No April Fools’ Tomorrow

You can rest assured that tomorrow’s posts will be as earnest and authentic as any other day’s.*

We’ve had some fun with April Fools’ posts in the past (you can share your favorite in the comments), but last year’s generated much more angst than it was worth. And in any case we’ve probably outgrown that kind of thing.

Besides, there’s too much news to write about anyway!

* I can’t vouch for what’s going to happen on Page 2.

Reminder: Meet-up Tomorrow

Just a reminder that we’re having our first-in-a-while meet-up happy hour tomorrow, April 1, at Rock Bottom Brewery in Downtown Seattle from 5-8pm.  Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz and others will be on hand to talk about ST3 and the upcoming ballot initiatives.  Come chat with us STB staff and ST folks to learn more about the project selection process and more.

STB Happy Hour
Rock Bottom Brewery
1333 5th Avenue
5pm – 8pm
Happy hour snacks will be served

A Belated, but Welcome, Proposal to Fix the Mount Baker Mess

Image via SDOT.
Image via SDOT.

Last Thursday, SDOT’s Accessible Mount Baker project manager Michael James—a youthful guy with an indifferently tucked shirt and an eager smile, presented an intriguing, but still unfunded, proposal to improve the transit, bike, and pedestrian connections around and between the Mount Baker light rail station on the west side of MLK and the Mount Baker Transit Center on the east side of Rainier.

The meeting, held in the windowless Kings Hall building behind the station, turned out a few dozen committed residents for tortilla wraps, a mixed-fruit platter, and a detailed discussion of what the station area might look like in the hands of SDOT’s “Accessible Mount Baker” team.

Although the city hasn’t identified any specific funding source for the project, expected to take up to a year to build, James said it was consistent with SDOT director Scott Kubly’s vision for spending the money raised by the Move Seattle levy, an ambitious $900 million proposal that will, if voters approve it in November, be roughly twice the size of the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy it would replace.

Like Martin, I can attest that the Mount Baker rail station and the flat concrete expanse of the Mount Baker Transit Center across the street are underdeveloped, poorly connected, and confusing even to a longtime transit rider like myself.

Continue reading “A Belated, but Welcome, Proposal to Fix the Mount Baker Mess”

Multi-Agency Day Pass May Return for Good, $1 Less

RRFPs may soon get to carry $4.50 regional day passes.
RRFPs may soon get to carry $4.50 regional day passes.

Last year, the ORCA Joint Board conducted a pilot project, to test the long-term feasibility of a multi-agency regional day pass.

A press release from Geoff Patrick at Sound Transit informs us the day pass may be coming back, and the ORCA pod is taking input on a proposal to do that:
Continue reading “Multi-Agency Day Pass May Return for Good, $1 Less”

First Hill Streetcar Testing Has Begun

On Friday SDOT showed off the first completed streetcar for the First Hill line. The streetcar made a one block trip from the maintenance facility to 8th & Lane. Also, SDOT’s Rail Transit Manager Ethan Ethan Melone provided a tour of the facility, which begins at the 5:55 mark of the video. Hit the break for a few photos of the completed cars and the others that are undergoing final assembly.

Continue reading “First Hill Streetcar Testing Has Begun”

Spokane Moving Forward: Cheney And West Plains

Map of STA Cheney/West Plains service
STA Cheney/West Plains Service

[This is the second in a promised series covering Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s proposed ten-year plan to improve transit in the Spokane region, which will go to an areawide ballot in April. Previously I discussed the proposed Central City Line.]

16 miles southwest of Spokane lies Cheney, a town of about 10,000 permanent residents, one of the largest outlying population areas within the Spokane Transit Authority’s service area. Cheney would warrant some transit service, but not a great deal, were it not for the fact that it hosts the main campus of Eastern Washington University, the state’s third fourth largest university. With about 13,000 students, EWU swells the population of Cheney by about 7,000 when it is in session, with the balance commuters, mostly from Spokane.

Like college students almost everywhere, EWU students use transit in droves, and for more than just the commute. STA Route 66, the trunk route to Cheney, is STA’s third-highest ridership route, with nearly 2,600 weekday boardings — pretty impressive, for a service which only operates every half-hour in the off-peak — and is the only route to primarily use 60′ coaches. As you’d expect for such a productive service, it’s near the front of the line for improvement, if voters elect to fund STA Moving Forward at the ballot.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Spokane Moving Forward: Cheney And West Plains”

What’s Your Vision for Metro’s Future?


This Tuesday March 31st, Metro will launch its first long range planning effort in a very long time with an exciting two-part event at the Downtown Seattle Central Library. The event, which starts at 6:00 pm, will begin with six facilitated break-out sessions that will dive into key topics.  Each break-out sessions will be lead by subject area experts from a variety of organizations and include:

  • Equity and Access (facilitated by Shefali Ranganathan of TCC)
  • Educators and Institutions (Ray White of Bellevue College)
  • Business and Economy (Jessica Szelag of Commute Seattle)
  • Innovation and Technology (Me of STB)
  • Service Integration (David Beal and Craig Davidson of ST)
  • Future Funding and Policies (Amy Gore of Futurewise)

The discussion from each break-out sessions will then be used to identify common themes and the overall vision of where participants want Metro to be in 25 years. If you care about the big picture vision of transit in King County this event is a must. 

Once break-out sessions have wrapped up the event will transition directly into the panel discussion guided by the themes and vision generated in the break-out sessions. Panelist include Jarrett Walker (transit planner extraordinaire), Rebecca Saldaña (Executive Director of Puget Sound Sage) and Mark Hallenbeck (UW transportation researcher and BIG picture thinker). This discussion will be moderated by Rita Brogan of the Washington State Transportation Commission. 

This promises to be a unique, blue-sky type of event that only happens a few times a year and I would strongly encourage those who are interested to attend. More details are available here.

House Transportation Committee Liveblog

The House Transportation Committee is underway to discuss ST3 authority and the broader transpo package. Watch live here and refresh for our updates and commentary. You may also follow us on Twitter.

6:19 Committee adjourns after nearly 3 hours of nearly unanimously favorable testimony. No committee discussion of the bills.

5:57 Clibborn is cutting off oral testimony at 6…after 2.5 straight hours.

5:56 Kemore mayor very unhappy with the effects of toll-related traffic diversion on SR 522.

5:44 Clark County: “We’re ready to begin a new conversation” about the abandoned CRC project between Vancouver and Portland

5:35 Eastside Transportation Association says Sound Transit shouldn’t get any new authority until they finish all ST2 projects.

5:31 Snohomish County reps appear to have gone all-in on Paine Field. Just about every rep is mentioning it.

5:30 Marysville wants grade separation of rail traffic. That would significantly speed up Cascades.

5:23 “Do you all need to stand up and stretch?” Clibborn: “No, they don’t!” She clearly wants to get through this.

5:20 Michael Shaw from Washington Transit Association “You could say we’re less than enthused with the multimodal investments in this bill”

5:15 Mercer Island City Councilmember Cero: Gas tax is just, and it scales with use.

Continue reading “House Transportation Committee Liveblog”

News Roundup: War of Cars

SLU Streetcar at McGraw Square
SounderBruce (Flickr)

This is an open thread.

MEET-UP: Learn About ST3 Next Wednesday

A good turnout.
A different STB Meetup.

As Martin noted yesterday, ST3 is getting a hearing in Olympia today.  This is an important moment for the future of light rail in the city.  If you don’t like the idea that a lone fish truck can bring the city to its knees, come to an STB meet-up this Wednesday and learn more about the latest plans for regional light rail expansion.

In the coming weeks legislators will determine whether the region gets to consider a mass transit measure in November 2016. As the politics swirl in Olympia and Sound Transit prepares to shape Sound Transit 3, Executive Director of Policy, Environmental and Project Development Ric Ilgenfritz will join our meet-up to talk about the lay of the land. What are the stakes behind Sound Transit’s request for expanded funding authority? How will the agency decide which projects make the cut? Why is $15B better than $11B? Ric and other Sound Transit staff will be on hand to answer your questions.

[updated location]
Where: Rock Bottom Brewery, 1333 5th Avenue (5th & Union)
When: Wednesday, April 1, 5pm – 8pm

Fixing the Mount Baker Mess

Talk to anyone who has spent any time around Mount Baker station about the situation down here and one word crops up a lot, awful. The place is a car sewer. A few years back DPD proposed an improvement that went no where (the bowtie), but now SDOT is taking a look at the problem. Preliminary work on the Accessible Mt. Baker project started late last year, but tomorrow will be the first public meeting where concrete proposals will be put out. Both immediate and long term proposals will be presented. I’ve heard that the long term proposal would be quite transformative for the area. While project manager Michael James couldn’t give many any specific details, his response is extremely encouraging:

It eliminates the MLK/Rainier bottleneck…

  • Eliminating the bottleneck allows:
    • More time and space assigned to people
    • More room for livability features such as wider sidewalks and landscaping
    • Predictable traffic movement
    • Simplified traffic signal operations
  • Distributes traffic to the broader street network

Combined with the work SDOT is doing to Rainier south of Mount Baker station, this is very exciting times for the Rainier Valley. We could be looking at the biggest non-Link infrastructure upgrade in decades, on the street that most would agree is the heart of the Valley.

More details about Thursday’s Open House.

Action Alert: House Hearing on ST3 Tomorrow

House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island)

Tomorrow in Olympia at 3:30pm, the House Transportation Committee will hold its only public comment session on its portion of the transportation package. The starting point is the basket of bills the Republican-led Senate already passed that comprise the package.

The Committee is pointedly not considering the series of “reform bills,” like the one that would exempt WSDOT projects (read: highways) from sales tax, effectively diverting money from transit, local government, and the general fund to road uses. Instead, it will consider ESSB 5987 and 5988, the revenue (including ST3 authorization) and appropriations bills, respectively.

The Senate package amounts to the rightmost possible outcome for a transportation program. The House might pass its own version and enter conference committee, subject to approval from both houses; or the two leaderships might reach a deal and the House could simply pass it. So either no transportation package will become law, or the new program will lie ideologically somewhere between the Senate and House visions.

That’s why it’s important that the House gather evidence of public support for the progressive elements of the proposed package, especially new funding options for Sound, Community, and Kitsap Transit. In particular, there is a big difference between $11.2 billion of revenue over 15 years, as the Senate authorized, and the $15 billion Sound Transit requested. I did a crude analysis to show how much more $15 billion of taxes can buy. Sound Transit has been very reluctant to attach actual projects to its funding requests, but I did get spokesman Geoff Patrick to state that “Anything less than full authority for $15 billion in new revenue would not allow Sound Transit to meet the objectives of voters for high capacity transit in the Sound Transit District.”

Anyhow, a good showing from transit advocates tomorrow would help create a good outcome. Here are instructions for testimony. The second best way to contribute is to contact any representative on the Committee from your district. Many of these districts are ones far less likely to get light rail from a smaller revenue package. And while you’re at it, point out that the appropriations bill spends not enough on maintenance, and in fact makes the maintenance burden worse with lots of new lane-miles.

Agencies Working on Olive Way Freeway Station

Route 545's Detour in Capitol Hill
Route 545’s Detour in Capitol Hill

Two-and-a-half years ago, Zach concisely made the case for an idea that’s been kicking around the Seattle transit world for a decade or more:

Every now and then there is a simple fix to an existing inefficiency that improves transit access, decreases travel time, and costs very little. Such an opportunity exists at the Olive Way/Melrose Ave on-ramp to northbound I-5.

In a well-known story, in 2005 Anirudh Sahni successfully lobbied for a morning-only Capitol Hill stop for Sound Transit Route 545 at Bellevue/Olive, sparing mostly Microsoft commuters living on the Hill an unpleasant walk over I-5 to Olive/Terry. […] Made by 30 AM trips, the Bellevue/Olive deviation [adds] a minimum of 5 minutes to each AM trip. Simply adding a stop at Melrose/Olive/I-5, a mere shift of about 750 feet, would save 2-3 hours of cumulative delay every day on the 545.

In a recent turn of events, the kind with which all long-time STB authors are familiar, we heard via a recent offhand remark that an idea we’ve been shouting (seemingly into the void) for years is now under serious study by an alphabet soup of agencies. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray:

The short answer about the Olive Way flyer stop is, yes, we’re looking at it. No decision has been made whether to go ahead with it and if we do, it won’t likely be before mid 2016. We’ve been looking into it as a way to shave about 5 min off the 545 trip, which would be the only route to use it. It would replace the stop at Bellevue and Olive. Right now the City, ST and WSDOT are talking about logistics and scale, but we’re a ways from having much more to say about it.

So, on the plus side, I’m thrilled that this excellent idea is under study: I hope the Olive Freeway Station gets built as soon as possible. My thanks to Sound Transit for taking the lead on this smart, cost-effective, rider-focused project. My only area of concern is the restricted scope of the study that Gray outlines: there is no good reason that only the 545 should serve this stop, rather every bus that goes past this stop should be considered as a candidate. Zach’s post contains a comprehensive list of 2012 routes that could have served this stop, and while it is now a little out of date, it does capture which points of the compass riders could head from this stop.

While I could see that there might be legibility or peak period capacity issues with having many routes serve this stop, at a minimum, the scope of this project should be extended to include service from ST 512. The 512 never uses the express lanes, so it always uses the Olive ramp, creating no legibility problems for riders. The 512 provides off-peak service for ST’s flagship Snohomish County corridor, I-5 north to Everett, and reliably carries full seated loads every day of the week, well into the evenings. The ST board has decided that BART-like rail is worth the cost on this corridor, and thus the comparatively negligible cost to figure out how to make this bus stop work for riders in the intervening seven years must surely also be justified.

No Downtown Link Service This Weekend

Board Link Shuttle Here
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

On March 28-29, Link will not run between Westlake and Mt Baker Stations to accommodate system upgrades in the Beacon Hill tunnel. Trains will operate normally between SeaTac and Mt Baker, and shuttle bus 97 will run between Westlake and Mt Baker. Unlike previous bus bridges, however, Route 97 will run in the Downtown Transit Tunnel, serving all stops from Westlake to Stadium, then running express to Mt Baker Station.  Sound Transit’s press release is below:

On Saturday, March 28, and Sunday, March 29, the downtown section of the Link light rail line will be closed for system upgrades to prepare for extending service to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington in early 2016.

Trains will operate normally between Sea-Tac Airport Station to Mount Baker Station. A free shuttle bus will connect at Mount Baker Station, serve a temporary stop near Stadium Station and then make all normal downtown tunnel stops.
Route 97 – Service between Mount Baker Station and downtown Seattle.
Mount Baker Station – pick up/drop off at Mt. Baker Transit Center
Stadium Station (temporary stop on S. Royal Brougham Way and SODO Busway, in front of the Greyhound station)
International District Station
Pioneer Square Station
University Street Station
Westlake Station
This Link shuttle does not serve Beacon Hill and SODO stations. Bus options for those neighborhoods:
From Beacon Hill
To Downtown/Westlake: Board Route 36 north.
To Sea-Tac Airport: Board Route 36 south and transfer to Link at Othello Station.
To Downtown/Westlake: Take any SODO Busway route north to downtown.
To Sea-Tac Airport: Board Route 50 east at SODO busway and S. Lander Street and transfer to Link at Columbia City Station. After 11:07 p.m. Saturday and 10:23 p.m. Sunday, board any SODO busway route north to Stadium Station and then take Route 97 south.
If possible, we recommend that you adjust your schedule to add extra time or use alternative travel options such as taxis and shuttles. Thank you for your patience during these upgrades.

SDOT Proposes Westlake Ave Transit Lanes

By Mike Bjork

SDOT is proposing that two lanes of Westlake be transit only. This would speed up not only the Streetcar, but also Route 40 and the soon to be decoupled Rapid Ride C. All the details are in The Seattle Times ($):

“These improvements, along with the streetcar, will mean a bus or a train will go by every three minutes,” Mayor Ed Murray said. “That’s like New York in Seattle.”

The Westlake proposal builds on principles that already succeed on Third Avenue, where buses run mostly free from car interference, said Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, who will speak March 31 at the Seattle Central Library

Walker said the city has become a leader in North America, by designing streets to respect transit users. “This is really an important breakthrough, and it makes Seattle more like Paris,” he said.

“There is no room in Seattle for any more car traffic.”

Exclusive lanes, combined with the improved frequency Amazon is purchasing and the Center City Connector, would make the streetcar less like a typical Seattle bus and more like Portland’s MAX from Lake Union to Pioneer Square. Not too shabby.

Metro schedule flyers as PDF

960 grams of Schedules

Metro creates PDFs for their flyers but they’re not posted on their web site. An e-mail to Metro’s customer service will get them individually so I made a public records request for all available PDFs available for Metro-operated routes. My request only asked for routes 1 through 373, excluding any custom bus, school bus, or DART routes, but Metro also provided the Group Health and DART routes. The Spring 2015 schedule flyers are now posted here. The flyers were given to me in five larger files so I split them up into individual ones for easier downloading. There is one page missing, for the 150/164/168/169 combo flyer, and I’ve asked for it to be resent. A single file of all routes provided to me is available [PDF], as are the five files sent to me by Metro. If a route is combined on the schedule flyer, like routes 2 and 13, or 31 and 32, there is only one file for them and it is named after the combination (for example, “Routes 2 and 13.pdf”).

As part of the request, I asked if Metro could post these files on their own web site but that answer is still pending. In addition, since the latest Sound Transit PDF book I can find is June/September, 2013 [PDF], I’ve put in a request to Sound Transit for their latest version if one is available. Update: Sound Transit got back to me and pointed out that their Ride the Wave PDF is in an obvious spot, on the right-hand column of the Schedules page. Once there, the latest book [PDF] can be found.

Capacity Limitations of Link


Sound Transit’s ridership forecasts suggest that 15 trains per hour (every four minutes) between Northgate and the International District are sufficient for peak demand on that segment through 2030. This allows a train roughly every 8 minutes to Des Moines and every 8 minutes to Redmond.

Of course, forecasts are hard, and factors completely outside Sound Transit’s control might cause ridership to dramatically exceed or undershoot those forecasts. Things that Sound Transit does control, like Sound Transit 3 investments, would likely increase demand on this segment and could, optimistically, be open by 2030. Furthermore, the safest assumption is continued population and ridership growth after 2030. So what capacity is supported by the infrastructure under construction now?

In an effort to cut through some of the urban legends surrounding this question, I spoke with Marie Olson, Sound Transit’s Link Transportation Manager for Operations. As it turns out, Sound Transit’s signaling system is designed for a minimum 90 second headways. Ms. Olson believes that if the demand were there, 3 minute headways are achievable without significant deterioration in trip quality. SDOT thinks its signaling system on MLK’s surface segment can support 6 minute headways, so 3 minute headways neatly divides into 10 trains per hour to both the Rainier Valley and the Eastside. Planned fleet purchases are large enough to support 4-car trains at this rate.

Although going below 3 minutes is possible, due to the variability inherent with human factors and surface operations it “wouldn’t give our ridership as reliable a service.” The small windows to fit in delayed trains might cause them to bunch up, delaying riders. Furthermore, it would likely require additional investment in Traction Power Substations.

There’s also the question of where to put the trains. At 30 trains per hour, 10 of them can go neither to Bellevue nor the Rainier Valley. It’s possible that the pocket track planned for International District might be able to reverse trains, although it’s not really designed for that movement during peak operations. Alternatively, the extra trains could turn at Stadium, if Seattle were to accept a lower traffic level of service on Royal Brougham Way (or close it entirely). “It’s something we’d have to look at in simulation,” Olson said.

I specifically asked about the deleted Montlake vent shaft, often cited in STB comment threads as a constraint on tunnel throughput. Ms. Olson denied that it was one; in fact, when ST deleted the shaft they placed a signal at the midpoint between Capitol Hill and UW. This allows two trains in the three-minute segment between the stations, which means it has the same fundamental 90-second limit as the rest of the signaling system.

At Tokyo-style crowding levels, 20 trains per hour is 16,000 people per hour per direction. Of course, at that level of crowding headway limitations may be driven most by the dwell times needed to deboard. Here’s hoping that the system is popular enough to require that level of service.

News Roundup: Our Turn

My first walk across Tilikum Bridge-16
Tillikum Crossing (Jonathan Maus – Bike Portland – Flickr)

This is an open thread.