This seems like cause for concern. (Joseph Heck/twitter)

This is an open thread.

104 Replies to “News Roundup: Not Really News”

      1. Oh, wait! The script writers decided to wave their hands and change the corsal nexus with a few cheap lines, no special effects, and no explanation, and here he is, back from retirement! Of maybe the Doctor Who universe has become the multiverse. Every stupid storyline has actually been filmed, but not necessarily in our universe.

    1. This is an absolutely wonderful photo.

      I think Metro and Sound Transit need to start surveying their ridership to find out how many Daleks are using the system.

      1. Yes but is everything accessible for Daleks?

        “You’re a tricycle with a roof!!” – The Doctor

  1. I could write a post just like Raschke for the precise opposite position. It’s an empirical question exactly how much frequency reliable real time arrival info “buys” but for me it definitely buys some (if there’s actually been a study on this, I’d love to see it). When the D launched, myself and many other users I know would have gladly gone back to 20 minute headways plus real time data.

    1. It all depends on reliability. If I could reliably count on <10 minute transfers systemwide, I wouldn't feel so helpless without real-time data. But with less-then-stellar reliability and multiple trip options, real-time data isn’t just a psychological feel-good, but it allows me to actively plan my trip in real-time. Take for example a trip from my apartment in the Central District to Fremont. I can take the following combinations:
      – 2 to 5/26/28/40 (transfer at 3rd/Pine)
      – 3 to 5/26/28/40 (transfer at 3rd/Pine)
      – 8 to 5 (transfer at Denny/Aurora)
      – 8 to 26/28 (transfer at Denny/Dexter)
      – 8 to 40 (transfer at Denny/Westlake)
      – 48 to 31/32 (transfer at Campus Parkway)

      Real-time data lets me know not only which is the optimal transfer in that moment, it also lets me know if I need to say, “Screw it, I’m getting a Lyft or a Car2Go.”

      1. Yes, absolutely agreed. In the non-ideal conditions of Seattle (transit is not reliably on time, and the changes necessary to make it reliably on time are largely out of Metro’s hands), real time arrival data’s value relative to frequency is enhanced.

      2. Atlantic Cities’ error was in extrapolating Zach’s experience into the bold claim that “now, thanks to real-time data, the transit system need not strain that messy cocktail of poor services you just described”.

        No. Absolutely wrong. Bad service is bad service, and technology helps us ameliorate the worst consequences of it. But an app does not solve any root problems, and should not be promoted and prioritized as if it did.

      3. I agree, d. p. It cries out for parody: “Thanks to OneBusAway, I know that I if I sprint five blocks, I can get to work in only 45 minutes!” or “I used to sit there waiting for a bus that never seemed to arrive. Now I just walk home (after all, it is only a couple miles). Thanks OneBusAway!”.

        No, a good system means you don’t have to carry a watch, or a smart phone, or any other fancy device to get where you need to go. You just walk out there, take a bus, wait a little while, take a train, etc. We could do that, but it would mean changing the way we think of our system and rerouting a lot of our lines (something the guys on this blog have already proposed). OneBusAway would be nice for any system (for the reasons you mention, Zach) but it shouldn’t make that much difference. OneBusAway is similar to traffic updates — they are really handy, but you would just rather have smooth traffic (and half the time they are useless because you are screwed no matter which way you go).

      4. Although good real time data doesn’t replace frequency, I think it shifts the equation of transit priorities to some extent. As the author noted having real time data makes waiting less of a hassle, which means all us being equal, I (and surely others) should be more inclined to shift funds towards speed increases, even if it meant less service and hence longer wait times. It also might make the super frequent route (8 per hour) that doesn’t require a schedule less valuable because it is no longer a hassle to look up the schedule of a slightly less frequent route.

        Of course, simply knowing when the next bus will come doesn’t make transferring viable the way increased frequency does, which is why minimum 15 minute frequencies are so important.

      5. I couldn’t possibly disagree more, and I think prescriptions such as yours reinforce the already dangerous devaluing of spontaneity-enabling transit by agencies such as Metro.

        A sooner bus will always get you there sooner. Higher frequency always equates to a shorter wait, whether at the stop or on your butt somewhere. Consolidated routes always mean easier and less fraught transfers.

        And high volume routes enjoy greater reliability thanks the better absorption of any demand spikes, traffic spikes, or other known unknowns.

        I don’t care how much of a hassle it is or isn’t to look up the schedule. I want to go somewhere now. Not 15 minutes from now. But now!

      6. Different riders have different priorities. The relative value of reliable real time info vs. frequency is an empirical question of the sort that can’t be answered by consulting our own preferences.

      7. Ceteris paribus (all other things being equal), real time info offers measurable psychological benefits, and occasionally offers strategic benefits. It does not make your system faster or more reliable, or make your disparate routes work better in concert.

        It is telling that the same commuter-focused types, who can’t conceive of catching a bus from anywhere other than home or the office, are the ones who would rather invest in real-time technology than in actually improved service. In cities like Seattle, these people can’t even fathom real transit freedom.

        Even these commuters are wasting more hours of their lives twiddling their thumbs than they’ll ever realize.

    2. What little I have seen of One Bus Away hasn’t really impressed me that much. Some of these systems (various systems used by several transit agencies across the country) become notoriously inaccurate with severe service disruptions as they use a lookup table and time differential based on the actual timetable to display the estimated arrival time.

      Of the stuff out there right now, I really like Portland’s PDXBus. Sadly, it is only available for iPhone and only available for the Portland area – because an engineer at Intel in Beaverton got so pissed off about the low quality of all the other products on the market he decided to develop his own so that he could use TriMet easier. The fact that he made his development freely available on the Itunes store is only gravy for the rest of us.

      Maybe if enough software developers out at Microsoft got similarly pissed off Seattle could wind up with a similar product that actually met the needs of the system.

      Though, I would also think that if people need to carry a smart phone on a regular basis in order to use the transit system, there are other issues that should be looked at. I’ve been told that one of the big improvements that transit systems in Europe have discovered works wonders for increasing ridership is the memory timetable. In other words, instead of this nonsense USA transit agencies have where a bus will come every 17 minutes and there is no hope of really memorizing the timetable, come every 20 minutes or 30 minutes or 15 minutes, so that there is a bus on a regular basis a certain number of minutes past the hour. It means riders can easily tell when a bus is soon going to be at their stop.

      Of course, then that gets back to the reliability issue .

      1. I’ve found U.S. systems — in particular those with such other bad habits as excessive route complexity and one-seat bias — far more likely to be obsessed with “the clock face” than any other place on earth.

        For high-volume core subways and buses, European cities tend to be more responsive to actual need. Imagine that! If the route needs to come every 6-7 minutes, run it every 6-7 minutes!

        If you can afford 12-minute headways, you bet that’s better than 15! Not least because 12 minutes is the proven psychological upper bound for “so frequent you won’t need a schedule” (or an iPhone or an excuse to dawdle in a bar), contrary to the wishful thinking of KC Metro or TriMet.

        The only European services that seem to round to clock-face multiples of five are of the RER and S-Bahn type: regional connectors where the proportionally longer travel distances and larger access sheds can make memorable schedule timing more needed than instantaneous frequency.

        In the urban service context, a sooner vehicle is always preferable.

      2. When frequency gets down to the point that a schedule matters (i.e., below 10 minutes), an easy-to-memorize schedule becomes important. People are more likely to take transit if they know a bus is coming at N past the hour, every hour. If they only know it leaves every 20 or 30 minutes but they don’t know when — and they don’t have a smartphone or they don’t want to look up buses all the time — they’re just as likely to drive or get a ride or not make the trip. I was more likely to take the 47 when it came every 30 minutes than now when it comes every 45 minutes, because I don’t remember whether this is the hour that it comes between :30 and :00, so I don’t take it, and that shows up as -1 riders.

        12 minutes may be a borderline case, but Metro is so far away from 12 minutes that it doesn’t matter. It needs to get more routes up to 15 minutes for a longer span, not spend a few hours on 12-minute service and leave evenings/Sundays half-hourly.

      3. I challenge you to find me one person on the planet who would rather wait 30 minutes than 21 — even if a 21-minute frequency would cost the same — just to have the opportunity to file the mnemonic “:13 and :43 after the hour” in their heads.

        In addition to wasting cerebral capacity, that information isn’t even useful beyond their default stop.

        If Metro decided to focus its energies on building a system around a number of core routes that did run at 8-12 minute frequencies at all times — like the TransitNow/RapidRide proposal claimed it would do, and then didn’t — those would suddenly become the routes that everyone would use. The entire city would start to coalesce around that network of “core reliables”; on these routes, even the most hardcore smartphone addicts would suddenly discover the ease of transit that simply, inevitably, imminently comes.

        Nothing is more infuriating than wasting thousands of service hours on 35-minute layovers in deference to the clock face. This describes dozens of Seattle routes. (Sometimes those layovers miraculously balloon when one driver pulls in at the end of the other’s break, and they decide to chat… and chat… and chat. I’ve witnessed this more times than I can count. If your 30-minute-headway buses invariably overlap at each end, then you’re wasting a ton of resources.)

        I repeat that fractured, low-quality systems like ours are the only ones on the planet that prioritize a clock-face scheduling method. Why are so many Seattleites so wedded to worst practices?

      4. Mike,

        My counterargument is the Route 5 schedule.

        The 5 comes every 15 minutes, a frequency that we all agree means that it needs a schedule.

        Let’s look at some times:


        I’m sure you see my point. The published schedule completely fails to maintain the kind of clock-face simplicity that you describe. If you expect the bus to arrive at :43 (the most common), you’ll miss the 4:42 bus by an agonizing minute. And Metro buses are not like Swiss trains; there isn’t a bus route in the city that arrives at every stop, all day every day, within a minute of the scheduled time.

        Now, you could argue that it’s still possible to arrive at :10, :25, :40, and :55, and you’ll never have to wait more than 5 minutes for the bus. Which might be okay — except that Metro doesn’t actually *tell* anyone this. You have to reverse-engineer it from the schedule, and I’m not sure that most people do that.

        And anyway, that’s just one example. Here’s the 3/4. You can see that the time points drift all over. Some of them get earlier and earlier as the day goes on. Some of them are just totally scattered. And again, all of this is compounded by the fact that the bus may come anywhere from a minute early to four minutes late, and still be considered on-time — and many buses don’t even meet that loose standard.

      5. I’ve always thought those slightly-wandering times are because the travel time changes throughout the day as the streets become congested and then uncongested. Whenever I go on a walking trip, I write down all the schedules I might need. Two weeks ago I went to the Interurban Trail in Auburn, so I wrote down the return times for the 180. I didn’t want to write all those 1-minute variations so I just took the earliest times. I saw that the :25 and :55 would be OK until 5:30pm. I espected to be done by then anyway, but because of the time change I’d make sure to be done by then. It would be really annoying if I’d had to write down the times of all 17 runs if they didn’t have a pattern.

        Likewise, for years I knew the buses left the Bellevue Transit Center at the :20 and the :50; the 43 left downtown at the :15 and :45; the evening 71/72/73 left 45th & University Way at the :00, :15, :30, and :45; the 4th Avenue buses left Costco at the :00 and :30, etc. That helped me for a ton of trips throughout the years, both planned and spontaneous. I couldn’t memorize every route so I never knew when the 5 went, but at last I knew some routes I could count on without having to carry all their schedules.

  2. Regarding the article about using ground floor retail as a loss leader: I’ve noticed a lot of empty ground floor retail in relatively new-ish buildings. Most prominently biking on Stone Way from the Burke Gilman up to Green Lake, there is so much empty ground floor retail. Mostly in 4 story buildings it seems, zoned NC2-40 (see DPD map 76).

    I don’t know how developers can make money building in NC1/2/3-40—you can’t build more than 40’ and you have a FAR of 3.25 for mixed use. There’s only so much demand for retail when you can only build 40’ high. I wonder how long the retail will remain empty—symptoms of low building heights and a low FAR.

    I think for some developers, ground floor retail remains simply as a loss, not even a loss leader, due to Seattle’s inefficient land use code.

    1. I’d argue you have this backwards. What she’s saying is not to let in the high-rent paying tenants, and allow lower-rent tenants because they’re more interesting.

      1. I totally agree with your assessment as I made the same.

        In any loss leader scenario the losses are subsidized by something else; in this case the apartments above, which I argue there probably aren’t enough units to cover the losses because of reduced allowable density. Add a 5th, 6th, 7th (etc.) floor of apartments, and the ability to subsidize loss leaders becomes more viable. Then you can have the interesting tenents rather than the empty spaces that I observe in so many new buildings across Seattle.

        What I’m saying is that there seems to be a glut of ground floor retail with not enough density to support it. If every building were 40′ with ground floor retail I don’t think there’d be enough demand for all that space, and it certainly wouldn’t justify the cost of building it. I’d be interested in seeing an actual analysis, but I bet I’m right.

      2. I think she’s saying the opposite of that. There’s plenty of demand for retail space, so much that the good shops can’t afford rents and neighborhoods become stuck with banks and tanning salons. She’s arguing to create a loss leader where the standard practice is to have profitable tenants.

        I think anywhere you see empty storefronts in Seattle at the moment there’s a special underlying cause. For Stone Way that neighborhood is in transition. Eventually it’s aiming to be a bridge between Fremont and Wallingford, but it’s not there yet. Owners are likely holding out for higher-rent tenants, and tenants need short-term customers, not a long-term vision. If the owners drop rents to attract short-term retail, it’s hard to raise it back.

      3. I agree with Matt. Retail rent is high. Just like apartment rentals, if it is vacant now, it is because the owner is betting that it will be much higher in the future. That doesn’t mean that it is so low that they can’t find a tenant that will make up for the cost of construction.

      4. It’s not hard to raise rent on business locations. It happens, pretty much, all the time. Businesses get forced out of rental locations and move *frequently*.

        Commercial landlords can be terribly uncompromising compared to residential landlords, partly because businesses have less ability to complain about rents.

  3. OneBusAway and the like can “replace” frequency for one-leg trips, but not for transfers. If we want to have a transfer network, we still need the frequency to make transfers painless, no matter how good real-time information is.

    1. Agreed. The number of times I’ve wanted to hop off the 550 at rainier / i-90 and take the 9 to get to central capitol hill — OH WAIT. The next one isn’t for 22 minutes. Better stay on.

      So, positively, OBA can help a system’s transfer-willing riders avoid making “bad” transfers. Frequency, however, would let people actually make those transfers.

    2. It partly depends on how reliable (or unreliable) the bus service is.

      For an extreme example, if 15-minute service means two buses arriving together every half-hour or so, most people would rather have real-time arrival information than 10-minute service which equates to three buses arriving together every half-hour or so.

      If buses typically appear within 2 or 3 minutes of the scheduled time, almost everyone would agree that more frequent service would be far more valuable than real-time arrival information.

    3. OneBusAway can be extremely useful for transfers in situations where you’re transferring downtown and there are a few buses that go within reasonable walking distance of your destination. I live near the 28, so I prefer that bus to get home. But I’ll also take the 5 or the D Line if one of those comes along and the next 28 isn’t coming for at least 10 more minutes. Most of the time I’d rather walk an extra half mile at the end of my trip than wait around downtown for 10-20 minutes. Without the real-time info, I wouldn’t be able to make as good of a decision about whether or not to hop on the 5 that just pulled up.

      Better frequencies would eliminate the need for this type of calculus, of course, but that’s a lot more expensive than providing the real-time information in places where it can be acted on most appropriately.

      1. …So goes the claim of those who would toss a smartphone app into the broken status quo, and then pat themselves on the back for their “forward-thinkingness”.

        Of course, that claim happens to be 100% false, and thus a dangerous and profoundly stupid approach to setting priorities.

      2. Better frequencies would eliminate the need for this type of calculus, of course, but that’s a lot more expensive than providing the real-time information in places where it can be acted on most appropriately.

        But it isn’t really more expensive, right?

        After about 8 PM, the 5, 28, and 40 all switch to 30-minute frequency.

        Let’s assume that every rider after 8 PM is performing the same calculus as you. In that case, the set of people riding the 358 (E), 5, 28, D, and 40 is roughly the same.

        Suppose that the 5 simply stopped running after 8 PM (note: I am emphatically *not* proposing this). Instead, Metro used the service hours to upgrade the E from 15-minute to 10-minute service at that time. The D and E are about the same length; instead of running 6 buses an hour (4 on the E, 2 on the 5) on different routes, you’re just running them on the same route.

        You’re not spending any more money, and all the people playing the “real-time game” aren’t any worse off; they just have a guaranteed walk from Aurora instead of a probabilistic one.

        Likewise, you could simply stop running the 28 after 8 PM, and use the service hours to upgrade the D to 10-minute service.

        The only people who are worse off are people who always wait for the “right” bus, and aren’t able or willing to walk the greater distance. Those people certainly exist, and I don’t mean to dismiss them. But the current bus network isn’t exactly serving them well either.

    4. In some cases, yes, but by no means all. The last time I was in Seattle I did a number of Wallingford to Greenwood trips. My destination was between the 28 and 5. So while I was on the 44, I did a quick check to the arrival times for those buses (it was usually late afternoon, so the schedule is useless). Helped me make the best decision about how to transfer.

    5. I agree David (and said as much here: I will say that OneBusAway can be handy when you have more than one option, but it is no panacea (just as “traffic on the nines” is no panacea for traffic congestion). If missing your connection means a twenty minute wait, give or take a few minutes, then it really doesn’t matter how many you give or take. Of course, if the bus is ridiculously unreliable (I’m looking at you 7X!) then it could help you decide whether to wait for a bus that gets you close to your house or take one that requires walking an extra mile or two.

      1. OneBusAway is very useful, but it’s important to recognize its limits. In particular, it’s important to recognize two things:

        1) Every bus is on-time until it’s schedule to leave the terminal (meaning no point in checking OBA before that time)
        2) OBA only knows where the bus is now; it doesn’t know what delays the bus will encounter in the near future. For instance, if OBA claims that route 16 is going to go by a certain stop in 10 minutes, that 10-minute figure cannot really be trusted. Practically speaking, a 16 that OBA claims is 10 minutes away means a 16 that’s coming sometime between 10 and 20 minutes and you don’t know.
        3) For freeway-running buses, OBA doesn’t use the WSDOT traffic data. If your bus is one freeway mile away from a bus stop, OBA will always say “1 minute”, even if the bus is crawling in traffic at 5 mph.

  4. What’s the height limit in the area above the station box? I remember being disappointed at some point about it…

  5. The people opposed to the density brought by low rise rules are successful for two reasons:

    1) They are organized
    2) They have a simply proposal

    Many of the people who sign the petition want to avoid any increase in density for a variety of reasons. They don’t like more people in their neighborhood, or the looks of the new buildings, or the height. But they focus on the height, and only the height, because it is simple and thus less controversial.

    Meanwhile, folks who want to see more density seem to write good essays here, or in The Stranger, or even the The Seattle Times. But none of that has resulted in a petition drive, or anything close. I suggest we take a page from their playbook and focus on something small and simple:

    1) Get rid of the parking requirement, but if parking is built, it has to adhere to the current restrictions. This would allow builders to choose between building something similar to what they are building now (e. g. four town houses with parking behind) or add more units (six town houses with no parking).

    I’m sure some of the anti-density crowd will go ballistic. Let them. I say, meet the folks who are behind this petition drive half-way: If the height limits are lowered (which only apply to one low rise category), then get rid of the parking requirement for all low rise zones.

    But first give us a chance to sign a petition. I’m tired of being outmaneuvered by the other side while many on the city council assume that they represent a majority. They don’t, and I want to see this become a real debate, where we can see how various council members line up.

    1. Great idea! …. Except one thing – there already is no required parking in lowrise zones (except for far flung areas removed from urban villages and transit.). So… Idea #2?

      1. Why have any requirement for parking on any low rise lot? Why stipulate that you get a waiver only when close to “urban villages”? So we can build more buildings like this:

        Low rise is where the battle is in this city. Really, it is the lower low rise buildings (L1 and L2). If those are crap, then people will fight density in all locations. If those prove to be nice, then people will welcome more low rise buildings in their neighborhood. Right now, people have built crap for years, and now people are afraid of people building tall crap.

        If you don’t think ending the parking restriction goes far enough, then loosen up the density limits. I can see why someone might object to having a really tall building go up next to them. But I see no reason why you should object to people building smaller units instead of big ones (unless your purpose is to artificially keep the price of housing high).

  6. Remove height limits above the station, reserve the bottom level for narrow retail, reserve floors two and three for a sort of open air, Budapest Great Market Hall-style space where the farmer’s market would be, then stack the units in on top. Problem solved.

    1. There is a park right there next to the station construction site. A number of cities (Vancouver WA for example) have very good farmer’s markets in a city park. Therefore, I really don’t see a real need for an entrance plaza and all that at the station if the only goal is to serve the farmer’s market. Vancouver’s farmer’s market has some 250 vendors and claims to be the second largest such market in the state of Washington, so it seems to me that if they can do all that in a city park, there shouldn’t be that many obstacles to having the Broadway farmer’s market in Carl Anderson Park.

  7. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I’m not feeling that the “Plan B” vote is going to go very well. Every one I’ve mentioned it to, so far, has had a long list of grievances and dissent. That’s fine but for someone who really wants this to pass, I’m not sure where to go next. Is it possible to rebut one-sentence statements like “just raise the fares” and “Metro/Sound Transit already waste large amounts of money, I’m not giving them any more” and “My registration is too high as it is” with something less than a paragraph?

    1. I think it’s going to be a hard sell. I find I usually get a good response from people when I explain the whole story about how the funding was changed in 2000 and why that’s having an impact now, but not everybody has the patience for that.

      1. As someone who campaigned for Prop 1 in 2011, I am not optimistic.

        Prop 1: $60 VLF, in Seattle, at a November general election, for unspecified transit and street improvements. Failed 39-60.

        Plan B: $60 VLF + 0.1% sales tax, countywide, at April special election, to preserve existing bus service and unspecified road projects.

      2. It’s certainly going to be an uphill battle. With that said what gives me optimism is as Mark highlights, people generally support it more once they understand what is happening. Additionally, strong support/opposition is asymmetrical, in my opinion favoring support, and with a low-turnout special election that is favorable. The people that are riled up are those who are going to lose their bus service. I also think the broad elected official support, especially outside of Seattle is important.

      3. Even if it somehow passes in seattle it will be brought down by those outside of the county. So sadly I think this has little chance of passing.

      4. I’m not sure if “county’ was a typo, but in any case Plan B is a county-level measure so nobody outside the county will be voting on it. And saying the suburbs oppose transit funding is too simplistic. There’s lots of support for transit in the suburban cities — especially for the existing level of buses. Some residents are too poor to drive, or choice riders, or their teenage children are too young to drive. City governments see buses as necessary to manage city-center congestion, and because so many residents want to take transit to Seattle. Even Kemper Freeman claims to be pro-bus. The hostility to transit is strongest in the exurbs, where people don’t see it as a viable choice and anti-tax sentiment is strongest. But by definition the exurbs have fewer people, which means fewer people compared to suburban cities which are more positive or at least neutral on transit.

    2. It looks like the Seattle Times isn’t helping the cause by publishing letters to the editor that “alert” the public to the travesty that is car drivers subsidizing transit. I liked the proposal today to increase bus fares by $6.00.

      But would you expect anything else from the Times?

    3. Just raise the fares.

      Nearly half of commuters to downtown and the U-District are on the bus. Do you really want to experience the traffic and parking problems if they all move to their cars because the bus is so expensive?

      My tabs are too high.

      You might have noticed that Metro has been repeatedly asking for money for years. That’s because the legislature took away its stable funding source in 1999 and it has been funded since by baling wire and duct tape. What was that stable funding source? Car tabs that were way higher than Plan B would impose.

    4. It’s the same “something for nothing” mentality that affects all public works measures. Most people want better transit but they don’t want their taxes to go up. They want to tax somebody else or just have it magically appear. (Same as the “No tolls on I-90” movement.) You can’t just assume that the Seattle Times comments reflect the majority of citizens because the Seattle Times comments are always anti-tax. What you have to do is look for differences between the public mood on Plan B and their mood before previous successful measures.

      The failed Prop 1 is one such point but it’s not a 1:1 correspondence. The pro-transit side was divided on Prop 1 (too many streetcars / not enough streetcars / so many diffuse projects that it doesn’t achieve any project well). So many of them voted against it, thus adding their vote to the anti-tax people’s. In Plan B’s case there’s a central and critical project to rally around: preserving Metro’s hours. There’s a huge constituency supporting that: the county hearings two years ago brought record numbers of people to testify. So they will vote yes, the anti-tax people will vote no, and it’s unclear what the rest of the public will do. But some of them don’t want transit to get worse; they don’t want to take a step backward. So they’ll vote yes. Then you come to the people outside all these categories: it’s harder to say what they will do.

      1. I agree, Mike. The Prop 1 vote was muddied. This vote is very straightforward and I expect the campaign to be as well. Metro has been complaining for years about cuts, and what will happen if they don’t get money. Now, everyone will know that this is one of the few chances we have to preserve Metro bus service. There may be some complaints about the type of tax (aren’t there always?) but the county’s hands are tied in that regard. I think this stands a very good chance of passing (and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Seattle Times endorsed it).

      2. People also know that this is effectively the only chance before the big cuts start to go into effect, as soon as this fall. With Prop 1, voting no means voting to retain the status quo. This time, a no vote does not retain the status quo – it makes things drastically worse.

  8. Also, continuing my trend of exploring Metro’s system in the Open Threads:

    Does anyone know the story behind the route 75 trips that say “Northgate Only” on them? I can’t find any trips marked like that in the official schedule or on OneBusAway but I see them all the time. Do they start from some random point and just go between Lake City and Northgate?

    1. They are normal full-length 75 trips. I think the sign said “Northgate Only” when the 75 was first truncated in order to inform people that it no longer went to Ballard, and it has just never been changed.

  9. I think the lead in to the loss leader story is a bit misleading. The issue is that developers don’t use retail as a loss-leader. Here’s a quote: “No one wants to live above a bank branch or a tanning salon,” Dunn said. “Most developers, if they were smart, would use retail as a loss leader.”

    I find this really interesting. What I’m noticing in many high-end neighborhood retail strips (best example: upper Queen Anne) is a death of interesting shops as rents rise. You see tanning salons, banks, cosmetic surgery shops, high-end boutiques, but little that’s useful for day-to-day shopping or foot traffic. My proposed solution has always been to add more retail storefronts by extending the neighborhood strips (on QA I’d extend it down Galer at one end and McGraw on the other). But this is certainly another way to do it – just turn down high rent tenants and choose your favorite normally-lower-rent business to let in.

    1. I don’t have a subscription to DJC so I didn’t read the full article. Presumably when she says ‘loss leader’ it means she’ll accept a lower rent for the retail space in exchage for higher residential rents.

      So, in the interest of affordable rents, does it work the same way in reverse? Are apartments above bank branches, nail salons and vacant retail cheaper?

      1. I assume so, though it really depends on the market whether this would be cheaper than a building in a cheaper location with no retail.

        A quick summary of the story: it’s about Liz Dunn, who was behind Melrose Market, Piston & Ring, and the Pacific Supply building. She advocates using high demand for retail spaces to choose your tenants, lowering rents as needed to get the best shops. This creates an attractive destination which leads to an attractive place to live. It describes her new project Chophouse Row on Cap Hill, with 900sf retail spaces with “highly curated” tenants.

      2. That picture of the future 12th Ave Marketplace is gorgeous!

        Is Dunn + Hobbes looking for investors? ;)

    2. What I’ve heard — which is “truthy”, although I don’t have a source — is that the biggest problem with most newer buildings is the depth and width of retail spaces. Where an older building would have had several deep but narrow spaces, a newer one will have fewer shallower and wider spaces. Each one of these differences is problematic:

      – Fewer spaces means that each retail tenant must bring in a larger share of the building’s total rent.
      – Shallower spaces present a problem for any kind of business that needs a back room, such as food service.
      – Wider spaces means that each space takes up more of the street frontage (a precious commodity), which raises rents.

      The Joule on Capitol Hill is a great example of a building that *doesn’t* have this problem, and that has been nearly full since day 1, including several food service establishments and (if I recall correctly) zero banks. Conversely, Leva in Ballard is a great example of a building that does have this problem; it has a dry cleaner, cell phone store, tanning salon, and three spots that have been vacant since the building opened.

      1. Don’t forget the bank in the building across the street!

        It’s a shame that there aren’t any interesting shops between 15th and 17th. Some of these comments shed some light into some things behind that.

      2. Interesting. So why do new buildings typically have shallow spaces?

        (By the way, I love deep, narrow spaces, like those in the U-District. I can see how it makes economic sense, and it also makes for a very interesting landscape)

      3. Parking! Back in the good old days, you’d fill up your ground floor with retail, maybe a small lobby, and a few stair shafts. These days you need huge ramps for the cars to drive in, plus now there’s elevator shafts along with the stair shafts. Add to that larger lobbies. This can take a good half of your ground floor plan (or more), and so your retail becomes shallow.

      4. Interesting. So why do new buildings typically have shallow spaces?

        Well, when you’ve got a certain amount of space, you’ve got to decide how to use it. Some buildings (especially outside Seattle) use part of the ground level for parking. Other buildings (including Leva) use the first floor for things like the leasing office, the mail room, the gym, and even some garden-level apartments (the entrances are in the courtyard).

        No matter what you use it for, you’re ultimately cutting into space that could otherwise have been used for deeper retail spaces.

        Sadly, the problem is somewhat self-reinforcing. If you’re a developer, and you need to decide whether to use the first floor for deep retail or for garden-level apartments, you’re probably going to want to know which one’s going to make you more money. If your experience with past buildings has been a 95% residential occupancy rate and a 50% commercial occupancy rate, then naturally, your bias will be to throw in as many apartments as you can fit. You’ll throw some retail spaces in front because nobody would want to live in a space like that anyway, but you’re not really expecting that they’ll do very well.

        This theory also explains why the Joule succeeded. Because of the hill between Broadway and Harvard Ave, it’s impossible to build any apartments on the Broadway ground-floor level. They could have put in shallow retail spaces, but honestly, the extra space wouldn’t have been big enough to do anything useful with.

      5. Successful stores *do* generally want deep spaces. Shallow spaces are problematic.

        Here’s another way to think about it: a particular store needs the same amount of square footage, whether it’s “frontage” or not. So if you have a shallow space, each store is going to need to occupy a huge frontage.

        And yet the store will only pay the same rent as it would for a narrow frontage and a deep store, with the same square footage… because it doesn’t need the frontage.

        So by making shallow spaces, you’ve just reduced your rent per foot of frontage massively.

      6. I thought stores wanted large frontage, to give them more visibility and make them look important, and to keep competitors further away.

      7. Large banks and major retail chains want — and can afford — large frontage.

        Encouraging construction that caters to these parties is what the suburbs traditionally do. This is why some of our new-construction areas are becoming commercially indistinguishable from suburbs.

      8. Normal stores don’t want huge frontage. Normal stores want to have a reasonable-sized, not-too-large frontage clustered next to a bunch of other stores, so that people who are out shopping at another store might take a look and wander over to their store.

        As d.p. says, a few specialized types of business engage in the “chest-thumping” exercise of paying extra for excessive frontage in order to look impressive, or to drive away other businesses. This is done mainly by the sort of businesses which are monopolists, bad neighbors, or overly focused on PR at the expense of being a useful business. (Big banks fall in the third category — they compete based on appearance of prestige because they frequently have no other marketable distinctions.)

  10. What’s the deal with ST shutting off the U-Link station cams? They haven’t updated in days. I was sort of looking forward to the big pour at CHS.

  11. Good counter to political pressure against bus lanes would be concerted campaign by those of us who consider fast transit the best-spent item in our car-maintenance budget. And who really do “love our cars” enough to refuse to drive them in traffic conditions that ruin them.

    Campaign slogan: “Driving sucks where your car gets stuck!” We might even be able to enlist AAA and some car insurance companies as an allies.

    Photo is indeed worrisome, because it’s proof that after 23 years of Tunnel operation, those badminton-looking ventilators at IDS are finally starting to have babies, or clone themselves like parameciums.

    Probably what happened was rather than go to a supplier, station architects searched the galaxy for a cone-shaped life-form that eats diesel byproducts. When Tunnel buses stopped having electric motors, abundance of food caused the creatures to multiply, and also start riding the service and standing on station platforms.

    Designers can be forgiven for belief that nobody in their right mind would ever put diesel engines on Tunnel service. And the poor creatures themselves? Don’t like ducks, don’t feed them. Just sayin’.


  12. the story regarding Rispoli, the fired train driver is pathetic. I cannot believe our tax dollars are being spent dealing with people like her and paying her tremendous wages and compensations.

  13. OK…Does anyone know the current status of the “City Connector” streetcar line? The last stuff I heard about it was last fall.

  14. In the Community Transit article: “In the coming year, we will be evaluating whether to bring back service on major holidays, as well as Sundays. But we want to be cost-effective whatever decision we make. So on days we know ridership is going to be low, we may continue to offer reduced service to still serve our riders, but in a fiscally responsible way.”

    So brighter days may be ahead for Sundays. I wonder if CT will also reevaluate its last decision to keep so many express routes at the expense of local frequency. Cutting one or two of the least productive express routes would free up some hours.

    1. At least have 1 route down to Edmonds on Sunday.

      That way the people who get on the wrong Sounder train back from the games have a way back south without the cost of a taxi.

  15. As folks probably know, I’ve been a strong advocate of rerouting the 5 through Fremont. I was surprised to see that Metro proposed to send the 16 through Fremont, rather than the 5. I tried to probe folks at Metro about this, and I finally got an answer:

    “Revising Route 5 to serve Fremont and South Lake Union was considered but had higher operating cost due to its longer running time and would be several minutes slower for all its current riders.”

    On the one hand, this response makes sense. The 5 does have higher ridership than the 16, and so a change to the 5’s routing would inconvenience a greater number of people. And I’m guessing the “longer running time” is really a cycle time argument; Metro probably calculated that changing the 5 would require more buses (and drivers) on the road at one time than changing the 16.

    On the other hand, it’s somewhat disheartening to see Metro’s focus on current riders, to the exclusion of future riders. All service changes will leave some existing riders worse off. But if those changes are what it takes to convince a lot of new riders to take the bus, they might still be worth making. If Metro’s only goal is to build the best possible network for the current ridership, then I’m worried that we’ll continue to have a downtown-focused bus network until the end of time.

    As an aside, I stumbled on an interesting report that compares Portland’s transit network with Seattle’s. The report was written in 2005, but it uses data from 2001. Seattle is used as an example of a transit system that ‘[emphasizes] “one-seat” peak-period service connecting as many points as practical’. The shocking conclusion:

    King County Metro operated slightly more revenue service hours per capita. This, together with the population of the Tri-Met service area, implies that Tri-Met would have needed to operate nearly 106,000 more annual revenue service hours if its system had been configured as that of King County Metro[.]

    Portland’s grid has been around since 1982. Muni has had one since before then. How long until Seattle sees the light?

    1. By the way, I know there are a lot of people who speculate that the 17% cut will be good for Seattle, inasmuch as it would trim the fat from our bus network. A bit of careful reflection should make it clear why this is a terrible idea. If you cut 17% from Metro, you will still have a downtown-oriented network. It will just have 17% less service. The only solution is to convince Metro that connectivity between non-downtown neighborhoods is as important as connectivity to downtown. If anything, a service cut will just encourage Metro to double down on its existing success, not to branch out and try something new.

    2. Aleks,

      It’s MUCH easier to Portland to have a grid than Seattle, at least on the east side of the Willamette. We don’t have a grid on the west side for the same reason Seattle doesn’t: geographical barriers.

      1. You’ve seen David Lawson’s map, right? We may not have as clean a street grid as those other cities, but we could easily build a much more gridded bus network if we wanted.

    3. The 16 going through Fremont? Where was that? That seems like quite a big detour for its primary market northeast of 45th & Wallingford.

      1. The reports of the 26’s demise are greatly exaggerated. :) In fact, Metro just changed the routing of the 26 a bit, calling it an “express”, and routing it along Aurora and Bridge Way. Likewise for the 28, except it will use Fremont Way and N 39th St.

        Regardless, Al is right; neither of these two buses will serve Fremont anymore. Thus, the 16 will appear to fill the gap.

      2. That routing remains a proposed scenario if the 17% cuts happen. It doesn’t seem appropriate to talk about it as a done deal.

      3. “The reports of the 26′s demise are greatly exaggerated. :) In fact, Metro just changed the routing of the 26 a bit, calling it an “express”, and routing it along Aurora and Bridge Way.”

        That’s not the only change. There will also be a huge cutback to the 26’s hours of operation. While the current 26 runs 7 days a week, day and night, the new 26 will run only on weekdays, only during the daytime. Plus, outside of rush hour, I think the frequency will be cut back to hourly.

        On evenings and weekends, the 16 will be the only option left between Wallingford and Fremont. Fortunately, thanks to the 45th St. freeway stop on the 512, people in Wallingford who are willing to walk won’t be stuck on the new and slower 16 all the way downtown.

  16. I’m not giving a whole lot of love to the OBA app for iPhone. The app will not let you go to the ‘map’ page and look up *any* location. It gives “no routes found” for any location. This same situation has been the case for the app since at least October and I’ve reported it and so far nothing’s been done to fix it.

    1. Joseph Singer – how would you like it if there were no real time arrival information options? One Bus Away did away with their phone service. So now, if you don’t have web access at your bus stop or on your connecting bus, you can settle for the scheduled arrival time information dished out by the METRO customer service line.

      I know by admitting my phone is not smart I am risking being labeled a troglodyte in this august forum.

      1. I was disappointed with that response as well. Well, as was explained to me you can still get scheduled departures from a regular mobile via text message. It even works with T-Mobile which was not working for many months. You have to send a message to onebus at 41411 the “message” is onebus [stop number] e.g. Pike/4th send to 41411 and “message” onebus 1180 for all buses at that stop. For multiple routes e.g. onebus 1180 10,11,43 will give only those routes. It’s too bad they discontinued the regular phone audio service, but I imagine it’s probably costs for lines from CL or whoever they were getting phone service from. But it really bugs me that in the iPhone app you cannot search a location such as Pike St. and 4th Ave. The app returns “no stops found.”

  17. So, if 3rd Ave. downtown is going to get real-time arrival signs, why can’t the bus tunnel? Especially when the signs themselves already already there saying “Downtown Transit Tunnel”. Furthermore, you can’t even pull out OneBusAway on your phone in the tunnel stations due to the lack of cellphone reception.

    1. I think it’s kind of embarrassing and silly that walking onto the site is banned. Doesn’t really reflect well on the site, the venue, or our notions of security (think it’s easier to conceal a weapon on your person or in a vehicle?).

      1. Prohibiting walking is completely insane, yes.

        Of course, any “Level One Security Event” these days is a stupid exercise in fascism which should probably not happen at all. But the US seems to be really into fascism lately.

Comments are closed.