News Roundup: Past All the Hype

For Posterity
Our Changing Waterfront
  • King County Metro is looking for undergraduate and graduate interns. Go here and search for “intern”.
  • Wonder why the 3rd and Pike bus stop is closing for construction? This is why.
  • Danny Westneat: A longtime tenant discovers her landlord was shielding her from the modern economy. ($)
  • In 24 out of the 25 largest metro areas the median income household can no longer afford the average new car.
  • 15 different methods to protect bicycle facilities including their pros/cons and cost.
  • New ‘bikeology‘ curriculum for 6-12 graders fills common gap in bicycle education for junior high and high school age teens.
  • Charles Montgomery describes his concept of the ‘Happy City’ in Vancouver, BC.
  • Food desert‘ study for Delridge neighborhood empowers those who are affected to develop implementable solutions.
  • New housing units far outstrips demolished housing units 8 to 1 citywide (2.6 to 1 in Single Family zones, 5 to 1 in Lowrise zones, 15 to 1 Downtown and 18 to 1 in Neighborhood Commercial zones).
  • 2,000 units in four towers proposed on former Seattle Times site in SLU. Parking ratio of 0.85 is low, but not that low given the large number of Amazonians that will likely work a stones throw away.
  • Parking study for West Seattle development with all-day frequent bus service but no on-site parking confirms there there is plenty of on-street parking available.
  • Council unanimously passes ridesharing compromise legislation.
  • 80% of NYC’s taxi rides could have been shared.
  • Senate Transportation Committee co-chairs no longer see eye to eye.
  • Philly speed senors trigger red light. I’m curious to see if it works.
  • Win a free Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB)!
  • Video of one shared Muni/Google bus stop in SF. My first impression, I didn’t realize so many people used the Google buses.

This is an open thread.

Beers for Buses in Bellevue and Redmond

1014402_247924892047178_1694148925_nFor those of us who live or work on the Eastside, it can be hard to get to after work events in Seattle. Luckily, Fuse Washington will be hosting two Move King County Now fundraiser in Bellevue and Redmond on March 24th and April 7th. The April 22nd special election is fast approaching and your financial contribution and/or boots on the ground are key to passing Proposition 1. Maintaining existing bus service is critical and if Proposition 1 fails the Eastside will see significant and painful cuts in transit service. I encourage STB readers to go and bring a friend or coworker along. On a personal note, I’d like to add that the Bellevue Brewing Company’s beer and food makes up for its harder to reach location. Cheers!

Beers for buses – Bellevue (226 and 249)

Monday, March 24, from 5pm–7pm

Bellevue Brewing Company

1820 130th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA 98005

Beers for buses – Redmond (B-Line, 545, and all other Redmond TC routes)

Monday, April 7th, from 5pm-7pm

Redmond’s Bar & Grill.

7979 Leary Way NE, Redmond WA, 98052

How Germans Manage Housing Prices

Eamonn Fingleton, Forbes:

German house prices in 2012 represented a 10 percent decrease in real terms compared to thirty years ago. That is a particularly astounding performance compared to the UK, where real prices rose by more than 230 percent in the same period…

A key to the story is that German municipal authorities consistently increase housing supply by releasing land for development on a regular basis. The ultimate driver is a  central government policy of providing financial support to municipalities based on an up-to-date and accurate count of the number of residents in each area.

The German system moreover is deliberately structured to encourage renting rather than owning. Tenants enjoy strong rights and, provided they pay their rent, are virtually immune from eviction and even from significant rent increases.

Meanwhile demand for owner occupation is curbed by German regulation. German banks, for instance, are rarely permitted to lend more than 80 percent of the value of a property, thus a would-be home buyer first needs to accumulate a deposit of at least 20 percent. To cap it all, ownership of a home is subject to a serious consumption tax, while landlords are encouraged by favorable tax treatment to maximize the availability of rental properties. (emphasis added)

While housing prices in Germany have increased somewhat as of late as investors flee to the relative safety of the German market, the overall trend is downward. To be sure, there’s a complex array of policies referenced in the excerpt above that work in concert to keep housing affordable.   If you look around America, you can find bits and pieces of these  policies in action.  Texas has many of the same restrictions on lending as the Germans, for example.

If we were in Texas, we’d simply build outward from the city: cul-de-sacs as far as the eye could see would keep housing affordable. But we Cascadians are hemmed in by geography and a crippled by a love of the natural environment. So we must build up, instead of out. Still, the same general rules apply: sufficiently increase supply and housing prices will fall.

Metro Cuts Panel Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’ll be part of Metro cuts panel sponsored by Commute Seattle, along with County CM Larry Phillips and Sharebuilder President Dan Greenshields. It’ll start at noon at the 4th floor conference room of the 4th & Madison Building downtown. You can RSVP here.

The focus will be on how the success or failure of the revenue package will affect employers.

Q4 2013 Sound Transit Quarterly Report

2013Q4-BoardingsMvgAvg-ALLAnother quarter, another strong showing of growth, with Link in the double digits. The system as whole was up 7%. ST Express boardings rose 4%, Sounder 5%, Central Link 14%, and Tacoma Link was down 4%.  Year to date (this being the last quarter) the system as whole was up 8%. ST Express boardings were up 8%, Sounder 8%, Central Link 11%, and Tacoma Link was down 2%.

While overall ST Express weekday ridership was up 5%, Snohomish county routes took a hit.  This could be due to the 510/512/513 restructure, although CT adding 30 additional commuter trips a day likely had a large effect.  While the 566 saw it’s service hours cut, riders moved the 560 and new 567 so overall ridership in the 167 corridor was up.  In general East King and Pierce County routes had the highest gains.  Cost per boarding was $6.70, up 6.3% from Q4 2012.

Sounder experienced strong weekday growth at 7% but lower event ridership on the weekends brought down the overall ridership to 5%.  Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $12.34, down 12.7% from Q4 2012.

Central Link had 29,360 boardings per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding was $5.44, down 20.4% from Q4 2012.

Quarterly Ridership Reports have a ton of useful metrics not covered in the regular monthly releases, and are well worth reading through.  Later on I will post some analysis of Cost per Boarding.

My charts below the fold.

Continue reading “Q4 2013 Sound Transit Quarterly Report”

Transit Driver Appreciation Day Tomorrow!

The driver of Coach 7065 waits at a red light.  Photo by WhenEliseSings.
The driver of Metro coach 7065 waits at a red light, safely behind the crosswalk. Photo by WhenEliseSings.

Tomorrow is Transit Driver Appreciation Day.  As always, we are very thankful for the hard work of the professional drivers who get us around the area safely and courteously, shrugging off traffic, rude and occasionally combative passengers, lousy and unpredictable hours, and repetitive stress injury.

If you have a bus (or train) driver you particularly like, please let his or her employer know!  Your commendations do make it through to both management and the driver.  When I drove for King County Metro, I really enjoyed getting them.

King County Metro
Feedback form, email customer.comments@kingcounty.gov, or call (206) 553-3000.

Community Transit
Feedback form, email riders@commtrans.org, or call (425) 353-7433.

Pierce Transit
Feedback form (down the page), or call (253) 581-8000 (press “1”).

Sound Transit
Routes numbered in the 510s or 530s: Contact Community Transit.
Routes numbered in the 520s, 540s, or 550s, and Central Link: Contact King County Metro.
Routes numbered 560 or higher: Contact Pierce Transit.
Sounder and Tacoma Link: Email main@soundtransit.org, or call (888) 889-6368.

OneBusAway for the Visually Impaired

by CAITLIN BONNAR

Locating and reaching an unfamiliar bus stop may not be a great source of anxiety for most transit riders, especially when making use of a visual navigation tool with GPS. However, for people with visual impairments, orientation and mobility can be a challenge, particularly when navigating unfamiliar areas. Technologies such as Blinput and multi-sensors for the white cane aim to reduce certain challenges involved with navigation for the blind, yet they are often standalone tools developed particularly for the blind and low-vision community.

So how can popular navigation apps such as Google Maps or OneBusAway achieve equal access for this population? Can they also improve orientation and mobility for blind and low-vision transit riders? These are questions that my research group at the University of Washington seeks to answer as we continue to improve the reliability and usability of the Seattle-born transit app OneBusAway. Recently, we launched a new feature called StopInfo in the iPhone version of the app that provides information about the location and physical landmarks of bus stops in Puget Sound, largely motivated by helping visually-impaired transit riders locate stops.

A screenshot of StopInfo in the OneBusAway iPhone appStopInfo (left) is accessible through Apple’s native screen reader, VoiceOver, and provides information such as stop position from an intersection, whether there is a bus shelter, what type of sign is present and how far from the curb, as well as what other physical objects (such as trash cans and benches) are around. For visually-impaired pedestrians using a white cane, advance knowledge of what landmarks are present at a certain bus stop can help them know what to feel for, while positional information can let them know approximately how far they should expect to travel from the intersection. But this information is not only useful to the visually-impaired. Information such as how well-lit the stop is might help people travel more safely and confidently at night. Displaying whether a stop is temporarily or permanently closed can also be useful for all people using the app.

One of of the more novel features of StopInfo is how the information itself is collected. While the starting information comes from King County Metro’s database, anyone using OneBusAway on an iPhone can add data that Metro doesn’t track. In particular, we hope that Seattle Transit Blog readers will help out – when you are looking at the arrival information for a stop on the OneBusAway iPhone app, tap the information symbol and you’ll land on the StopInfo page. There you can view, add ,or verify information. Logging in via a Google, Facebook, or Twitter account is only required to add free-form comments, but is helpful for the research group to see who is participating.

We hope to soon expand to other platforms for which OneBusAway is available, including Android and Windows Phone. We are currently in the preliminary stage of our study, and are working with visually-impaired participants to evaluate usefulness and design. If results look promising, we are looking to make this a permanent addition to the app, and make it available for other regions covered by OneBusAway.

For more information on the research study and how you can become involved, check out the announcement on OneBusAway’s blog, read about it on the StopInfo page itself, or contact us by e-mail.

Institutional Investors Buying Single Family Homes


Sanjay Bhatt, The Seattle Times:

Major investors — defined as buyers who acquired 10 or more homes in a year ­— overall made at least 7 percent of all single-family home purchases in the Seattle metro area in 2013, RealtyTrac estimates. They bought about 3,100 single-family homes, five times more than the previous year.

Ever since the financial crisis in 2008, there’s been talk that institutional investors would swoop in and rent out single-family homes. With large investors still eager for something that will generate a good return, it looks like it’s finally happening.

Conventional wisdom says that the math of single-family rentals doesn’t work out on a mass scale: detached suburban housing is just too spread out to efficiently oversee the way one might run an apartment building.  But that may be changing. Cheap, wi-fi-enabled security cameras, along with errand apps like TaskRabbit, may enable remote landlording on a larger scale. Consumer preference may be shifting as well, as we move from an ownership society to a sharing economy.

If the concept does take off, it could revolutionize not just housing, but adjacent enterprises like public education as well. Want to get your kid into a good suburban school district? You don’t need to be able to put 20% down on a 30-year-fixed; you’ll just need first month, last month, and a security deposit.

Major Bus Stop Closure

Bus stop closures usually aren’t postworthy, but 3rd & Pine is a pretty big deal:

The bus stop northbound on 3rd Av just north of Pine St will be closed at all times from Monday, March 17 through Sunday, May 18, due to construction…

There will be no temporary stop. Board or exit affected buses at the previous stop northbound on 3rd Av just south of Union St, or at their next regular stop:

Don’t be surprised by this!

Bringing Frequent Service to South King County

Map by Oran (click to enlarge)
Map by Oran (click to enlarge)

Low-density suburbs present a unique challenge for designing an effective bus network. For reasons of geometry, it’s cost-prohibitive to run a direct bus between each suburban corridor and the center city, or to build a grid of ultra-frequent routes running along each arterial. Instead, suburban bus networks are generally organized on the “trunk-feeder” system. A high-capacity route runs between the center city and a suburban transit center, and a series of shorter and less frequent routes run between the transit center and the rest of the suburban area.

Metro has long used this principle to guide its service planning in Kent and Renton. Route 150 provides frequent all-day trunk service between the Kent Transit Center (TC) and downtown Seattle, via the Southcenter Mall (also an important connection point), while Route 101 acts as the trunk between Renton TC and downtown. A pile of other routes connect to one or more of these transit centers, including the 105, 148, 156, 164, 166, 168, 169, 180, and 183. In addition, Metro operates a handful of park and rides (P&Rs) that are also useful as connection points, most notably the South Renton P&R.

When Central Link opened in 2009, it instantly created a new super-high-capacity trunk line, running very close to the 101 and 150. Many people expected Metro to propose an extensive reorganization of Kent and Renton service, moving connection points from the existing transit centers to the new light rail stations. While Metro did reorganize some services, it made few changes in Kent and Renton. To this day, the 101 and 150 each have a long freeway-running segment that largely parallels Central Link.

Riders in Kent and Renton have been resistant to change; they like having a quick one-seat ride to downtown. However, the current network leaves much to be desired. Route 101 only comes every half hour, and it makes a time-consuming detour to South Renton P&R on its way to Renton TC. Route 150 does run every 15 minutes, but it spends 15 minutes slogging through Southcenter, a path that would take 5 minutes to drive. These deviations represent a significant time sink for the riders who aren’t using them.

Continue reading “Bringing Frequent Service to South King County”

Northgate Station Design 90% Complete

northgate5

Mike Orr contributed to this report.

Last night at Olympic View Elementary, Sound Transit presented 90% complete designs for the Northgate Link station. Since opening day is still seven years off, some of the discussion was focused on construction mitigation.  The station’s planned artwork was also revealed.

The station design clearly benefits from lessons learned designing other Link stations over the past few years.  Like SeaTac station, it has a center platform, making it easy to switch trains. This will be important as Northgate will serve as a station for both trains to SeaTac as well as Bellevue and Redmond. Unlike Mt. Baker station, it features an excellent transit connection – buses will pull up right on the ground floor. It will also, however, still feature a mezzanine for station access.

Though partially hemmed in by the mall and I-5, the station has decent access into the Northgate and Maple Leaf neighborhoods, as well as Thornton Place. Transit-oriented development is planned for the King County lot next-door.

One project that could further improve the walk shed is the (still yet unfunded) bike/pedestrian bridge crossing I-5. Bridge design started in January, and there will be a screening of alternatives in April and May, culminating in an open house in June. The projected cost is $25 million. SDOT and ST have each committed $5 million if the remainder is raised by July 2015; otherwise they’ll put the money into other ped/bike improvements in the area. SDOT is pursuing grants to help with the cost.

More photos below:

northgate1

northgate4

northgate3

News Roundup: Urbanist Buzzwords

Muni Metro
Mini Metro
  • As disfunction on a national level and to a lesser degree in Olympia takes its toll, tactical localism, has become the de jour mechanism for cities to advance their urbanist agenda.
  • APTA announces public transit ridership is higher than any year since 1956, even compared to 2008 when gas cost over $4.00 a gallon.
  • The addicting alpha version of Mini-Metro game takes the transit planning world by storm.
  • Data mining Google Streetview to reveal the changing face of neighborhoods.
  • Peak-gentrification: What happens when all the “undiscovered” and undervalued neighborhoods are discovered and gentrified?
  • Frontlash, a good term for a common issue in transportation and land use planning.
  • Seattle is 7th-best US city to get a job in; 5th-highest starting pay.
  • SDOT releases center city cycle track RFP and announces selection for the second round of The Green Lane Project. Over half of the nation’s cycle track projects occurred in first round cities.
  • Piecemeal rollout of Broadway cycle track causing difficulty, contributes to collision.
  • Seattle bike map updated, major overhaul expected next year.
  • The Green Tea Party was key in killing Columbia River Crossing, while not a new dynamic the CRC is a poster child the current transportation paradigms of our time.
  • Lack of clear communication between WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners worries Councilmember Rasmussen.
  • Nearly 3,000 drivers are signed up between UberX, Lyft and Sidecar; UberX has at least 300 drivers active at any one time, more during peak periods.
  • USDOT VMT forecasts diverge from the trend over the last ten years or so.
  • KUOW does a long-form piece on the maritime history of Seattle and how changes around the stadiums could affect the viability of industry in SODO
  • Apple iOS 8 will have transit directions, finally!
  • A good comparison of BC to the rest of Canada and what affects its carbon tax has, or more important has not, had on the province.
  • Mayor Murray on prioritization of buses vs streetcars projects.
  • Senate Eide (D-30, Federal way) who is co-chair of the transportation committee will not run for reelection.
  • Portland’s tourism grows but car rentals don’t.
  • Weekend service (and/or taxing to) restore service in Grays Harbor starting April 1st.
  • SFMTA confirms it will buy electric trolley buses in coordination with King County Metro.
  • An assessment about the future challenges and opportunities of vehicle automation

This is an open thread.

The Columbia River Crossing is Dead

Jeff Manning, The Oregonian:

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Friday it is closing the I-5 bridge project’s offices, issuing cease-work orders to its many contractors and shutting the project down entirely by May 31.

The end comes after more than a decade of work and nearly $190 million worth of planning, engineering, financial and traffic forecasting and other work.

The writing’s been on the wall for a while, but after our Gov. Inslee, to his credit, failed to back it, its days were truly numbered.  If you want to know why the CRC was such a terrible idea, read our coverage in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  If you don’t have time, skip to part 3, which includes some sensible suggestions for what to do now, including tolling the existing bridge, building light rail with federal money, and building a new rail bridge to eliminate 90% of the current drawbridge openings.

Continue reading “The Columbia River Crossing is Dead”

Sound Transit Will Soon Be Able to Issue Notices of Infraction On the Spot

Avgeek Joe/Flickr

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2111, which will enable Sound Transit fare enforcement officers to print out and issue citations notices of infraction to fare evaders on the spot, as previously reported here, here, and here, came up for a vote in the House Monday. The House voted to concur in the Senate amendment and pass the bill, 95-3.

The Senate accepted the striking amendment offered by the Senate Transportation Committee on Friday, and then passed the bill as amended, 38-11. The effect of the amendment was simply to remove the requirement for the citation notice of infraction to include the information about the citee’s personal vehicle. Since the citations notices of infraction fare enforcement officers issue are for fare evasion, personal vehicle information is irrelevant. Without having to include space for this information, the citations notices of infraction can be printed by portable printer devices small enough that officers can carry the printers with them.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where there is no reason to believe he won’t sign it. The law is expected to go into effect 90 days after adjournment of the session (March 13), which would be June 11.

East Main Station 60% Design

South Plaza View
South Plaza View

[UPDATE: I forgot to link to the materials. Here are the display boards and slides.]

On February 25th Sound Transit briefed the community around the future East Main Station, just south of Downtown Bellevue. Trains will take riders from there to Chinatown in 16 minutes and Overlake Transit Center in 14. ST projects 2,500 daily boardings in 2030, which is middling by present-day Central Link standards but low for 2030.

Unlike the promise to encase the neighborhood around South Bellevue Station in single-family amber, the presentation states that almost three-quarters of the quarter-mile circle may have “potential” for TOD. In the figure below, the whole upper left-quadrant (everything above and to the left of the colored lines, in the Surrey Downs neighborhood) is the only area not under consideration. Ultimately, the zoning will be up to the City of Bellevue. Unfortunately, a significant portion of that area is consumed by I-405:

circle

Continue reading “East Main Station 60% Design”

Why We Restructure: A Bit More About “Bus 2”

Bus 2
Bus 2, waiting for yet another red light. By Neil Hodges.

The south half of Metro Route 2 chugs from downtown Seattle to Madrona Park and back via Seneca and Union Streets, a traffic light interrupting its progress on nearly every block.  Virginia Mason Medical Center, First Hill, and the north part of the Central District pass by during the leisurely trip.  We’ll call this part of the route “Bus 2,” the identity it has taken on in recent years, ignoring for now the part of the route serving Queen Anne.  Bus 2 is a Seattle institution.  Its routing hasn’t changed since the 1940 opening of Seattle Transit’s original trolleybus network, except for minor revisions downtown.  (Edit:  That claim isn’t quite true, as pointed out by eddiew in the comments.  The route originally used Madison, rather than Seneca and Union, between 9th and the “bowtie” at Union and 12th.)

As it has for many years, Bus 2 comes every 15 minutes during the day, and every 30 minutes nights and Sundays.  Almost every trip on Bus 2 is full between downtown and Virginia Mason, where approximately half of its passengers are headed at most times of day.  The passengers are a mix of old Seattle, new Seattle, and everything in between.  Bus 2 is a microcosm of its changing city, encompassing in its 40 feet all the decades it has spent trundling back and forth.  The remaining passengers leave in a steady trickle between Boren Avenue in First Hill and MLK Jr. Way in the Central District.  Few people use Bus 2 in Madrona or Madrona Park.  But the driver does get to enjoy Metro’s most scenic layover, at the lake’s edge, if Bus 2 is on time.

Bus 2 is rarely on time, except late at night.  The most heavily used part of the route, the seven-block stretch between Virginia Mason and downtown, is often seriously delayed by traffic congestion, especially eastbound toward the hospital.  Every rider of Bus 2 knows the drill of sitting through multiple cycles at each traffic light along Spring Street, stuck behind cars trying to get onto southbound I-5 at 6th Avenue.   Depending on time of day, the entire three-and-a-half-mile trip is scheduled to take anywhere from 23 to 36 minutes, for an average speed of five to seven miles per hour — and that’s after waiting for the bus.  The result: Bus 2 gets its riders where they want to go, but slowly, often more slowly than walking.

Other Metro bus routes, also traveling east and west, overlap with the parts of Bus 2 that nearly all of its riders use.  Route 12 runs along Madison Street, within two blocks of Bus 2 all the way from downtown to 17th Avenue.  Routes 10 and 11 run along Pine Street, two to four blocks away, as far east as 15th Avenue.  All three of these routes are a very short walk from Bus 2, although none serves Bus 2’s exact routing.  All of them are faster, and more reliable, than Bus 2, mostly because traffic moves faster along the streets they serve than it does on congested Spring and Seneca.

And yet lots of reasonable people ride, and love, Bus 2.  Trying to improve it, even with all its flaws, is a big deal.  And the process can be done better.  More after the jump.

Continue reading “Why We Restructure: A Bit More About “Bus 2””

Senator Wants Sound Transit to Pay for City Residential Parking Permits

As mentioned in Thursday’s news roundup and in a recent Publicola article, on Tuesday, the State Senate passed Senate Bill 6001, its supplemental transportation appropriations bill. Among the amendments tacked onto the bill was this strike at Sound Transit, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hasegawa:

“(10) As a condition of eligibility to receive grant funds under this section, a regional transit authority must:
(a) Consider the potential impacts of that facility on parking availability for residents nearby;
(b) Provide appropriate parking impact mitigation for residents, as determined by the authority in collaboration with the local government of the area in which the parking impacts occur. Parking impact mitigation may include, but is not limited to, subsidizing zoned residential parking permits in the vicinity of the facility; and
(c) Pay for the costs of the parking permits in the vicinity of the facility, if a local government implements zoned residential parking permits as a direct result of the parking impacts of the facility.”


The language of this amendment is similar to Senate Bill 6489, also sponsored by Sen. Hasegawa. That bill got out of the Senate Transportation Committee, but made it no further.

The amendment does not define “vicinity”. Nor does it specify a cap on how much a city can charge for Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) permits. In theory, the City of Bellevue could deem the whole city to be in the “vicinity” of Sound Transit infrastructure, declare the whole city to be an RPZ, charge $1 million per annual permit, and require Sound Transit to pay the entire cost of these $1 million annual parking permits.

It is unclear why Sound Transit should be accountible for difficulties neighbors have parking their cars, in the public right-of-way, in front of their own homes, when other public infrastructure, like colleges and ferry docks, have RPZs around them, and their governing agencies are not being asked required to pay for RPZ permits.

It is also unknown whether the senator tried to intercede with the City of Seattle over the $65 cost of a 2-year parking permit (or $10, for those who qualify as low-income). If the neighbors don’t want to pay this small amount to park in front of their homes, they have a more direct option: Dissolve their RPZ.

Requests to Sen. Hasegawa’s office for comment on the amendment have gone unanswered.

Update: Commenter cuyahoga points out that permits in some of the 33 RPZs (2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20, A, and B) are fully or partially subsidized by the University of Washington, North Seattle Community College, Harborview Hospital, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Providence Hospital, Group Health Cooperative, Swedish Hospital, and Landmark Theater.