Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

We reported back in 2013 that SDOT planned to add Real-Time Information Signs (RTIS) on Jackson, Rainier, and as funding permitted, the Market/45th Corridor. In welcome news for riders, SDOT announced on Friday that the remaining 11 signs will be coming to the Market/45th corridor by this summer. The signs will be located at:

  • (2) Ballard Ave/Market (Routes 17X, 18X, 29, 40, 44)
  • (1) 15th/Market (44 Eastbound)
  • (1) 8th Market (44 Eastbound/28X inbound)
  • (4) 46th/Phinney (5, 5X, 44)
  • (2) 45th/Wallingford (16, 44)
  • (1) 45th/Roosevelt (44 westbound, 810, 821, 855, 860, 871, 880)

Continuing SDOT’s recent laudable history of not missing ancillary opportunities presented by new construction, each of these stops will also be rebuilt at the same time to provide pedestrian-activated street crossings and curb ramps.

SDOT Photo

While this is great news for riders, those without smartphones, and for the aesthetics and usability of the system more generally, I do hope that the data will be more thoughtfully curated than the current signs on Rainier and Jackson. Deciding what data to exclude is more important than deciding what to include. The signs usually present the next six or nine arrivals in batches of three, and at stops with frequent service and multiple routes this makes good sense. But if you are standing at 15th/Market, where only the 44 stops, you would see a display for Route 44 arrivals in 5/20/35 minutes, followed a few seconds later by arrivals 50/65/80 minutes away. Unlike on a smartphone, where you are likelier to plan a future trip, if you are already standing at the bus stop it is 100% certain that you do not need to see trips on the same route that are over an hour away. In such cases the feed should always show the nearest 3 arrival times only.

The same principle applies to arrivals at the end of their trip. At the westbound 45th/Roosevelt sign, SDOT would do well to exclude the 167 and 373, for which this is the last inbound stop, and push Community Transit to provide real-time data for their 800-series express routes.

47 Replies to “Real-Time Transit Info Coming to the Ballard-UW Corridor”

  1. The signs that TriMet has at a number of its busiest stops don’t scroll the arrival times for the same route under normal circumstances. Instead, the sign displays two columns of arrivals for each route, and when it scrolls it typically does so when there enough routes to fill an entire screen.

    The only time that I have seen them show the confusing very distant arrival time in a single column is when the display is showing a system alert (eg “Multiple Vehicle Accident causing significant delays on routes 33 and 99. Expect delays until 8:30 pm” was being shown a few weeks ago). This is because the wider area required of the alert does not allow for the multiple column arrival time.

    1. Boy alerts must be nice. We can’t even get those on phones let alone on the realtime signs. All we get is “refer to schedule”.

      1. I’ve always envied Portland’s transit real time signs. They’ve had them for years while we’re just barely able to figure them out on 3rd.

      2. The first ones in the 1970s weren’t real time based, or even reality based most of the time, but today we have at least some better hope.

  2. What a wonderful opportunity for an enterprising individual to add a bit of free advertising for the Ballard Spur.




    1. Don’t call it a spur! If a Ballard-UW subway is built, it won’t be a spur. At least, it won’t be a spur off the LR spine; it might be a spur off Downtown-Ballard.

      1. Let’s settle on “BUILD LINK ON 45TH”.

        Ballard–UW could be built much sooner than Ballard–Downtown. There is no sense in building a spur off that line.

      2. It would be a continuation off Ballard to DT, but the opposite build order is more likely/better. So yeah, it would be a spur at first that would later be part of a longer line.

      3. I don’t care what you call it, so BUILD LINK ON 45th works for me. I tend to think of it as “light rail from UW to Ballard”, but that is a lot more letters. Either way, though, the key to winning this political battle is to convince people that it would be a huge improvement in mobility, even if they are going to downtown. Maybe not as good (for some) as a more direct line, but still better than what they have now. A lot of people don’t get that. In part, this is because they think like drivers or bus riders. Going from Ballard to the UW and then heading south would be crazy if you are driving, but not bad at all if you are in a train. It is only a minute or two slower than more direct train service, and just about the same as a “Corridor D” routing. This is because Ballard is way further north than it is west (relative to downtown). The distances are so small that the key here is how many stops you need to traverse, and with the less than optimal stop spacing on Link (only two stops between the U-District and downtown) this actually means going to the UW costs next to nothing in time. The only time penalty would be the transfer, which is why arguing for a spur makes a lot of sense. But even with a transfer, the trains could be timed such that it would be trivial.

        But I also think people need to think holistically, and realistically. As much as I love the vision of trains everywhere in Seattle, Magnolia will never have light rail (Interbay, maybe, but not Magnolia). Lots of places, a lot more deserving than Magnolia will never have light rail. So we need to assume that plenty of trips, if not most trips, will involve at least one bus ride. When you do that, it becomes obvious that UW to Ballard light rail is simply better than the alternatives. Now you can connect the entire north end of Seattle (everything north of the ship canal). For example, Lake City to Ballard becomes a bus ride to 130th, a train to the U-District, followed by a train to Ballard. Even with the transfers, that is faster than driving most of the day. You really can’t say that any of the Ballard to downtown proposals. A trip like that (or the dozens of similar variations) would require a time consuming backtrack (via downtown) or an east/west bus stuck in traffic.

      4. “Magnolia will never have light rail (Interbay, maybe, but not Magnolia).”

        It’s important to note why that is. Magnolia asked to be excluded from the Ballard-downtown HCT study area, because it would rather have no upzones than significantly better transit. So that’s what it will get, and it has already agreed to it.

      5. Yeah, Glenn, that’s why I said Interbay. East Magnolia may just luck out. It may be dense enough to warrant a station, on the way to something bigger (Ballard). I consider East Magnolia to be within the greater “Interbay” area, although the bridge makes for a handy dividing line (I’ve lived in both, by the way — not too many people can say they lived in Interbay thirty years ago). But there will only be one north/south line to Ballard, and if it happens to go to the east of Queen Anne, or through it, then East Magnolia (and Interbay) is just out of luck. But if it goes by Interbay (which would be my choice, given the cost) then lucky Magnolia.

        But Mike, I think you missed the point. Even if West Magnolia enthusiastically embraced upzones, they would do so the same way most areas do so: along the arterials. That would be fine, and warrant some decent bus service. But there is no way that light rail makes sense there because light rail is really, really expensive. Even if Magnolia fully embraced upzoning, it would be years before it made sense to build light rail there.

        Light rail only makes sense if it is part of a huge restructuring — a huge, mammoth, rewrite of the way people look at the city. It makes sense from UW to Ballard for exactly that reason. It’s not about Ballard per se (wherever you draw the lines). If it was, we wouldn’t blow the money on it. It is about the entire north end. Don’t like my reference to Magnolia — fine. How about Greenwood. Now there is an up and coming neighborhood. But it won’t get light rail. Of course it won’t. It is not part of a corridor that makes sense for light rail. Most of the city isn’t. Magnolia certainly isn’t, even if it fully embraced urbanism. Even if Magnolia became the next “Lake City” and tried to mimic the density there, it wouldn’t get there. That is because Lake City had a huge head start. But again, that isn’t the point. Most of the north end (outside of the UW) is moderately dense. Not super dense, but not sprawling either. It is only when the moderately dense areas can be connected as part of a larger system that it makes sense to spend the enormous amounts of money it takes to connect them with grade separated light rail. I’ve spent way too much of my life looking at the census maps of Seattle. But it is striking. There are only a handful of really dark spots — spots that beg for high speed transit, no matter what the cost. Most of those are about to served, or are close to our other areas, (like Belltown). But there are lots of contiguous spots in the north end that can be served really, really well with a combination of buses and rail. Someone in Lake City will cut five (or more) minutes off of just about every trip he or she takes if Sound Transit just spends a few bucks on a station at 130th. Someone in Greenwood will benefit even more by light rail from UW to Ballad. Either way it means taking a bus. But a frequent, fast bus connected to an even faster, more frequent light rail line would be an enormous improvement.

        I’m convinced that this is the only vision that makes sense for Seattle. If I’m wrong, if Seattle suddenly becomes Manhattan, then fine, we’ll build the rest of rail later. But I think Seattle will never be big enough — it will never have the money — to retrofit a light rail line that serves every neighborhood, even the fairly dense one. Look at Vancouver. Hell, look at Toronto! Do you really think Seattle will be the next Toronto?!! But Toronto, like Vancouver, does not have the subway system that New York has. They have a system that compliments the buses quite well. That was the model for Vancouver, and that is indeed, a great model for Seattle. Build Ballard to UW light rail; run the buses north/south (where they run fast) and we can just not worry about Magnolia.

      6. @justin,

        And what would you do with your “LR ON 45th” t-shirt? Store it next to your “Monorail Now” t-shirt?

      7. Actually, Ross, Greenwood to 130th then Aurora North might — someday — be useful for light rail. How you get from 75th or so down to Fremont and across the Ship Canal efficiently is food for thought, certainly, but there is plenty of development happening between 75th and 175th in the “Aurora/Greenwood” corridor. If it weren’t for the cemetery chopping off the east half of the walkshed from 110th to 125th, the Interurban right of way would be a great way to serve both, at least to 160th.

        In the air, mostly, of course.

      8. RossB: I don’t disagree. Central and western Magnolia were never going to get Link. What their adversion to upzones did was put the westernmost boundary a few blocks east of where it could have been. 15th Ave W is within the candidate area, and operational convenience/cost could justify going in the rail yard west of it, but no further west than that. Either of those would be within walking distance of a bit of eastern Magnolia.

    2. I say put up a cardboard sign saying “your bus is late and will get here, when it gets here”. Use the money saved to do some preliminary engineering on the Ballard Spur.

      1. We could pay homeless people to carry the signs, and they could add “P.S. Spare change?”

    3. The route 44 isn’t even in the top 15 of busiest routes. So why should it be next in line for light rail?


      1. 1) In the next 15 years, do you expect service on the 44 to shrink, grow, or stay the same?

        2) Thinking of transit lines – especially the really expensive rapid mass transit kind – as just about moving people from A to B isn’t wrong, but misses the fact that they are remarkable engines for economic growth.

        Should the lower north side be to downtown as Brooklyn is to Manhattan? I dunno, but I vote yes; in my dreams, the 45th/Market is a walkable urban paradise from 15th Ave NE all the where it splits at NW 54th St. The Ballard-UW line/spur/squiggle would certainly help.

  3. Does SDOT really need more pedestrian push buttons at these intersections? Most already have along the subdominant directions. I don’t understand their recent (past 5-10 years) trend of putting ped buttons along the dominant directions, which the traffic lights are green until the subdominant direction triggers. When the dominant direction turns green, the ped signals should be automatically green.

    What they did to 15th in Ballard was a headscratcher. It’s weird to see the lights turn green and the ped signals stay red. Although sometimes the ped signals turn green by themselves, but not in a seemingly consistent way.

    1. I agree, pedestrian push buttons along the predominant direction are a waste of money and counter productive. Unless I see a turn light, I tend to ignore the walk signal in that instance. (The light is green, that means I can go). But that it is a failure of the system, and my behavior shows that. If I get used to ignoring the walk signal (because I didn’t press the button in time) then I will start walking in most intersections, only to realize that there is a turn signal (“So that’s why it doesn’t say walk”). This can cause the cautious driver to stop (“Oh no, I don’t want to drive over the idiot”) and other drivers behind him to back up (causing drivers to run the light and endanger a pedestrian who walks as soon at the light says walk). Push buttons on predominant streets don’t make sense. The walk signal should simply go along with the (car) traffic signal.

      For non-predominant streets it is a different matter. In some cases they allow folks to signal the system so that you can cross. In other cases, in a very wide street, it might add to the time for that cycle.

    2. The theory is that if it weren’t for those pesky pedestrians, you could change the light for an approaching car on the sub-dominant street almost immediately, whenever sensors detect no cars approaching on the dominant street. In practice, about the only time this situation ever happens is very late at night.

      Ultimately, this is just one of those stupid practices preached by old-school traffic engineers see see pedestrian traffic as an obstruction to their intricate traffic-control system that they barely tolerate only because they have to (and provide the bare minimum accommodations that they can get away with).

      With driverless cars, I can see the problem become worse. I can just imagine a 3-4 minute signal phase where automated software directs all the cars through the intersections in all directions, while pedestrians have to wait, punctuated by a 15-second bike/pedestrian phase (walk sign on in all directions) that happens only if someone pushes a button. In some ways, it would be safer than the current system. But it would be really awful for non-motorized mobility.

  4. I like that route 44 is getting this sort of treatment. At the same time, it seems odd that it isn’t getting a frequency bump out of either Prop 1 or the U-Link restructures.

    Ballard accepted more density. Ballard should get more transit. That’s the carrot in getting other neighborhoods to accept upzones beyond the City’s growth goal (rather than finding ways to merely barely meet that goal, with the new housing units being sandwiched next to the I-5 fumeshed, and then tricking newcomer city officials into turning some of the most heavily upzoned parcels into parks, if you can consider a mere 6 stories of housing as a heavy upzone).

    Part of showing the utility of the proposed Link line from UW to Ballard is showing the ridership will materialize.

    We know there is space on Pacific, because Metro is proposing to run route 70 on it, to beef up all-day frequency on Pacific.

    I also find it odd that Aurora isn’t getting this treatment. 44 – E-Line transfers need to feel a little more welcoming. That’s my path of choice when I go to Wallingford, even with the option of a direct ride on route 16. In fact, I usually just walk once I get to 45th. An RTA sign would let me know the bus is a faster option.

    Speaking of making transfers more welcoming, I am hoping a couple other stop sets jump to the front of the queue for RTA sign installation: the stops in front of UW Station, and the various stops next to Capitol Hill Station. The value of such an investment will be much greater if they can be up and running by the time U-Link opens. If Metro can promise this to happen, that will be one more selling point for the restructures proposed in Alternative 1.

    1. Agreed completely! Short of rebuilding the Aurora & 45th area, it’d be difficult to make the WB 44 to E Line transfer not suck. Rebuilding would be nice though; fix that cluster eff of an intersection and free up the 44.

      The E Line RTIS signs could be extra useful by showing 44 information. People usually making a mad dash between the two if a 44 is visibly close to the EB stop.

    2. The 44 is getting a frequency boost with Prop 1 funds. From the STB Prop 1 post:

      “Route 44: Weekday middays to 12 minutes in June. Peak frequency to 10 minutes and Saturday daytime to 12 minutes in September.”

    3. Route 44 will, with Prop 1 funding later this year, get 11-12 minute midday and Saturday and more consistent 10 minute peak service.

  5. What’s people’s thoughts on signs showing arrivals for more than that exact stop?

    Hack the Commute is coming up this weekend – what improvements in the existing tools or new tools could make your commute easier?

    1. The challange would be a user interface that didn’t confuse riders. There’s also limited screen space available.

    2. How about an option to consolidate multiple arrivals of the same bus into a single line for crowded stops?

  6. According to the material SDOT posted on the various 45th stops a month or so ago (I use the stop 45th & Wallingford daily), no full stop rebuilds are occurring and no new shelters are coming; just the installation of RT signs and associated infrastructure to support them. Also, the utility location on the pavement shows fairly limited work at the stops receiving RTIS. A lot of the stops were rebuilt a few years ago when improvements were made to the 44.

    1. There were some Real Time signs like this about ten years ago on the 44 route, then they disappeared. Ditto Northgate Transit Center.

    2. 45th and Wallingford, as I’m sure you know, Mike is one of the signals that doesn’t reliably work. At night, the east side one (directly in front of QFC, as opposed to next to it) will sometimes lead to the walk light on 45th flashing red and immediately go back to white. Happily, the traffic is generally light enough that one can make it across the street, but it’s been annoyance for a long time and I’ll be glad if it’s fixed, as this seems likely to do.

  7. Yeah, while I definitely like RTIS we could do a much better job of implementing it. The whole run-a-browser-that-displays-OneBusAway thing for the RTIS is a bit convoluted. Here in Helsinki the signs are simple: Route number, destination, minute countdown to the next two arrivals. Nothing else. You can simply glance at the sign and know exactly what you’re dealing with. The signs on 3rd are a mess and it takes some dedication to figure out when your bus comes. That interface is fine for a phone, but the signs should be more simple.

    Is there any movement to revamp the displays for the public signs?

    1. Not only that but the OBA signs have got to be significantly more expensive. Wouldn’t a normal LED sign be cheaper and easier to read?

  8. “But if you are standing at 15th/Market, where only the 44 stops, you would see a display for Route 44 arrivals in 5/20/35 minutes, followed a few seconds later by arrivals 50/65/80 minutes away….if you are already standing at the bus stop it is 100% certain that you do not need to see trips on the same route that are over an hour away.”

    Thank you for making this point, Zach. The current signs on Rainier seem to have a fairly high malfunction rate from what I can tell. When they are functioning properly, the display only seems to change every 10 or 15 seconds, which feels like an ETERNITY when you’re trying to figure out if you should hop on the 7 or wait for the 9 Express. From my experience, they are useless for this purpose, which is wasted potential.

    1. I wish buses had on-board announcements like the trains in Japan

      “get off at this stop and you will be able to catch the express bus (route number) in a few minutes”

      It would be wonderful to ride the local just long enough to stay warm/dry and then switch to the express…

    2. It’s actually worse than that. If you take a quick look at the screen and see arrivals 50/65/80 minutes away, your natural inclination is to think there’s a big accident and the next bus is 50 minutes away. Even though the buses are actually operating normally.

  9. I wish those displays included a big light at the top, which starts flashing when the next bus is 2 minutes out, speeding up as the ETA gets closer. Something you could see far away, before you can read the text, so you know if you need to start running.

  10. I guess this will be nice at 46th & Phinney; ,it would be even nicer if the #5 could be on time going north. It also would be very nice if hey would place one of these at 3rd & Union in front of the Post Office. The new sign in he building at 3rd and Madison going north is terribly confusing with lots of useless information.

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