News Roundup: A Little More Direct


This is an open thread.

Potential Gondola Ridership

El renacimiento de los teleféricos

For every gondola idea I’ve posted here I’ve been careful not to plan a line in the same place where it would make sense to build rail. A subway is more permanent, faster*, and generally has much more capacity than gondolas. Yes, gondolas are potentially much cheaper, but cost shouldn’t trump good design if we can afford it. Because of this, I think gondolas are best run as feeder branches to a subway system, or on its own in areas that doesn’t make sense for rail.

This said, I would like to call your attention to the city of La Paz Bolivia, and its first gondola line, Línea Roja. In their opening month they served 1,000,000 passengers, or around 36,000 riders per day. This is well beyond Seattle’s Central Link’s opening numbers, and it took Link over 5 years to reach one million riders in a month. La Paz is on course to build a total of 8 lines.

Of course there are a dozen reasons this line isn’t comparable to Link, or anything we would build in Seattle. And it hasn’t changed my opinion that gondolas belong mainly as branch feeder lines if we can afford real grade-separated rail. But occasionally the issue of capacity comes up, and I think La Paz shows we don’t have to worry about it.

* depending on frequency and distance

Rideshares Are Actually Becoming Rideshares

Ever since their launch, TNCs such as  Uber and Lyft have somewhat euphemistically been labeled as ‘rideshares’, when in reality they have been bringing taxi-like services into the digital age. Though marketed through such phrases as ‘your friend with a car’, it has been clear for some time that TNC drivers do so strictly for compensation, and for tens of thousands it has become full-time employment.

Last week, within a day of each other, Lyft and Uber both took steps that bring them closer to being true rideshares, introducing Lyft Line and Uber Pool (currently in San Francisco only).  This new app functionality allows passengers to share rides with other app users in exchange for lower fares. Though paid ridesharing has long been available in limited applications through services such as Shuttle Express, it has never before been offered either on demand or at scale. This is huge.

Lyft Line and UberPool will offer true spontaneous ridesharing (taxipooling?) by algorithmically matching up users requesting similar origin/destination pairs. Lest you think that you’d be in for a lengthy detour to serve a fellow passenger’s trip, Lyft says that its data shows that 80% of the time, other users have requested a similar trip within a 5-minute drive. A trip from Fremont to Capitol Hill, typically around $12, could be shaved down to $3 per person if, say, one couple was matched with another along the way. Whereas the ‘traditional’ TNC services have relied upon dynamic pricing  to great controversy– such as Prime Time Tips or Surge Pricing — the new rideshare option will feature flat fares to go after the commuter market, for whom price stability is far more important.

By riding with strangers for the sake of lowering costs and boosting efficiency, this new ridesharing functionality will make the services much more transit like; and Lyft is even marketing it as such, with CEO Logan Green saying:

“Instead of public transit, we’re building what we call personal transit. This is a transit system with infinite routes — and it becomes stronger, more affordable, and more efficient the more it’s used.”

Ah, good ‘ol PRT. Many have already hailed the new service as “the beginning of the end for public transit,” and some of the promo materials have been fundamentally anti-urban. Take for instance this gem of sprawl marketing:

Lyft, trolling Jarrett Walker

TNCs do wonderful things: they greatly reduce parking demand, they eliminate any attempted excuse for intoxicated driving, and they provide a superior option for trips that transit doesn’t serve well (say Eastlake to Magnolia, or even Upper Queen Anne to Fremont). But TNCs are emphatically NOT a substitute for fast, reliable transit, nor are they a way to greenwash sprawl. They are still cars taking up huge amounts of space, transporting people at densities orders of magnitude below that of good transit systems. In no way would we be better off as a city if the 60 people on my #49 bus each afternoon took a caravan of 30-40 Ubers instead.

For now, TNCs are brilliantly innovative transitional systems that leverage our national investment in cars and highways, providing the next generation a bridge to car-free or car-lite life. But if they alone are the future, that’s just not good enough. A society in which TNCs supplanted transit would still be the sprawling vehicle-based society we all want to move beyond, and would cap maximum densities at levels far below what we need. High capacity, high frequency transit is the only technology that transports people at the scale necessary to support dense, walkable neighborhoods, and it’s on those bones that real cities hang.

June 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – One MILLION boardings


June continued Sound Transit’s run of strong ridership growth. Total Link boardings reached 1,000,000 for the first time. The Sound Transit system as a whole crossed 110k average weekday boardings for the first time.

June’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 36,486 / 29,077 / 24,782, growth of 14.2%, -1.5%, and 13.4% respectively over June 2013. Saturday is the first negative number I recall for Link, however the weekend average still increased as a whole. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 3.2% with ridership increasing on both lines. Total Tacoma Link weekday ridership increased .9%, hopefully signalling a stabilization of ridership on that line. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.4%. System wide weekday boardings were up 8.7%, and all boardings were up 10.3%. The complete June Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. Continue reading “June 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – One MILLION boardings”

Give Link Transfers a Chance

Rainier Beach Station:  easy to access from a bus stop
Rainier Beach Station: easy to access from a bus stop

After my piece about the impacts of Sound Transit running 6-minute headway when U-Link opens on bus riders, taxpayers, and Link riders, I have a plea for King County Metro to do its part to smoothe Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel operations.

It is important that Metro choose the routes it runs through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel carefully, to make the best use of money, and to not put so many buses in the tunnel during the peak that several minutes are added to travel time for most peak tunnel users.

The great advantage of running bus routes through the tunnel, instead of up at street level, is less travel time. That’s money saved or service hours left over to hold onto other service. This argument does not apply to routes that could simply head up to the Seneca St exit, and pass through downtown just once per loop. Nor does it apply to routes that don’t need to go downtown.

Four routes currently enter the tunnel via the SODO busway: 101, 102, 106, and 150. The February 2015 cuts package proposes that Route 106 instead enter downtown along Yesler Way. Some awesome suggestions have been made by Aleks and others regarding how to restructure routes 101 and 150 to allow many more riders to connect to Link without having to transfer buses or take an express bus all the way downtown. Route 102 could likewise just go to Rainier Beach Station, so that service hours are available to save local suburban King County service.

Another route that should not be going into the tunnel after U-Link opens is route 255. Riders coming from Kirkland and going to the University of Washington would benefit greatly from having routes 255 and ST Express 540 streamlined into one route with better frequency and an all-day span of service. Kirkland riders going to Capitol Hill or First Hill would also benefit greatly. For Kirkland riders going downtown, it would improve both frequency and reliability.

Indeed, no SR 520 routes should go into the tunnel after U-Link opens, given the poor connection when the express lanes are going the wrong way, and the option of transfering at UW Station. Sadly, instead of re-routing some of these peak expresses to UW Station, Metro is eliminating several of them entirely.

Sound Transit, for its part, could help make the transfer experience dramatically better by putting up wayfinding maps at each station, showing where the bus stops are for bus routes that serve that station, and post the scheduled stops for those buses. This enormous improvement would cost pennies in the grand scheme of Sound Transit operations.

Which routes should go into the tunnel? Zach and others have already spilled much ink on that topic. The bottom line, for me, is that the tunnel flow smoothly enough that there is less than a minute of “The train/bus is being held due to traffic ahead. The train/bus will be moving shortly” for nearly all trips throughout the day, and that Metro use the platform space wisely with buses that have no less-expensive option for their path. Routes 101, 102, 106, 150, and 255 clearly don’t meet that test after U-Link opens. The current number of buses going through the tunnel is causing too much slow-down as is.

Your “Free” Parking Costs Taxpayers $400

James Trosh/Flickr

Joseph Stromberg, Vox:

When we find an open spot on the street, and there’s no meter, it seems free — but it too is the result of government spending. The cost of the land, pavement, street cleaning, and other services related to free parking spots come directly out of tax dollars (usually municipal or state funding sources). Each on-street parking space is estimated to cost around $1,750 to build and $400 to maintain annually.

Follow the link and you’ll learn that off-street surface parking can cost $1,500 to $2,000 per space.  Underground parking, like the massive underground lots being dug out for new apartments all over Seattle, cost much more, on the order of $20,000 or more per space. That translates into higher construction costs, which means higher rents and less affordable housing.

The whole article is a fantastic primer on why free parking is so terrible. I want to quote the whole thing, but you should go read it instead.

A 6/10 Compromise?

Could King County Metro and Sound Transit be on a collision course over tunnel usage in 2016?
Could King County Metro and Sound Transit be on a collision course over tunnel usage in 2016?

As Zach wrote about earlier this week, King County Metro and Sound Transit will be running tests this morning to see how many buses Metro can squash into the tunnel during PM peak after Link trains move to 6-minute peak headway in 2016 (See page 106.).

Given the tunnel closure, the Highway 99 closure, and the SR 520 closure today, be sure to check to see if and where your bus is being re-routed. For those who have to transfer at SODO Station, catch route 21, 97, 101, 106, 131, 132, 150, or 594. Routes 21, 131, and 132 are over on 4th Ave S, so be sure to get off at the Lander stop.

Metro is right to try to get as much usage out of the tunnel as possible, without turning it into a worse crawl than now. Sound Transit is right to try to optimize wait+travel time for the state’s largest-ridership transit line (by orders of magnitude after 2016). Unless the two agencies work out a deal, neither may get what they want.

The problem is predominately during PM peak, when the vast majority of downtown riders are paying as they board, and roughly a third of them are still fumbling change. Both downtown street-level traffic and the transit tunnel slow to a crawl, and riders in the tunnel are treated to 2-8 minutes of being trapped on buses and trains waiting in between stations for the next platform to clear.

Allow me to offer a modest suggestion. Let’s call it the “6/10 Compromise“: Continue reading “A 6/10 Compromise?”

Is Your Driver Depressed?

Discover Magazine:

An interesting study just published examines the rates of clinical depression experienced by workers in different jobs.

It turns out that people involved in ‘Local and Interurban Passenger Transport’ are most likely to be treated for depression. By contrast, those employed in ‘Amusement and Recreational Services’ are less than half as likely to experience it – at least, in Western Pennsylvania, where the research was conducted.

The article questions whether these results are generalizable beyond Western Pennsylvania, but the study’s conclusion that

Industries with the highest rates tended to be those which, on the national level, require frequent or difficult interactions with the public or clients, and have high levels of stress, and low levels of physical activity.

is at least intuitive.

Dealing with riders all day would certainly depress me, but what say you, drivers? Are your colleagues a morose bunch? Is it a naturally depressing job?

Clarification: Subarea Equity

Yesterday’s exercise on ST3 budgeting was unclear enough to prompt a friendly email from ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. So I’d like to clarify that subarea equity isn’t a matter of strictly dividing money along subarea boundaries; I’ve always understood it to be a negotiation process based on the interests of each subarea. For example, I’d expect Pierce County to contribute a significant portion of any run from Federal Way to Tacoma, as that segment is a much higher priority for them than for South King County. As Mr. Patrick put it:

State law on this topic is mainly about reporting. As long as a ballot measure identifies where the funds originate and are spent, Board members can define equity in whatever fashion they believe serves constituents. Note that the past ballot measures have included investments outside subarea boundaries spanning all three of our transit modes, and particularly Sounder and ST Express. The decisions weren’t about where the service is located but about desired destinations and what the Board understood the priority for each subarea to be. It is only after a measure passes that its provisions become legally binding, and a future ballot measure doesn’t have to use the same approaches as past measures.

Emphasis mine. Given the limited value of Snohomish County rail to other subareas, and the limited value of the other projects to Snohomish County, I don’t think it in practice affects my choice to dimension the project according their needs. But it does provide would-be package builders with more flexibility if they can make plausible arguments that a project outside a boundary serves that subarea’s direct interests.

Transit Rides per Capita


Listicles that rank cities according to ill-defined criteria are nearly worthless internet click bait, but as usual fivethirtyeight brings some rigor to the process:

The measure used is “unlinked trips,” which counts transfers during the same journey as separate trips. This figure can be converted to “trips per resident” by dividing unlinked trips in 2013 by 2012 population estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS), yielding a figure that’s neatly comparable among cities of varying sizes.

Note that these are metro areas, not single municipalities. As you might imagine, New York blows everything else away, much-maligned San Francisco/Oakland is second, and DC is third.  Then it’s a mix of transit cities and college towns. Atlantic City, NJ is last at #290, with 0.5 transit rides per person per year.

Here are the Washington State results with some interesting reference points thrown in:

10. Philadelphia (67.8)

12. Seattle (63.6)

13. Portland (58.4)

17. Bellingham (49.6)

19. Eugene (46.5)

42. Olympia-Lacey (30.2)

43. Spokane (30.1)

Continue reading “Transit Rides per Capita”

News Roundup: Dream Job


This is an open thread.

A Budget for ST3

The Long-Range Plan studies are done, providing the Sound Transit Board with a menu of projects with which they can compose the next ballot measure. That assumes that the legislature, one day soon, gives them the authority to do so. But now that they have the price list for various projects, how much money would there be to spend?

In principle, the legislature can do whatever it wants in granting revenue authority, although what regional lobbyists request will shape the legislation. To provide some form to this exercise, I’ll make two assumptions:

Subarea Equity. Under current law, Sound Transit must use money collected in each subarea in that subarea. In principle, new legislation could change this rule, and no less than the Mayor of Seattle is in favor of doing so. A transfer from high-revenue, low-demand East King to low-revenue, high-demand South King has its merits. However, regardless of the law, a substantial transfer of funds from one area to another is likely electoral suicide. ST sent me the most recent revenue projections for 2009-2023 (below), which state that tax revenue from Snohomish, North King, South King, East King, and Pierce will arrive in the ratio 1 : 2.4 : 1.2 : 2.0 : 1.4, respectively. Of course, different taxes will generate money in different ratios, and the ST3 revenue period will be different than this one, but using this is much better than a wild guess.


(Before you take these actual numbers and start buying stuff, note that these are year of expenditure dollars, while the ST Long Range Plan figures are 2014 dollars. In other words, the LRP projects cost more if you’re using these figures.)

Continue reading “A Budget for ST3”

Introducing Page 2

I’m pleased to announce a new forum for long-form discussion about Greater Seattle transit and land use called “Page 2.” Although we take pride in the fact that Seattle Transit Blog’s front page maintains a high standard of discourse, that standard requires work — work that substantially limits how much reporting and opinion we can bring you.

Our solution is to open up a forum for the broader community to submit their own posts with less editorial scrutiny. This isn’t a free-for-all: submissions must relate to transit and land use, no spam is allowed, and as in the comment policy vitriolic ad-hominem attacks and other anti-social behaviors are forbidden. To support those goals, we require registration for post authors: let us know if you’d like an account. Our guest post guidelines continue to be a good set of hints on how to write effectively on STB.

If you’re here for the carefully curated writing, rest assured that this will have basically no effect on how the STB main page works. However, a nice side effect will be a streamlined system for submitting guest posts. Our intent is to take the very best from Page 2, apply whatever editing is necessary, and “promote” it to STB for distribution on our RSS and Twitter feeds, as well as getting the usual play on the front page. Alert readers may have noticed that some Page 2 posts have already appeared on the main page, indicated by the new byline for guest posts. Although for now we’re going to allow handles on Page 2, any promoted post must conform to our usual policy on real names for authors.

If you don’t have the fortitude to write long form pieces, but can’t get enough of our comment threads, I encourage you to check there every few days and see what the community has produced. We invited a few longtime commenters to start building up content there in time for launch, but what they wrote was so good that I promoted it all to the main page, so at the moment there isn’t anything there. Check back later this morning for a subject that is sure to inspire some creativity. You can certainly comment on Page 2 posts just like any other.

This new feature is entirely a product of the tireless effort of Frank Chiachiere, who had to work through several major issues and deserves all the credit for its design and implementation. Although this is an experiment and all of you will ultimately decide its success, I’m excited about it and have high hopes you’ll be excited too.

Transit Tunnel Closed Saturday Morning

Atomic Taco (flickr)
Atomic Taco (flickr)

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) and Link’s Stadium Station will be closed this Saturday, August 9th from approximately 5-11am. The closure will allow Metro and Sound Transit to test the joint U-Link and bus operations that will be in place from 2016-2019.

Link trains will terminate at SODO, and Shuttle Route 97 will operate from SODO to Westlake, serving all tunnel stops. Buses will operate their full routes, albeit on the surface. See Metro’s Alerts page for more details of each route’s surface routing.

U-Link will boost peak frequency from 8 trains per hour to 10 per hour, and those tunnel slots either have to be accommodated via improved operating efficiency or by surfacing buses. Metro obviously has every incentive to keep its buses in the tunnel, as the tunnel saves riders time and saves Metro money. Sound Transit, of course, has every incentive for U-Link to be as fast and reliable as true rapid transit should be. These incentives being at odds, tests like these try to find the operating level where Metro maximizes its bus throughput without damaging U-Link’s reliability.

Long term, of course, the tunnel is slated to be rail-only, but not until 2019.  In the event that joint ops at 2016 service levels bring the tunnel to a standstill, some additional buses will need to be removed. For a prioritization framework about which routes are worth keeping in the tunnel, I wrote on the subject in 2012 when the RFA was ending, and I think the analysis still holds up fairly well.

Rainier Station 60% Design Open House


Rainier Station Platform Rendering
Rainier Station Platform Rendering

On Thursday night Sound Transit hosted the last 60% design open house (30% report here) for East Link at the Northwest African American Museum. The event was well attended with an estimated 50 people seated for the presentation. The presentation included comments by the project managers Tia Raamot & Cynthia Padilla, project consultant architect David Hewitt, STart program manager Barbara Luecke (with an assist from Tia Raamot) and a short Q & A session. Of note:

  • Construction on the I-90 express lane reconfiguration starts in 2015
  • Construction for EastLink starts in 2017 and continues until 2022

David Hewitt (Hewitt Architects) gave an overview of the design enhancements including acoustical and aesthetic treatments to sound walls (see above). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Rainier Station 60% Design Open House”

New Survey Shows Increased Satisfaction with RapidRide C & D Lines

Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond was pleased with the results produced by RapidRide C and D lines, noting that about 83 percent of the riders surveyed in those routes were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

“I’m proud of the ‘can-do’ Metro team that pulled it off,” Desmond said in a statement. “And very pleased that we brought a new level of transit service to the people we serve.”

The rider satisfaction numbers came via a new survey from Northwest Research Group, which found that about seven out of ten C Line riders (71%) said that the overall experience on RapidRide is better than other Metro services. In addition, almost three out of four D Line riders (72%) agreed that the overall experience on RapidRide D Line is better than the previous route. Riders from both lines were most positive about the frequency of service, service hours during the day, not having to rely on a pre-determined schedule, and the shelters and features at bus stops.  The survey does show that Metro has room to improve on other dimensions, however, such as rider safety perceptions, capacity, and ease of transferring.

Full report details after the jump.

Continue reading “New Survey Shows Increased Satisfaction with RapidRide C & D Lines”

Rider Report: The New SR-520 Freeway Stations

92nd/Yarrow Point Freeway Station Platform

As part of the Eastside Transit and HOV project, WSDOT recently opened replacements for the Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point Freeway Stations. For the latter, Metro refers to the station as Clyde Hill/Yarrow Point but WSDOT refers to it as the 92nd Ave Transit Station. Regardless what name you call them, each of these stops are located in the center of the freeway and are a vast improvement over their former roadside counterparts. Evergreen Point opened June 16, and Yarrow opened July 14.

If you’ve used the freeway stops at the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, you’ll feel right at home at the new pair of stops on 520. There is a small plaza connecting to the roadway overpass and a pair of platforms in the median below. All platforms are completely weather protected. The platforms can accommodate at least three 60 foot coaches simultaneously, and there is enough shoulder space for coaches to pass each other. I measured sound levels and each station averaged around 74 dBC during commute hours. Mountlake Terrace was about 3dB higher, or twice as loud. Mountlake Terrace is surrounded by 10 lanes of traffic versus Evergreen and Yarrow’s four.

Continue reading “Rider Report: The New SR-520 Freeway Stations”