A Roosevelt Park: A Step Backwards


Mayor Murray seemed pleased to announce ($) that a lot formerly zoned for six stories, and adjacent to a subway station, will become a park instead. As Josh Feit succintly put it, the height limit here has dropped from 65 feet to zero.

Of course cities need parks. But no one has even begun to make the case that the neighborhood, or the city as a whole, doesn’t have enough, or that existing ones are near capacity.

Meanwhile, wherever there is change in this city the media expect readers to feel compassion for those displaced to less trendy neighborhoods, or (gasp) to the suburbs, by rising rents. And decent people will sympathize with the victims of change, even in the context of good news overall. But while replacing a poor household with a rich one has some moral valence, at least somebody gets to live here; I feel greater anguish when no one gets the chance.

If this park plan succeeds, there will be several dozen more households that won’t be able to live in Seattle near high-quality transit. Perhaps the people that would have lived here will banish themselves to the suburbs, or maybe they’ll simply outbid somebody on Capitol Hill and displace them instead.

Seattle could offset this fiasco by reopening the Roosevelt rezone and adding back the development capacity through greater height somewhere equally near the station. But of course that would unleash endless insincere complaints about process.

This is the dead giveaway about process objections: since the Mayor proposed a density-diluting measure, none of the anti-density forces care at all about public outreach, the past body of neighborhood planning, need for more study, and all the other excuses to slow down growth already well below what this city needs to thrive. I come here not to recycle these complaints, but to bury them. Support or criticize this project on its merits, not because less than 100% of residents received quality contact, or whether the study correctly hurdled every bureaucratic gate.

This proposal does have to go through the Council, which provides the opportunity for public comment. DPD wasn’t able to tell me if the park would require an environmental impact study, because it depends on whether its buildings and areas “improved for active recreational uses” exceed 4,000 square feet. This threshold, of course, is perverse: active uses at least bring people into the purported refuge from urbanity, while non-active space merely replaces a vibrant city with emptiness that taxpayers pay to maintain.

Whether or not there’s a study, don’t doubt that there will be impacts: on housing costs, transit modeshare, and displacement. Let’s hope that the Council and DPD consider these, whether in a formal process or not.

ULink Open Houses Begin Tonight

Sound Transit (Flickr)
Sound Transit (Flickr)
Last week’s ULink restructure posts brought in a record-breaking 1,070 comments over 5 posts. For the rest of March, it’s time that you take that same enthusiasm to upcoming open houses. Blog comments are great, but if you want influence in the process you are better served by showing up to open houses, taking Metro’s official survey, or both. So whether you want to (gently!) vent your anger, lavish them with praise, or likely something in between, Metro’s planners want to hear from you.
 Capitol Hill/Central District Open House
Eastside Open House
  • When: Wednesday, March 25, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Where: Bellevue City Hall
  • Getting There: Metro routes 226, 240, 232, 234, 235, 237, 241, 246, 249, 271, Sound Transit Routes 535, 550, 560, 566
Northeast Seattle Open House

Hack the Commute This Weekend

Snowy Sounder

In an effort to improve your commute using digital tools, the City and Commute Seattle are sponsoring Hack the Commute this weekend:

The City of Seattle and Commute Seattle invite data analysts, developers, designers, and other innovators to help design user-centric tools that improve the commute. These can take the form of:

  • improvements to existing applications
  • new tools to help commuters in any mode or modes of transportation
  • data analysis and visualizations that clarify the big picture

Teams will have the opportunity to present their work to a panel of judges, with the top three project ideas moving on to a championship round. Work will be judged based on its potential to make commuting in Seattle easier and more pleasant for everyone.

Several STB folks will be there over the course of the weekend.  The event itself is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the demos on Sunday evening.  Got ideas for a great app? Go to the Reddit thread or leave them in the comments below.

Mayor Murray Proposes “Bridging the Gap” Replacement

Priority Projects
Priority Projects

The Nickels-era “Bridging the Gap” property tax package has been building and maintaining transportation infrastructure for the last nine years, but expires in 2015. Informed by the “Move Seattle” strategy for transportation investment, Mayor Murray today unveiled a November 2015 ballot measure of the same name to replace and expand on it.

Bridging the Gap raised $365m over 9 years; the actual property tax rate fluctuated, but last year it was 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Move Seattle will initially levy 61 cents per $1,000, raising $900m over the same period thanks to higher property values and more residents – a “growth dividend.” The 70% household cost increase enables 150% more funding.

Using the numbers from last year’s report on the subject, I believe this would leave about 11 cents of capacity below the city’s reserve limit. SDOT says the annual cost to the median household would be $275, an increase of about $113. This money would unlock state and federal grants to enable billions of dollars of maintenance, transit, bicycle, freight, and pedestrian spending.

SDOT breaks out the $900m proceeds into four buckets. One emphasis of Move Seattle is an integrated plan that considers all modes and purposes holistically, so the categories are bit fuzzy. Nevertheless:

  • Safe City ($350m): 50 miles of protected bike lanes, 60 miles of greenways, 225 blocks of sidewalk repairs, the Burke-Gilman missing link, and fixing deficient bridges.
  • Affordable City ($275m): Repave or reconstruct up to 180 lane-miles of transit arterials, various access to transit projects
  • Interconnected City ($170m): 7-10 multimodal corridors, bus speed and reliability projects, some funding for a Graham Street Link station and the Northgate pedestrian bridge, 100 blocks of new sidewalks, 1,500 new bike parking spots, and new design solutions for streets without sidewalks.
  • Vibrant City ($105m): freight corridors, 20-35 projects submitted by neighborhoods.

Below are three SDOT slides that compare the scope of BtG and Move Seattle. But first, a Correction. In the March 3rd report I said that the Projects A through X were ranked in order of score according to the priority system SDOT established. My SDOT source now says he was misinformed; the projects are in no particular order save that the higher-scoring ones (A through Q) are fast-tracked for funding.

Continue reading “Mayor Murray Proposes “Bridging the Gap” Replacement”

Brenda Holes Through at Roosevelt Station

Yesterday the TBM Brenda broke through the north wall at the future Roosevelt Station. Launched from the Maple Leaf portal in April of last year, Brenda completed her 1.5 mile journey digging up to 100 feet per day. The contractor, JCM, shoots for 60 feet per day, and Brenda was routinely digging 80 feet per day. TBM Pamela is currently on the same trek, digging the southbound tube. Pamela is making good progress and is currently at NE 85th St near I-5 and should reach Roosevelt this summer. Both TBMs are named after wives of two of the construction project managers.

Many STB writers can attest that the estimated hour the contractor tells ST’s media relations team is usually many hours before it actually holes through the station wall. Brenda was no different; her nose cone didn’t pierce through until late afternoon despite being told to prepare for a morning hole through. She didn’t fully hole through the station wall before the tunnel workers’ shift ended at 4pm. Sound Transit staff will be on hand during the next shift to capture video of the full hole through.
Continue reading “Brenda Holes Through at Roosevelt Station”

SR 520 Road Sign Falls Onto Metro Bus: 7 Injured

Photo via Q13 Fox News
Photo via Q13 Fox News

In breaking news late Tuesday evening, an SR 520 construction crane hit a road sign support, causing a sign to fall onto the front of a Metro bus. All lanes of SR 520 are currently closed. Coach #1155 was badly damaged, and early reports are that 7 of the 20 people onboard the #271 bus have been evaluated for minor injuries, one of whom had to be extracted. This incident comes just days after another worker was killed in a work-related fall on the bridge. This story will be updated Wednesday morning as more details are available.

Spokane Moving Forward: The Central City Line

central city line

[This is the first 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.]

Enter Spokane as a visitor, and the the first place you’re probably going is downtown, to the shops, businesses, or restaurants, or to the spectacular and rightfully well-known Riverfront Park. If you’re a tourist, and you’ve done your homework, you might head next to Browne’s addition, which is a place of delightful parks, restored Victorian mansions and boarding-houses, and small, but lively restaurants; a neighborhood which feels very like the historic streetcar suburbia of inner-east Portland.

Speaking of homework, if you’re neither a resident nor a tourist, where in Spokane are you probably going? Probably to school, perhaps at Gonzaga University, perhaps in the University District — a budding, multi-college effort to build an urban campus just to the east of downtown — or maybe at Spokane Community College. All these walkable city destinations lie like a string of pearls centered on downtown Spokane, and ask to be joined together by high-quality transit service. Fortunately, STA has an idea to provide just that.

The product of studies going back at least fifteen years, the Central City Line is a proposed five mile, east-west route, which would connect all of these destinations with electric transit, operating at high frequency (10-15 minutes) throughout its span of service. After an alternatives analysis which contemplated several kinds of vehicle, STA has narrowed the possibilities down to three: electric trolleybus on fixed overhead wires (just like Seattle); ultracapacitor buses which would recharge at fast-charging stations on the route; and dual mode trolleybus/battery operation.

Early concepts for this corridor placed its east end at the north edge of Gonzaga’s campus, but last July, as part of its preparation for applying for Federal Transit Administration money, the STA board chose a Locally Preferred Alternative which extends down Mission Ave to Spokane Community College. The rapid evolution of off-wire electric bus technology is probably crucial to the inclusion of Spokane Community College, as the extension down Mission to the Community College adds two miles to the original three-mile route, and entails crossing a freight railroad and a long road bridge, both of which would add complexity and cost to the project if it were done with overhead wire.

I don’t have much to say about this project beyond that it seems like a great idea, and I hope it gets built as soon as possible. My only minor gripes about it are (a) that its legibility in the city center will likely be compromised by downtown Spokane’s (totally counterproductive but seemingly unassailable) 1970s-era system of one-way streets, and (b) the neighborhood along Mission Ave, which surrounds the extension to SCC, is rather low density for a place that will be getting the best transit service for hundreds of miles around, and as far as I can tell, there’s no plan to rezone it.

You can read all about the Central City Line at its page on the Spokane Moving Forward website. The “Supportive Materials” section, in particular, contains almost all the information you could possibly want to know about the proposed alignment. Next post, we’ll talk about STA’s plans for the western inter-city corridor, along I-90 from Spokane to Cheney.

Federal Way Link Is Not About Seattle

Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

Later this spring Sound Transit will release the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Link Extension between Angle Lake and Federal Way. From the draft EIS, only one thing seems certain, namely that there will be a minimum of 3 stations, generally in the vicinity of Highline Community college, S. 272nd St, and Federal Way TC. Everything else is still quite up for grabs. Once the EIS is released, the Sound Transit Board will select a preferred alignment to proceed to preliminary engineering. Alternatives include SR 99, I-5, Sr 99 to I-5, and yes, SR 99 to I-5 to SR 99 (see below).

The choices that the ST Board makes on these alternatives will tell us a lot about their values, how they see the role of transit in their communities, and how they view the core function of Link. Is the purpose of Link to speed trips along ‘the spine’, providing competitive options for long trips such as Federal Way-Seattle and (eventually) Tacoma-Seattle-Everett? Or is the goal to provide fast, reliable, local connectivity that maximizes development opportunites?

If the former, then Federal Way Link will be designed for disappointment. If there were still a possibility of competitive travel times from Seattle to Federal Way and Tacoma, an I-5 alignment would be more defensible. But that ship has sailed, as the MLK alignment of Central Link forever precludes it. So if Link is worth building in South King County, it’s worth building for other reasons than endpoint speed. The ST board should be asking themselves, “What are those reasons?” An I-5 alignment with 2.5 mile, anti-urban stop spacing would shave a few minutes of travel time for long trips that would still be uncompetitive with express buses, all while providing the least local benefit to South King County residents. It wouldn’t be terrible, but it would do nothing well.

Link Travel Times
Table by the author, and its approximations are unofficial and for rough comparative purposes only.

When it comes to zoning, suburban cities have shown themselves more than willing to upzone station areas (see maps below). In 2012 Kent and Des Moines jointly created  “Transit Community” zones that anticipated Link service more than a decade in advance. Providing for height minimums of 55 feet and maximums of 200′, these proposed densities exceed anything being considered on Capitol Hill. In Federal Way, even absent any planned rezones, the SR 99 corridor contains most of that city’s current multifamily housing. By contrast, any I-5 alternative not only cuts every potential walkshed in half, but also has far inferior existing land uses, from single-family homes, land-gobbling interchanges, freeway tree buffers, and sprawling industrial land. In short, if suburban cities such as Kent are willing to aggressively upzone station areas and are asking for more stations rather than speed, the ST Board should listen to them. 

An SR 99 alignment turns a potential regional boondoggle into a local boon. It could cut travel times in half compared to RapidRide A, run 50% more often, provide nearly limitless opportunities to transform auto-oriented (but beautifully linear!) commercial sprawl into TOD, and provide badly needed affordable housing for tens of thousands of people priced out of Seattle. Local mobility is social justice. Let’s maximize it.

"Transit Community" zones adjacent to Highline Community College along SR 99
DES MOINES: “Transit Community” zones adjacent to Highline Community College along SR 99
KENT: "Midway Transit Communities" (MTC) along SR 99
KENT: “Midway Transit Communities” (MTC) along SR 99
FEDERAL WAY: Multifamily Zones in Brown
FEDERAL WAY: Multifamily Zones in Brown

Real-Time Transit Info Coming to the Ballard-UW Corridor

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.

Vanpools are a Success Story

Metro VanShare at Tukwila Sounder Station

Bob Pishue, of the Washington Policy Center, has a recent piece highlighting the growth and improved economics of Metro’s vanpool program. He notes that Metro’s vanpool program is now running a farebox recovery rate of 107%. Other programs in the region are also doing well. Pierce Transit’s vanpool program is at 73% and Community Transit is at 70%. All of these numbers have been trending up.

Ridership is up too, outpacing other transit modes. In the ten years to 2013, Metro’s vanpool ridership grew 96%, and the program is now the largest in the nation. All other Metro modes grew 25% in aggregate. Operating costs per rider have fallen from $3.10 in 1996 to $3.02 in 2013, a 34% decrease in real terms. Pishue credits reduced operating costs to increased ridership. While scale efficiencies may play a part by spreading the burden of administrative overhead, shorter average trip lengths (down from 27 miles to 21 miles) have also reduced mileage-related costs.

These are great numbers, although Pishue goes too far in arguing they make the case for reducing investments in bus and light rail. Martin expanded on that point in response to a previous Washington Policy Center advocacy piece in 2010. It’s interesting, however, to look at why vanpools are successful and to understand their limitations.

Continue reading “Vanpools are a Success Story”

Designing Service for a Multipolar Downtown

Mode Share Survey Results

25 years ago, to pick a round number, “downtown” Seattle was small. The 12-block “JCMSUP” area contained the overwhelming majority of downtown jobs. Commuters could be easily served by an express bus that got off the freeway and made 4-5 stops.

Since then, downtown has grown, as you can see from the Downtown Seattle Association’s map below. What was once a unipolar downtown is now multipolar, with several distinct sub-areas – like a big city! All this growth sets up an interesting and difficult challenge for transit planners as downtown grows. One recurring theme in David’s coverage of the Metro U-Link restructures has been the tradeoffs involved in providing frequent service to Seattle’s downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.


Recently, we looked at Commute Seattle’s 2014 report on transit usage for downtown commuters. The headline number – that just 31% of commuters drive alone – got a good deal of attention. The fact that a city with a relatively small rail system can get that many people out of their cars is a testament to excellent work done by the agencies, the city, businesses, and partners like Commute Seattle.

When we dive deeper into the data, though, we find that drive alone rates vary greatly among different downtown neighborhoods. Just 23% of workers in the commercial core drive alone, compared with more than double that in peripheral downtown neighborhoods such as  South Lake Union (46%) and Lower Queen Anne (53%). Large employers help as well, as they generally have trip reduction programs and give out free ORCA passes and the like. Then again, Amazon employees have free transit passes too.

The poor performance of these neighborhoods shouldn’t be too surprising since they lack the same peak express service enjoyed by the commercial core. If you live south of downtown or on the Eastside, all transit commutes to SLU require a bus or streetcar transfer. Most ‘direct’ service to SLU skirts its periphery on its west (Aurora and Dexter) or on its east (Eastlake/Stewart). Only if you live in Downtown (Streetcar), Capitol Hill (8), Eastlake (70), Fremont/Ballard (40), or parts of SR 522 (309) do you enjoy the front-door service that most other Downtown commuters enjoy.

So how might we better serve this multipolar downtown, with its quarter million jobs, so as to get more people in the fringes of downtown using transit?

Continue reading “Designing Service for a Multipolar Downtown”

Spokane Transit: Why You Care

Downtown Spokane WA postcard
Downtown Spokane, in 1963. Flikr user Ethan.

As promised a few weeks ago, over the next week STB will have short series on Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s ten-year plan to dramatically improve public transit in its service area. Voters in STA’s service area will vote on a 0.3% sales tax to fund the plan next month. We’ve written previously about Spokane’s transit history and present, and about last year’s Transit Plaza controversy.

First, though, I want to motivate you, average STB reader, and presumed west-sider: Why do you care about Spokane, when it’s seems — and, to be fair, kind of is — such a long way away? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It’s a real city, with a real urban core. Recent, high-quality, Creative Commons-licensed photography of downtown Spokane is sadly lacking, so you’ll have to take it from me, and the postcard up above, that downtown Spokane is endowed with a gorgeous, diverse collection of high rise buildings, from railroad era to modern.
  • It’s got a bunch of people in and around it. With around 209,000 residents in the city proper, it’s the second largest city in the state. (Tacoma is the other serious contender, with 198,000). Its metropolitan area extends east into northern Idaho, encompassing Coeur d’Alene, and about 600,000 people in total. It’s growing, and expected to continue growing.
  • It’s the city for a huge geographic swath of the northern United States. Spokane is the most populous urban area between Seattle and Minneapolis. (Only Boise, population 208,000, and 350 miles to the south, comes close). Like all real cities, the way it is experienced echoes far beyond its borders, because a critical mass of people have experienced it enough for it to feel familiar, making it a shared point of reference.
  • Its got lots of transit riders. Spokane Transit provided about 11 million rides last year, making it the fourth largest agency by ridership in the state (after King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Washington State Ferries) and its busiest routes would be solid routes in Seattle or King County. STA’s top three routes pull in 2,500-3,400 riders per weekday, which is about half of Seattle’s comparable routes (e.g. 6,600 on Route 5, Greenwood local) — a great showing for a city a third the size of Seattle.
  • Its got lots of transit voters. Spokane votes Democratic, and while in an ideal world, we’d have a smart bipartisan consensus in favor of moving people and goods — not just cars — transit at the state level is a Democratic-identified cause. The way we’re going to change Washington’s transportation trajectory to something more sustainable is to grow the number of pro-transit state legislators, and for that we need urban growth everywhere it can happen in the state, not just Puget Sound.

First up, because I know STBers love projects, I’ll discuss the proposed Central City Line. Subsequent posts will cover the West Plains Transit Center and service to Eastern Washington University in Cheney, possible service to Coeur d’Alene, and broad-based improvements to service throughout the area.

Finally, one personal note: I lived without a car in Seattle for four years, and didn’t visit Spokane until I bought a car. That was an omission I regret! Spokane is totally worth a weekend trip, and it’s a really short, cheap flight (or a much less convenient train ride) away. While weekend transit service levels today aren’t quite at the level of real convenience, weekdays are, and it’s totally doable without a car.

Alternative 1: Downtown, SLU, and Uptown

Note: This is the last (and, mercifully, shortest) in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned early 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

With the major structural changes proposed in Metro’s “Alternative 1” U-Link restructure for the bus networks in three separate parts of town, it’s easy to overlook a few interesting details outside of the areas most affected.  But Alternative 1 would have some beneficial effects on the network serving downtown and nearby employment centers, which shouldn’t be overlooked.  Fittingly given its astonishing growth, South Lake Union would see some of the biggest benefits, while both Uptown and Downtown would get a new connection or two.

SLU-Wallingford-Green Lake: Route 16.  Metro would change route 16 to use Dexter through SLU rather than Aurora (as well as other major changes described in our Northeast Seattle post).  This would provide a new frequent connection from SLU to the center of Wallingford and East Green Lake, replacing the infrequent connection to the periphery of these areas on current route 26.

routes 64 and 66
Alternative 1 routing for peak-only routes 64 and 66. Map by Metro.

First Hill-SLU-North Seattle (peak only): Routes 64 and 66.  Both routes 64 and 66 would be revised as pictured at left, to serve an entirely new common routing that would create a new connection between SLU and North Seattle.  The routes would meet (and alternate for 10-minute frequency) at Green Lake P&R, and head to SLU via I-5 and the Mercer St exit.  From SLU, they would continue to First Hill on a straight shot using Fairview and Boren Aves.  This routing would work wonderfully in the morning, but might present a few reliability problems in the afternoon as Boren can become congested approaching Olive and Howell Sts.  Nevertheless, the quick connection between SLU and Green Lake P&R is likely worth the occasional delay.  At Green Lake P&R, these routes would also connect with frequent routes 45 (now 48N) and 67, serving many North Seattle neighborhoods. It seems to me, though, that Metro is missing an opportunity to make this connection even more useful by not making the same change to First Hill route 303.

Uptown-SLU-UDistrict-Eastside (peak only): Route 311.  As fully described in our SR-520 post, Route 311 would create a new 10-minute peak-hour, peak-direction connection between Woodinville, Kingsgate, SR-520 transfer stations, UW Station, the U-District, SLU, and Uptown.  While we wonder about speed for Eastside riders,  this will be a wonderfully fast trip to either SLU or Uptown for U-District riders, and will make possible a wide variety of new SLU-Eastside connections with same-stop transfers.

Route 8 Improvements.  The Denny Mess is still there, but the 8 should get a bit better anyway.  First, frequency would improve to 10 minutes weekdays and 15 minutes nights and Sundays.  Second, the route would be revised to terminate in Madison Park, rather than continuing on the long trek through the Central District and Rainier Valley.  The shorter routing should strongly improve reliability westbound, even if eastbound reliability remains a subject best left unspoken.

Route 70 Improvements.  Route 70, now a very heavily used core service through SLU, would gain 10-minute frequency during most of peak hour and begin running nights and Sundays in place of the notoriously overloaded and unreliable route 71/72/73 locals.  This is a change that will likely happen no matter what, as Seattle intended to fund it with Prop 1 money before Metro proposed to fund it through Alternative 1.

No Demons Here


Thank you to everyone who filled out the reader survey. It gave us several insights into how we can improve the site, but mostly it served as morale-boosting encouragement that we’re doing something that people find valuable.

I do want to address one of the more common negative comments, which I would generalize as “stop demonizing me for driving a car and living in a single-family home.”

If any STB staffers actually are demonizing people for driving cars and living in detached housing, then they are stinking hypocrites. Partly because car ownership and single-family residency are far from uncommon in our ranks; but also that the entire premise of Seattle Transit Blog is that the region has done a poor job of prioritizing transit so that dense living and transit dependence are widely appealing options.

More broadly, I believe people respond to incentives and make decisions in accordance with what they value. It’s easy to criticize a giant truck for its carbon footprint, but like anyone raised Catholic I know we are all sinners here. Some of us fly all over the world for leisure, some eat more meat than is even healthy, and some of us burn a little extra gasoline. Who am I to judge which impactful choice gives you the most pleasure?

This empathy does not extend to people who seek to use regulatory power to control the choices of others. Campaigns to ensure that no one in search of compact, inexpensive housing can live in a certain neighborhood is well beyond the exercise of personal freedom. Making thousands of bus riders wait in traffic, or bicyclists risk their lives mixed with cars, just to cheaply store a car in public right-of-way is a remarkable indifference to the well-being of others.

So by all means, if it works for you please keep living in your detached house and driving your car everywhere. But please recognize that policies that discourage or prevent other choices are bad for sustainability and for freedom.

Alternative 1: SR-520 Cross-Lake Service

Note: This is the third in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

Revised SR-520 routes (others not shown).  Map by Metro.  Note "255X" in legend should read "256."
Revised routes (others not shown) on the Eastside. Map by Metro. Note “255X” in legend should read “256.”

While Alternative 1 brings significant change everywhere it reaches, its effects are most dramatic in the greater SR-520 corridor.  Almost every Metro and Sound Transit route that currently crosses the Evergreen Point Bridge would see some change, and a significant portion of commuters and off-peak riders alike will end up with new routines.

The vision is compelling: to serve a large array of commuter destinations on each side, with enough peak-hour frequency that lots of cross-lake commutes that are painful today become easy.  Most connections will involve same-stop transfers or Link transfers with very short waits.  Given the extremely peak-centric (although bidirectional) nature of cross-lake ridership, focusing first on the peak network makes sense.  But, more than any other part of the restructure, making this vision actually work will require excellent execution by both Metro and Sound Transit.  And the Alternative 1 proposal offers mixed signals in that respect.  Some aspects of it are compelling right now; others may require refinement if the agencies are to maximize SR 520’s potential.  More below the jump.

Continue reading “Alternative 1: SR-520 Cross-Lake Service”

Jarrett Walker’s Network Design Class Comes to Seattle

Next month, noted transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker is bringing his firm’s Transit Network Design course to Seattle:

Transit Network Design: an Interactive Short Course is designed to give anyone a grasp of how network design works, so that they can form more confident and resilient opinions about transit proposals.

The course is ideal for people who interact with transit planning in their work but don’t necessarily do it themselves — including land use planners, urban designers, developers, traffic engineers, sustainability advocates, transit employees of all kinds, and people who work on transportation or urban policy generally. Advocates who want to be more realistic and effective will also find the course valuable, especially as a companion to my book Human Transit.

Jarrett’s firm consulted on Seattle’s previous Transit Master Plan, which first outlined the goal of a citywide frequent-service Urban Village Transit Network; on Spokane’s 1998 transit network redesign, which forms the basis of that city’s booming contemporary network; on Bellevue’s promising Transit Master Plan; and will work with King County Metro on its incipient long range planning process. If you regularly ride transit in Washington, you’ve almost certainly benefited, directly or indirectly, from the clarity of thought Jarrett’s work has injected into contemporary service planning.

Most recently, Jarrett’s contributions in Houston made national news, where he helped that city radically re-imagine its failing, vestigial transit network. The new network reflects both the land use and travel demand patterns of contemporary Houston, a very multipolar city, along with a modern understanding of how to design transit networks that can compete with driving — offering services that are frequent, direct, and reliable. If you want to go from reading about this stuff to really understanding it, taking this class is the fastest way.

The two-day class will be offered April 16th & 17th. I’ve taken it myself, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Alternative 1: Capitol Hill and First Hill

Note: This is the second in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1” restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1” is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

As in Northeast Seattle, Alternative 1 in Capitol Hill and First Hill focuses on creating a grid of very frequent routes, and making transfers between those routes much easier than they are today.  Capitol Hill, with its high density and ridership, would feature several major bus routes with 10-minute service.  Most Capitol Hill routes will allow for easy transfers to U-Link at Capitol Hill Station (“CHS”).  Many other popular trips will involve transfers between two 10-minute bus routes.  To achieve these high frequencies, a number of one-seat bus rides to downtown and the U-District would disappear.

As we’ve noted in other posts, these high frequencies are before improvements funded by Seattle’s Proposition 1, so some frequencies are likely to be even better than indicated by Metro.

Frequent service in Cap Hill
Frequent service in Capitol Hill under Alternative 1. Map by Oran Viriyincy.

The Capitol Hill Alternative 1 proposal is also notable for what it does not contain.  Metro decided not to restructure service in the Central District, or in South Seattle corridors (such as the route 36/60 corridor or Rainier Avenue South) served by routes that also serve CHS or UW Station.  We understand that including all of these corridors would have made the scope of the restructure difficult for Metro planning staff to manage, and likely increased the political difficulty of implementing any restructure plan.  Metro has not forgotten about these corridors; we can still expect to see further Central District and south-end restructure proposals in the future.

The following are the major frequent corridors in Alternative 1 south of the Ship Canal; for each one, we describe the service it’s replacing as well.

Route 8: 10 minutes.  Alternative 1 splits current Route 8 into two routes, 8 and 38 (discussed below).  Revised route 8 would get 10-minute frequency, while route 38 would get 15-minute frequency.  The revised 8 would be identical to today from Uptown to Madison Valley, but instead of turning south on MLK it would continue on Madison to Madison Park. Unfortunately, there are no changes to Denny Way, so the 8 would still be unreliable and prone to bunching eastbound in the afternoon.  Westbound, reliability should improve significantly as a result of the split and the improved frequency.

Route 8 would entirely replace the deleted route 11 along Madison, and represent a dramatic frequency improvement in Madison Park. Madison Park and Madison Valley customers traveling downtown would need to transfer to Link at CHS, but would usually have a faster trip than current route 11 despite the transfer.  In exchange, riders in those areas would enjoy new connections to SLU and Uptown.

Route 8 would also replace the east/west portion of route 43.  Customers traveling from John Street to the U-District would need to transfer to Link at CHS or to route 48, which would have 10-minute frequency, at 23rd and John.  Customers traveling from Summit to downtown would need to use route 47, which (Metro has unofficially reassured us) will continue to operate after the restructure through Seattle Prop 1 funding.

Route 48: 10 minutes.  The south half of Route 48 would be unchanged south of the Ship Canal, but receive a welcome and overdue improvement to 10-minute frequency.  (North of the Ship Canal, it would be through-routed with revised route 67 to Roosevelt and Northgate, instead of the current north half of the 48, which would become new route 45.)

Route 48 would replace the north/south part of route 43.  Riders between Montlake and Capitol Hill would transfer to 10-minute route 8 at 23rd and John.  Riders between Montlake and downtown would use route 48 and transfer to Link at UW Station, which would provide a faster trip in almost all cases despite the backtrack and the time spent transferring.  (This fact is a real indictment of current route 43, which west of Broadway often has an average speed slower than walking.)

Continue reading “Alternative 1: Capitol Hill and First Hill”

Alternative 1: Northeast Seattle

Note: This is the first and longest in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1” restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1” is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, particularly Zach Shaner.

Frequent NE Seattle map
Map of frequent NE Seattle routes under Alt 1. Map by Oran Viriyincy.

There’s one essential fact about Alternative 1 in Northeast Seattle: It creates a real 15-minute grid, no excuses.  Overnight, there would be 15-minute or better bus service, all day, to almost every place east of I-5 and north of the ship canal—including neighborhoods far from a Link station, and a huge number of places that have never had 15-minute bus service, ever.  And the service would be in an easy-to-understand grid pattern.  Alternative 1 would establish all of these frequent corridors, spaced 1/2 to 1 mile apart, with newly frequent corridors in blue:


  • UW Station-University Way-Ravenna-Roosevelt Way (to Northgate): Route 67 (10 minutes)
    • (additional service south of N 65th St on 15-minute Route 45)
  • Roosevelt Way/15th Ave NE (north of Northgate): Routes 347/348 (15 minutes)
  • 25th Ave NE-Lake City Way: Route 372 (15 minutes)
  • 35th Ave NE: Route 65 (15 minutes)
  • Sand Point Way: Route 75 (15 minutes)


Continue reading “Alternative 1: Northeast Seattle”