42 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Toronto Skyline”

  1. I have a question for everyone. From a overall transit system improvement perspective, would it be better to spend money first on full signal priority, dedicated transit lanes and floor height full offboard payment stations for high ridership stops? Or should this money first be used to expand light rail? it seems like there is a higher preference for new modes of transportation that only serve specific areas than there is to significantly improve every route that metro operates in the city? There is so much more productivity and effeciency that we can still get out of our current bus system.

    1. It would be far more productive to do both at once than to say either has to wait while we build the political will to do the other.

      We have enough money to do most of the low-hanging fruit improvements you suggest. We just don’t have a council majority willing to enact them. Which is not a reason at all to hold off building more high-capacity transit for another couple decades.

      Ballard needs high-capacity transit now. All the improvements that could be done with the bus lines won’t be enough. (Which is not an excuse for inaction from the council on granting as much dedicated ROW, TSP, etc as possible.) Ballard’s TOD is taller than anything along MLK or in Capitol Hill. Ballard has earned its light rail wings more than any of the neighborhoods currently served by light rail (except downtown and Belltown). So, add to the list we should simultaneously be upzoning around the existing stations, so they don’t get surrounded by mere 4-story apartment buildings with one floor taken up by retail.

      Both/And, or the money will get spent on expanding highways, and we will fall further behind on mobility for people.

      1. Political stuff is particularly an issue for bus lanes. Bus lanes are cheap to implement but can be controversial and are largely the purview of city transportation agencies, which continue to own the streets. Signal priority is pretty similar, as cities continue to own traffic signals. And the city transportation agencies, which don’t have to run the buses but do have to run the roads, still consider it their job to get large numbers of cars in many places, resulting in stuff like the “d.p. Memorial Stoplight”.

        Then transit agency splits come into play — ST has the big capital budget, but Metro runs most of the bus service that needs signal priority and bus lanes. Of course plenty of people in city streets agencies and in ST care about Metro, but where the rubber meets the road Metro buses stuck in traffic are not their problem.

      2. Brent, my perspective of the commenters on this blog is that they are more focused on light rail than they are on BRT. For the same money True BRT can serve more people in more places with comparable door go door travel time.than light rail will ever do in our lifetimes.

        Because choo choo is not

      3. Brent, you’re right on just about every count, though I think it should be against State law to teach statistics without a fine arts class next period across the hall. Maybe then there’d be less proof that the anti-density forces have a point.

        New crop of actual apartment buildings at LINK stations, look like Stalin built them out of crates instead of concrete. Lord, I wish the Historical Commission had the money to put the beautiful little Columbia City Library on jacks and move it where it’s welcome.

        But mainly, things that can’t be done because “there’s no political will”, or “we just don’t have a council majority” sound almost as bad as “we can’t run decent schools because money from the legislature keeps shinking.”

        These statements are true. But forces behind them aren’t weather or plate tectonics. A very small number of greedy, undeservedly rich people, may of whom build bad dense buildings, have gotten control of our politics. When these people start paying the taxes their fathers considered perfectly fair, budgets will start growing again.

        You and everybody connected to the Seattle Transit Blog are already in action on this, so I’m not really “talking to you”. This is just a very important tactical point of rhetoric. It’s stronger to say: “Soon as we get people elected who will help get the transit we need.”

        You’re doing good, Brent.


      4. Fil,

        There is plenty said on this blog about making bus routes faster, and more like “true BRT”. But then, where true BRT exists, it is being converted to rail, since that allows for more capacity. Indeed, I’m not aware of any other blogs where making buses faster is discussed with such passion.

        I don’t know of anybody on this blog who is actually calling for less money to be spent on bus improvements so it can be spent on rail. We’ve consistently called for more spending on both.

        If we get ST3, there will more spent on both. If we don’t get ST3, there will be less spent on both. (and more on roads)

      5. >> Brent, my perspective of the commenters on this blog is that they are more focused on light rail than they are on BRT. For the same money True BRT can serve more people in more places with comparable door go door travel time.than light rail will ever do in our lifetimes.

        It really depends on the location. In some areas (like West Seattle) BRT makes a lot of sense. They don’t have a huge concentration of people. Partly it is because they don’t have a high concentration of people in one area. Light rail would also be extremely expensive, and involve huge gaps without any stops. Another big reason that BRT makes sense for West Seattle is because it wouldn’t be that expensive to build there. It is the combination that makes BRT such a great deal for West Seattle, and light rail such a poor one. You can have BRT routes throughout West Seattle, which could then move people very quickly to downtown Seattle without the need for the capacity of light rail. This means you could actually have much higher frequency transit, since the vehicles (buses) are small. Running an empty train every five minutes doesn’t make sense (which explains why Sound Transit is OK with ten minute headways for West Seattle). By the way, the existence of a line to West Seattle, with a huge gap in the middle (from West Seattle to SoDo) might not meet the definition of BRT — some folks might call it express buses. But light rail would do exactly the same thing — which suggest that light rail simply can’t be built for West Seattle, at best they can build commuter rail.

        Anyway, light rail makes a lot of sense for other areas. By the time you dig a tunnel, you might as well have rail, because rail can carry way more people. If every stop is just a short distance from every other stop (half mile or so) and if every station is likely to have lots of people, then you might as well build light rail. This is the case with Ballard to the UW. It is the case with UW to Capitol Hill to downtown. Once you build the tunnel to serve areas along the tunnel, it makes sense to add light rail. Either the areas are where there are lots of demand, or you shouldn’t even build the tunnel (it doesn’t make sense to build a tunnel with lots of stations that get very little use).

        One exception to this rule is my suggestion for another transit tunnel. I want the tunnel not so that we can serve the areas in the tunnel, but so the various buses south of downtown can quickly move through downtown. Again, it really depends on the area.

        One last example is a gondola from Capitol Hill to South Lake Union. Ideally you would build a light rail line there, but that will take years and years. BRT would get stuck in traffic. A gondola would be a cheap and effective way to move people through here. I’m not a gondola freak — I don’t think it would solve all our problems, but I do think it makes sense for this particular one.

      6. I can’t speak to other bus routes in Ballard, but a lot of the 44’s reliability problems are not in Ballard but in Wallingford and the U District. SDOT tried to put dedicated bus lanes on 45th in Wallingford using the initial round of BTG funding in 2007, but the neighborhood council (or maybe it was the chamber of commerce, I can’t recall) flipped out, claiming that their customers might actually have to park their car and walk, obviously ignoring the fact that some of their customers might prefer to come by bus. Maybe once we have district council members, the Ballard district and Wallingford district can work something out, but I’m not hopeful.

        Big problem in the U District obvious is congestion by the stadium, and the awful left turn at 15th and 45th. I’m not sure that anything can be done about congestion by the stadium, but assigning a police officer during peak times to make sure that busses actually get through the left turn would help a lot.

      7. I think there are a lot of routes where a little effort could make a huge difference and be almost as good as a grade separate light rail line. I don’t the 44 is one of those routes. As mentioned, taking a lane for buses would be politically difficult. There are other problems as well. If you take the right lane, then it will be shared by cars taking a right turn (which happens a lot). Taking the left lane is better, because you can restrict left turns. But that gets a lot more expensive. Then you have the fact that the general flow for the entire north end is north/south. This means that lots of streets have significant, if not greater traffic — 24th NW, 15th NW, 8th NW, 3rd NW, Fremont Avenue, Aurora (a bus would go under Aurora but still have to deal with on ramp/off ramp traffic) Stone Way and every other block in the U-District. The only significant gap is in Wallingford, and even that has plenty of traffic lights (Meridian, Latona, etc.). Signal prioritization could really help for those streets (the ones in Wallingford) but not for the big ones. There is no way the city would allow 46th to have signal priority over Aurora very often (specifically I’m talking about 46th versus Greenlake Way). If you did that, traffic would back up to Aurora, and you have a really big mess on your hands. This would happen quite quickly if buses came by quite often. Even folks who only care only about transit have to wonder who has the right of way — a bus on Market, or a bus on 15th? You can’t have high frequency on the east-west corridor without spending a lot of time waiting for traffic lights, or messing up a lot of traffic.

        Which leads me to my next point. Despite the fact that the 44 is so slow that you are often better off walking, it is a fairly popular bus. The same is true of the 8. If it actually performed close to as fast as driving (which is what, at best, these changes would get) then it would be extremely popular. At that point you have to increase frequency to deal with the extra passengers, which adds cost (and eliminates signal prioritization). The best way to deal with capacity issues is to switch to rail. Given all that, the best solution is grade separation (including cross streets) as well as add a high capacity system. This means light rail in a tunnel (or elevated).

    2. On the score of right-heighting the stops so wheelchairs can roll right onto the buses, does anyone know if that is part of the latest plan for the next 3rd Ave makeover?

      1. I’m not even sure people using wheelchairs can always roll right onto the bus on Swift, where bus height should be uniform. Given the variable conditions on 3rd Ave (a wide range of buses, curb-space congestion forcing buses to pull at more difficult angles) I don’t think we could expect ramp-less boarding in all cases, but of course making boarding more level should make ramp-less boarding possible in more cases.

      2. The ramp on the swift is very fast though as is parking a wheel chair. I used to get my daughter in a wheelchair onto the bus and even strapped in in about the same amount of time as it took for people to board and find their seat.

    3. Phil,

      It’s a bit of both. You need to invest resources in new transit modes that are regional in nature & then in turn as ridership grows, you add more localized components such as signal priority, off board fare collection & stops with level boarding for busses. No single element should be viewed in a vacume.

    4. It’s not just that light rail is new.

      If you look back through a few past threads, you will see that a few people are highly critical of how much King County Metro costs to operate, and grumble about TriMet here in Portland.

      If you actually look at the costs, King County Metro isn’t that different that TriMet as far as the costs to operate the buses go. The trolley buses spend a bunch of time stuck in traffic, so they cost a lot more per passenger mile but are cheaper per hour.

      Where TriMet makes King County Metro look good is the cost per rider, and TriMet is quite a bit cheaper than KCM per rider thanks to over 1/4 of the riders here being on light rail, where they are quite a bit cheaper to transport.

      Lane modifications and signal priority and all that are great improvements, but it doesn’t answer the basic problem that the buses in Seattle are too crowded to be able to effectively do the job they are being asked to do.

      If you combine all the needs are: large capacity per driver, cheap electric power, dedicated lanes, and signal priority. If you try to find some way to answer all those issues you wind up with light rail.

      1. In a few weeks when it’s Spring, Glenn, walk the length of the MAX route from the river to the zoo- but even though the grade is steep, don’t use that tunnel from Goose Prairie to Washington Park Station.

        Then next nice day, take the Cascadian to King Street, and though it’s too bad you can’t take a streetcar to the Alaskan Way and Union, walk same distance straight east. Though it’s fair to divert to nearest street with a bridge across I-5.

        Both trips, also notice width of the transit-concentrated Downtown area. I counted 19 blocks from the river to the rose beds by the zoo- where the meerkat exhibit suggests that best boring machine is to clone a giant meerkat.

        So 19 blocks in from our Waterfront…well, meerkats always come in really large packs! South Africans call them “mobs”. Even though they’re cute, they also manage to kill half of each other every year in gang, I mean mob, violence.

        Except for hill towns in Portugal- some of which have great streetcar lines from ‘way back, Seattle has less transit-usable surface right of way than any city of its size on earth. Like political will or its absence, something public projects have to deal with, not bemoan the lack of.


      2. Actually I’ve walked both of those (well, sort of. In Seattle I did it once on crutches because I had a broken leg that was healing so it was more of a hobble). It’s one of the reasons why some of the “You can’t get there from here” pedestrian access points in Seattle irritate me.

        I never said Seattle should build something just like MAX. I only claim that Seattle has bumped up against the limits of what can be economically done with the types of buses that are legal in the USA (federal maximum for passenger carrying vehicles is 60 feet in the USA). When you combine all the needs that need to be met with transit improvements there are routes in Seattle that are going to have to have some sort of rail service on them soon, or the system will collapse trying to keep enough capacity going.

        Each city has its own unique features that will mean some things can’t be copied from elsewhere. Light rail in Seattle should be designed to meet the needs and features of Seattle, not that of San Diego or Portland or Dallas.

      3. As is unfortunately increasingly common, I am unable to parse the point Mark is trying to make above. Also unfortunate is that Mark’s brand of Seattle Exceptionalism was the most clear statement he made.

        The “Old World” is full of cities on hills. Hills and cliffs over defined harbors were historically quite strategic. Some of these places have fantastic transit. Some don’t. But Seattle has neither the world’s most difficult terrain nor — by far — the least construction-staging space.

        But perhaps Seattle has the very worst “process”. Worse even than Naples, if such a thing is possible. Because Naples has had to resort to some absolutely crazy shit in order to conquer its topography.

        But the crazy shit in the map above exists. Meanwhile, Seattle nixed its First Hill challenge completely and forever. Then it built a train so slow and roundabout that no one will ever use it for the supposed “replacement” purpose.

      4. “As is unfortunately increasingly common, I am unable to parse the point Mark is trying to make above.”

        I’m finding the same thing. I used to read Mark’s entire opuses and find a point along with much imagery. Recently I’ve found it so much work to find the point that I either skim the messages or don’t read them at all. Perhaps Mark could work on making the point stand out.

        However, in this case the point seems to be in the last paragraph. I’m not sure about the second-last, but is it impossible to convince a pack of meerkats to dig a tunnel going one direction? That would doubtless be easier than raising the world’s largest meerkat, which we have no idea whether it would be able to dig effectively, kind of like the world’s largest TBM.

    5. People make different levels of trips — some shorter and some longer, some between urban villages and others to/from lower-density areas– so you need different levels of transit. Currently we have local buses and a few point-to-point expresses, but nothing in between except a starter Link line. That in-between level is what’s limiting ridership and transit capacity. Link can do double-duty as both mid-level and express when it has its own ROW (north and east but not south). For a bus solution, see Swift, but Swift is only feasable in the suburbs and in secondary Seattle corridors. Seattle has too many riders and too narrow streets for a Swift-only solution. You talk about dedicated transit lanes but there’s no space for transit lanes on Eastlake or 45th for example.

      So Link is bringing the missing level of service, and that will help ridership more than just incremental improvements on the bottom level. People have spent decades driving or not making trips or cursing Metro or arranging other things in their life around Metro’s service, and now they won’t have to. Even if they have to transfer to a bus at the end, or can’t use Link in the west half of the city, it’s still better to have it than not. And that “can’t use Link in the west half of the city” is precisely why we need more lines.

      But we need incremental improvements to Metro too. What we call RapidRide level of service is the minimum standard for local routes in some cities. All corridors in Metro’s “frequent network” should have most of these features. (I said corridors rather than routes to allow for reorganizations.)

      So, any effective solution will require a spending a portion on Link, a portion on bus operations (more Metro runs), and a portion on bus capital improvements. We should put Link primary and the others around it, because a stronger trunk makes the network more effective than a weaker trunk. But that doesn’t mean doing Link “first” and the others later; it just means the proportions in the budget, which means the RapidRide-like features will have to go one by one rather than all at once.

    6. Within Seattle you have two situations where BRT is not an appropriate solution:

      1. Transit demand exceeds capacity. This happens when you have more riders than can be served by a 60′ bus every 5 minutes.
      2. There simply isn’t enough room in the ROW to make transit fast through choke points. Since you are building expensive grade separated facilities you might as well lay down rail.

      U-link/North Link is a great example of a corridor where rail is a more appropriate solution than BRT. Ballard-U District is another where BRT would be problematic,

      So yes we need the sort of bus improvements you outline but we also need rail,

      Note that many commenters here feel any further extension of LINK outside of Seattle beyond what is funded in ST2 would be a foolish waste of money.

    7. One thing that should be done: “RapidRide” should be made offboard payment/POP only. Giving the option to pay onboard defeats the whole purpose of “BRT”, and can serve to slow down routes through longer boarding times.

    1. I was momentarily thrown by #9 — that map is so out of date it’s missing a good portion of the lines that are there today.

    2. Got all 10!

      What’s more interesting than trying to recognize network shapes in isolation, though, is the distinction between cities where these maps overlay an urban structure that is easy to visualize even without them, and cities where the mass-transit map becomes nearly vital to understanding relative location.

      Despite having visited London repeatedly, I find it literally impossible, when looking up a location on Google Maps, to understand where the heck I’m looking without turning on the Tube overlay. That doesn’t even suggest the Tube would be the best way to reach that location — just that it becomes an invaluable reference point for that city without which it would be easy to become quite lost.

      I can’t think of any other Western cities where the map is quite so indispensable in that way.

    3. Missed only Moscow. I didn’t recognize a few but the hints and elimination of obviously incorrect answers made most of the rest easy. I have to credit d.p. for the assist on Boston — I haven’t been to Boston since I was a kid doing the obligatory, “Go to Boston and Philadelphia to see America’s founding history,” vacation, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a Boston transit map, but the forked green line gave it away because of his STB posts mentioning it.

    4. Got 9/10 (missed #9 since I thought it must be bigger than that – apparently that is the case and it is the map that is faulty).

      I’ve used 6/10 (all the US systems except LA plus London).

  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Caldwell_Harris

    Elaine in Seinfeld was right about “The English Patient” movie: it sucked. Though Michael Ondaatje’s excellent book showed how bad World War II’s Italian Campaign sucked for the Canadian personnel who got the crap shot out of them.

    However, having any clue about the “Patient” story means reading the prequel, which thankfully never got the Hollywood treatment. Lucky civil engineering always loses out to wars at the box-office.

    Even with the priceless basement showdown where Toronto’s chief civil engineer talks a young terrorist out of blowing up the magnificent (it really is!) new water treatment plant he’s just swum a mile through an intake pipe to get at.

    On top of many years of regular visits through high school and college in Michigan, final one thirty years ago summed up Toronto for me: the 501 streetcar, and a guided personal tour of the Roland C. Harris treatment plant.

    Work was also well underway on the DSTT, and in addition to the advisory committee on Tunnel operations, I was also on a similar group to evaluate our project’s public art. Metro Transit Director Ron Tober reminded me of the Commissioner Harris character in the book.

    This morning’s video goes well beyond honest hardworking “porn” to flat obscenity. Almost as indecent as the replacement of a graceful old city with something whose worst feature is its perfect resemblance to every prosperously contemporary city in the world.

    Hard, bright, flat, and razor-sharp, everything from office buildings to museums. Right down to residences, restaurants and cafe’s. And the people who thrive in them. A perfect set and cast for a mundane flick that could induce seizures.

    “Move fast and break things!” Too bad Face Book CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently numbed down his motto.

    Because I’d love to see this sketch set the stage for real-time nose-camera footage as everything supersonic in the Royal Canadian Air Force comes in wing to wing at skyscraper top level trailing a wave of the exact architectural criticism these mile-high slasher-weapons warrant.

    After everybody has been evacuated despite their own desperate attempts to stay and tweet the whole thing from the top of a glass tower antenna.

    # Fastandbroken OMG! LOL!

    #THK GOD! Mark

    In a quiet, beautiful, gracious city with great public transit.

    Facebook”Move Fast and Break Things.”
    “Move Fast With Stable Infra.”

  3. Prequel: “In the Skin of a Lion.” Though only lions actually harmed were in a Babylonian legend from a period where fake fur had not yet been invented.


  4. Hey guys… listen with a ton of North-by-Northwest products to launch this week… I’m just going to start a thread here.

    Uh, hypothetically speaking, if AvGeekFest could have a Transit Geek Fest facsimile – what would you like?


    *Photo op inside a Central Link Light Rail or Seattle Streetcar cab
    *A panel on transit & land use
    *A bipartisan legislative panel with Ross Reynolds or Martin Duke moderating
    *A Q&A with Mr. North by Northwest with Martin Duke moderating
    *A Seattle Transit Blog Page 1 writer panel with a mutually trusted moderator
    *A tour of a major transit facility or two with either a staff photog or photography allowed
    *A Transit Photography 101 overview by Mr. North by Northwest

    There you go… there’s my wish list. I wonder if I’m the only guy who feels we really can raise our game to Volume 18G.

    1. Well, since Dilbert invented a flying car that also took “selfies”, that his CEO approved on the condition that no one would be told it was a flying car- maybe you could do a simulator where a bus could take selfies through the windshield on the elevated curve past Southcenter with nobody finding out it was really a train?

      Would also be the decade’s greatest public service to use your event to give Dave Ross the exposure to get him his own permanent transit-oriented talk show, thereby liberating him from his weird total eclipse by the lame and talentless Luke Burbank.

      Or maybe these last couple of years were all a beneficial plot by Dave himself to induce people out of their cars onto transit by making KIRO morning radio unlistenable. If so- he’ll be great for your event!


      1. Mark, he he, you missed the point.

        The point: I’d like a day or two days a year where transit advocates could gather, network and geek up. Dave Ross could be a good moderator ;-).

    2. Something like a miniature APTA convention would be nice. When they had the 100th anniversary of Portland Union Station it wasn’t a vast, huge, rambling convention or anything but Amtrak, BNSF, UP and a few others brought some of their equipment to look at. It would be nice to see what technologies some of the transit agencies in the region are experimenting with.

      1. I agree, an APTA convention more for transit advocates & transit agency employees to learn, share & mingle would be nice…..

    3. There was a general Seattle-transit panel at Rail~volution, with members from STB, The Stranger, and others on the panel. Perhaps we should do something like that annually.

      1. Indeed. I’d like to see a few panels. One on transit operating, one on legislative relations, one on planning and one with STB writers.

  5. Hi. I have another idea to pitch–this time it is discussing the route 48/23rd Ave electrification project. I have ideas for three new junctions along 23rd (well, actually only one is new, the rest are modified). The main purpose of these new and modified junctions is to give deadheading route 2 and 3 coaches operating between Atlantic base and the 2 and 3 terminals in Madrona a more direct route to and from the base–without passing through First Hill. This could also potentially be an alternate snow route for the 2, 3 and 4.

    Note that on Jackson, I have also provided a means for deadheading route 4 and 48 coaches to get to and from the base (currently there is no provisions for trolleys to turn from 23rd to Jackson or vice versa).

    23rd & Union
    23rd & Cherry/Jefferson
    23rd & Jackson

    1. Why would 23rd be better than Broadway as a route to/from base? I see that it would avoid traffic congestion, but congested times are exactly when we want to provide more service to First Hill.

    2. Thanks for bringing this up, SR. I think these pages need a posting on this subject. Off-wire package on the upcoming trolley fleet will help some. But as long as we’ve got buses that need wire, some major “loop” installation is long overdue.

      Really ridiculous to run wire between the U-District and Ballard with no chance to clear bunching, and to keep a blockage in one place from taking down service miles away.

      Mark Dublin

  6. Will try to put this comment close to the top as I can get next open thread. Points about my composition are very much to the point, and seriously, much appreciate the observations. My writing is very important to me, as is the respect I’ve enjoyed for a very long time.

    I’ve been having trouble with my eyesight tor several years now. Having second cataract surgery day after tomorrow. Should at least improve the editing. But I don’t like at all what the focus problem portends.

    It’s not exactly old age. But the value of my public participation, both speaking and writing, had always been fresh information literally from behind the wheel. Twenty years after separating- a year short of minimum transit driving age-the fresh part is gone.

    Like the mad civil war doctor and the vampire prostitute in “Nightstalker”, intense professional interest can maintain the kind of unnatural life that Darren McGavin’s editor never believed.

    You’re doing good, Martin- but believe your poor reporter! (Wonder how “Kolchak” kept his job if his stories never got printed?) [GIT!] for “Get It Together” should be technically easy and right to the point. As any Brit confronted by a stupid person knows.


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