separately. Ballard to West Seattle via downtown is an attractive concept with a certain geometric logic to it; however, if it turns out that the Ballard segment has much higher payoff, ST ought not to cripple it in the selection process by tying it to a lower-performing segment.

I can’t wait to see the data.

Last Day to Submit Public Comment on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update

Give Input2As Martin first mentioned last month, Sound Transit has been reaching out and asking for input on their Long Range Plan Update.  Today is the last day for that.

For an in-depth look at what this all about, Ben posted a great write up on the whole process following one of the Seattle Open Houses.

Basically, for ST3 and ST4 Sound Transit will pull projects from the vision laid out in this Long Range Plan.  If there is something you would like to see the agency do, let them know TODAY, so it can become a part of that vision.

At the very least take the 5 minute survey.

Possibilities in Olympia

On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee held a ‘work session’ in order to receive public comments on their proposed transportation package. I took the trip down, along with several other STB readers. So first, thanks very much to Jon, Alex, Allison, and Mark for joining me!

There isn’t much actual news. Elected officials from all over the state came on Thursday to ask for highway expansion, and while some of them asked for transit authority, I didn’t hear any of them ask the Senate to start funding transit directly, nor did I hear any testimony at all for passenger rail. There were individuals and organizations saying the package was a non-starter, but they were far too few.

There’s no way to know right now what’s going to happen, but with King County preparing to go to ballot with a Vehicle License Fee or sales tax package to save Metro, they’re no longer reliant on the legislature passing a package. If the package does pass the Senate, it’ll do so with enough Republican support that it may pass the House, so my hope is that the package is killed before it leaves the Senate.

For most people, context completely disappears when an issue drags on this long, so this also seems like a good time for a recap:

Continue reading “Possibilities in Olympia”

New York Times Short History of High-Rise

Surfers Paradise Highrise
A highrise in Surfers Paradise. Photo by Erik Veland.

The New York Times has a really cool interactive documentary up called “A Short History of the Highrise” starting with Roman insula and ending with futuristic skyscrapers. Here’s an excerpt of the introduction from the feature’s creator, Katerina Cizek:

When I set out to tell this story for Op-Docs, I came to realize that the history of the high-rise building is in many ways the history of humanity. I was faced with a daunting challenge: how to tell a 2,500-year global history in a short film? The solution was to expand the project into an ambitious four-part interactive series. I was inspired by the ways storybooks have been reinvented for digital tablets like the iPad. We used rhymes to zip through history, and animation and interactivity to playfully revisit a stunning photographic collection and reinterpret great feats of engineering.

I really enjoyed it; let me know what you think.

CT Studying Swift II

Map by Oran

If Boeing’s needs are a truly a major consideration in crafting the next state transportation package, then lawmakers may give serious consideration to what Community Transit is provisionally calling “Swift II:”

The proposed Swift II line under study would serve Boeing-Everett at the north end, wind east across Airport Road/128th to 132nd, then turn south at the Bothell-Everett Highway. There are two options of a southern terminus: just south of Mill Creek Town Center or Canyon Park.

According to spokesman Martin Munguia, CT is in the middle of a feasability study that could enable Federal Small Starts funding. Half of the $200,000 cost of this study was provided by the legislature in 2012.

There no capital cost estimates yet, although Munguia expects that, being shorter, it will come in under the $30m cost of the first Swift line. The House’s last attempt at putting together a transportation bill last spring included $10m over 12 years for this project, before Boeing became a priority, but no one knows what will happen next session.

Of course, there is also the issue of operating funds. Community Transit has already made the painful cuts King County Metro is trying to avoid, including the elimination of all Sunday service besides Sound Transit Express. Even with the capital money, it’s inconceivable that CT could operate this line without new authorization from the state, a (substantially new) CT board, and the voters.

Swift is generally agreed to the be the best example of BRT in the region, with full off-board payment, direct routing, partial right-of-way, and uniformly high-quality stops. CT should be commended for continuing to seek improvement in terrible fiscal headwinds.

A January 2016 Opening for ULink?

Photo from Sound Transit
Photo from Sound Transit

We first reported back in September that Sound Transit was evaluating strategies to expedite the opening of University Link. At today’s ULink Project Update at the ST Board Meeting, Sound Transit Executive Director of Design, Engineering, and Construction Management  Ahmad Fazel expanded on Sound Transit’s hopes for an earlier date, with very exciting news.

The current opening date of September 24, 2016 has been calculated based upon the finishing of major construction (September 2015), 180 days of systems testing (September 2015-March 2016), plus 169 days of schedule float (September 24, 2016). Mr. Fazel presented 3 scenarios for an earlier opening:

  • Q2 2016: Adhering to the current schedule but using the scheduled float.
  • Q1 2016: Adhering to the current construction schedule but compressing systems testing and using the scheduled float.
  • Q4 2015: Compressing the remaining construction schedule, compressing systems testing, and using the float.

The earliest option, a Q4 2015 opening, would incur additional costs of $10-12m, while the other two options incur no additional costs. Accordingly, staff recommended the middle option to the board: that the construction schedule be left intact, that systems testing be shortened from 180 to 90 days, and that the 169 days of float be used.  Doing the back-of-the-napkin math, ULink could open as early as January 8, 2016.

Sound Transit isn’t ready to actually pull the trigger and change the official opening date at this time, but staff will come back with a recommendation to the board within 12-14 months to set a firm opening date that falls within Q1 2016.

Beyond up to 9 months of better mobility for thousands of residents across the region, the timing will be fortuitous for many other reasons:

  • A January opening would allow Metro’s February 2016 service change to take full advantage of the new service
  • ULink would be online in time for the full summer tourist season
  • ULink would be open for the winter and spring quarters of the ’15-’16 academic year
  • Nearly a year of rider impressions would be made ahead of a possible ST3 vote in November 2016

Congratulations to Sound Transit and their contractors on a very successful construction project thus far. Let’s all hope that ST can keep to this expedited schedule.

CORRECTION: NE 130th St and 220th St SW Station Likely in Lynnwood Link FEIS

NE 130th St Retained Cut Station
NE 130th St Retained Cut Station

CORRECTION 11/29: The Sound Transit board can select any alignment and station studied in the DEIS not just those studied in the FEIS as originally reported. Additionally, Sound Transit clarified that the NE 130th St and 220th St Stations were not advanced to the 30% design level as other alignments and stations included in the FEIS. However, their design and environmental impacts will be brought up to the same level as the rest of the DEIS analysis.

This afternoon the Sound Transit Board will vote on which Lynnwood Link alignments and station locations to include in the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS). This step is critical because the Preferred Alternative, which will advance to construction, can only use alignments and stations studied in the FEIS DEIS. Additionally, as explained on Councilmember Conlin’s blog, Sound Transit is only allowed to deviate or modify alignments and station locations if it can stay within the voter approved budget. Conlin goes on to explain how Sound Transit has been able to modify the alignment to accommodate both stations in the future and what it would take to fully fund the stations:

The Preferred Alternative that the Board used as a starting point is the least expensive, no-frills alignment, costed out at $1.267 billion compared to the $1.322 billion budgeted for the route from Northgate to Lynnwood. We had several options to consider as possible additions, including possible rebuilds of bridges at 117th and 185th Street ($26 million), adding a 130th Street Station ($24 million), and adding a 220th Street Station ($42 million). Providing for the 220th Street Station would also require alignment modifications costing $36 million, while adding either of the two stations would require additional train sets at a cost of $40 million. Thus, to do everything we all wanted would bust the budget, taking it up to $1.440 billion.

Continue reading “CORRECTION: NE 130th St and 220th St SW Station Likely in Lynnwood Link FEIS”

Metro’s 2013 Service Guidelines Report


Earlier this month Metro released their 2013 Service Guidelines Report [PDF]. This report, which replaced the Route Performance Report in 2011, was released in the spring in 2011 and 2012, but Metro has decided to release it in the fall from now on to better align with the King County Budget process. STB covered the last report back in April. Notably, this is the first report since the launch of RapidRide C & D and the large restructure that went with it.

Some highlights after the jump.

Continue reading “Metro’s 2013 Service Guidelines Report”

News Roundup: Draws Fire

This is an open thread.

Ride the Double Tall Wave in 2015

Sound Transit's mock up of double deck bus
Sound Transit’s mock up of double deck bus

Sound Transit plans to add five double deck buses to its fleet in 2015, according to its fleet plan in the 2014 Draft SIP. Community Transit’s seventeen new Double Talls are also expected to enter service in 2015. It could be a coincidence or CT’s decision had an influence on ST’s future fleet plans since ST might be able to piggyback on CT’s bus contract.

While the SIP does not specify which routes those double deckers will run on, Sound Transit on its Twitter feed announced that the buses would run on all day routes in Snohomish County, where CT’s Double Talls are already a familiar sight to I-5 commuters. Community Transit is the only operator with the experience and capability to run and maintain double deck buses.

As a fan of double deck buses, I am excited to see more operators join the club. I wrote about the advantages of double deck buses compared to over-the-road commuter coaches but so far operators have been using them to replace articulated buses. Which leaves me wondering… how long until we start seeing double deck buses on urban routes?

Link Excuse of the Week – Urban Forest Restoration near Columbia City Station


If you’ve got a few hours free Friday morning (Nov 22nd), jump on Link and head to Columbia City Station where EarthCorps and Green Seattle Partnership are hosting an urban forest restoration project at the nearby Cheasty Greenspace.  If you don’t want to walk up the hill you can also get off at Beacon Hill Station and take the 36.

Details and Sign Up here.