Weekend Reading: U-Link Planning Background Information

ulink-route-data-sheet-key

Observant readers may have noticed a section on Metro’s Link Connections project website called “For Transit Geeks”. The title certainly caught my attention. Click on it and you’ll find a wealth of information that Metro provided to its community sounding board members during the alternatives development process: a background report analyzing existing service and market demographics, detailed route-by-route data sheets for all routes in the study area, and a summary of the first phase of public outreach. The materials have been up since early February.

So if you want to be fully prepared for our detailed coverage and discussion of the Alternative 1 restructure plan next week, check out all the documents above. It will be nice to know that, for example, the section containing the Laurelhurst loop on Route 25 attracted 24 boardings going inbound for the entire day, or that feedback from many immigrants found that they “are used to relying on a service network that is less complex and comes more frequently”. Metro’s planning process is more transparent and objective then ever before thanks to its Service Guidelines and by releasing this information, we can all plan along and make informed comments.

Sounders FC 2015 Gets Sounder Service

Sounder trains will once again be providing special service to and from select Sounders Football Club matches this year, as the Sounders defend The Supporters’ Shield.

The complete schedule for special Sounder service is here. For the season opener on Sunday, March 8, against the New England Revolution, the South Sounder will depart Lakewood Station at 3:45 p.m. and arrive at King Street Station at 4:58. The North Sounder will depart Everett Station at 4:15 p.m. and arrive at King Street Station at 5:14. Both trains arrive in time to join the March to the Match, taking off from Occidental Park at 5:30. First kick is at 6:30.

Return Sounder trains depart 35 minutes after the final whistle, giving fans time to catch most of Sound Wave’s post-match jam at the north end of the stadium.

This is the first full season that fans will be able to park at Burien Transit Center, South Renton Park & Ride, or Renton Transit Center, and take the new F Line to Tukwila Sounder Station (for the matches that have Sounder service) or Tukwila International Boulevard (light rail) Station, and get back to these parking lots on the same bus line.

Fewer Tunnel Buses in September

Route 316 coach
Route 316, to leave the tunnel.  Photo by T.C.M.

This morning, Metro sent out a press release discussing the proposed U-Link changes it released last night.  Also in the press release was confirmation of another Link-related rumor that has been swirling for a while.  In September 2015, Sound Transit will start testing Link trains on the U-Link alignment, which will increase the number of Link trains in the tunnel, especially during peak hours, when a train will arrive every six minutes.

To create space for these extra trains, six peak-hour bus routes serving North Seattle, Shoreline, Issaquah, and Sammamish are leaving the tunnel, effective September 26, 2015.  Northbound, routes 76, 77, and 316 will use either Third or Fourth Avenue (Metro has yet to confirm which).  Southbound, routes 216, 218, and 219 will pick up on Second Avenue.

To put it mildly, joint operations has not worked well during afternoon peak since Metro and ST began collecting fares on buses at tunnel stations.  Perhaps there is hope that reducing the number of peak bus operations will make things a little bit smoother.

Metro Presents U-Link Restructures

UW Station rendering
Sound Transit rendering of UW Station area,

UPDATE:  Metro has created a survey about the changes described here.  Please take it once you feel comfortable with the concepts; our stories next week may help.  Metro’s Jeff Switzer says: “The 200+ comments are great, and we’re reading them, but it would help to capture them for tracking and analysis via the survey.”

Yesterday evening, Metro and Sound Transit made public for the first time their proposals for restructuring bus service around Sound Transit’s University Link light-rail extension.  The fully tunneled extension will add two new Link stations: Capitol Hill Station near Broadway and John, and University of Washington Station next to Husky Stadium.  The trip between UW Station and Westlake Station should take just 6-8 minutes.  As of now, U-Link is scheduled to open to the public in March 2016.  A Metro and Sound Transit service change, when the agencies will restructure bus service, will happen at the same time.  (UPDATE: Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray emails to say: “[This post] says U Link opens in March.  Right now we’re still just saying First Quarter.”  This leaves open the possibility that U-Link could open before the restructure takes effect.)

Metro is taking the lead on developing the restructures, because the vast majority of the impact is to Metro’s network.  In a package of information released late yesterday, Metro is offering two alternatives for public comment.  “Alternative 1” represents a major rethinking of bus service in several areas affected by U-Link, while “Alternative 2” seeks to keep change to a minimum.  Metro designed both alternatives to be revenue-neutral; neither alternative spends an extra dollar compared to today’s bus network.  Metro has created route maps of both alternatives, which include midday, peak, and Eastside route networks, as well as frequency maps.

One thing that is absolutely critical to understanding this proposal: Metro did not take extra funding the City of Seattle is providing because of Proposition 1 into account in designing either alternative. Prop 1 only provides 6 years of taxing authority, and Metro wants to build a network it can sustain indefinitely. So everything you will read below, in upcoming posts, and in Metro’s materials is purely funded by Metro, without Prop 1.  Seattle’s Prop 1 funds would add to these proposals. The city has not yet decided exactly what to add, but its additions will likely resemble SDOT’s choices to improve the current network.  Bill Bryant of SDOT’s Transit Division told STB’s Zach Shaner by email that the city would need to develop specifics by late summer or early fall.

Broadly speaking, the restructures cover four areas: Northeast Seattle, Capitol Hill, SR-520 bridge service, and to a lesser extent, Downtown Seattle and South Lake Union.  In the coming days, we will have four posts that will go into down-in-the-weeds detail about what Alternative 1 would mean for each of these areas.  For now, we’ll look at the big picture.

Continue reading “Metro Presents U-Link Restructures”

ACTION ALERT: Write in Support of Director’s Rule 6-2015

If you’re a person who cares about improving housing affordability, and reducing legislated car-dependence, stop what you are doing, and send an email to Mike.Podowski@seattle.gov, expressing support for the adoption of DPD’s proposed Directors Rule 6-2015.

This proposed rule change would create a sane definition of “frequent transit” near a proposed development, allowing transit service to be considered frequent if that service is provided by multiple routes with staggered schedules (e.g. Route 66 & 67 in the U-District), or if service is provided, in the same direction, at multiple separate stops within walking distance of the development.

It also clarifies the way frequent service is calculated, to vacate a flawed appeal ruling obtained last year by a West Seattle NIMBY group, which effectively prevented transit from ever being considered frequent if a single headway during the day was 16 minutes or more. Instead, only that hour with the substandard headway will not count towards the twelve hours of frequent service required.

You can be sure that DPD will be snowed under by messages from Lesser-Seattleites seeking to legislate their car ownership and lifestyle preferences onto the rest of us. They need to hear from people who chose to live car-free or car-lite, who want the right to make their own choices about housing, and who want the option to live car-free or car-lite not just in urban centers, but in the streetcar suburbia that comprises most of Seattle’s land mass.

THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IS TODAY, so don’t dawdle.

Maintaining StopInfo: Rider Contributions Matter

February marked one year since the launch of OneBusAway’s StopInfo feature, a web-based collection of information about bus stops that was created to help visually-impaired transit riders locate stops. While the basic data about bus stops in the application came from King County Metro, the rest is contributed by transit riders in the community using the OneBusAway iOS app or the website. StopInfo will also be incorporated into the next release of OneBusAway Android.

Shows a person entering information about a bus stop as she stands waiting for the bus.
   A transit rider adds information about a stop to StopInfo while she waits. (Photo belongs to me.)

Over the past year, transit riders have submitted information for over 1000 unique bus stops in the Seattle area, and the numbers are still climbing. But as with any contribution-based project where the information collected is subject to change over time, maintaining a stable level of contributions is crucial toward long-term adoption and success. That’s why my research team at the University of Washington has been focused on learning what motivates people to contribute, and adding in features that support these values and motives. For example, an initial study discovered that sense of community was important to many contributors, and therefore are working on a feature that allows contributors to respond to direct requests for information from other community members.

If you’d like to give your own input on what might matter to you when contributing information, or suggest potential new features for StopInfo, we have created a form for feedback here. It takes about 20 minutes to complete, and also includes a chance to win a $50 gift card of your choice. Feel free to pass it on to other transit riders (near or far) as well!

We’ve appreciated all of the help that Seattle Transit Blog readers have offered us in the past, and want to ensure that this project remains a community-driven effort. As we’ve started to see recently, speaking out in support of better information tools can benefit developers, transit agencies, and Seattle-area riders alike.

Update on Metro’s TVM Trial

Ticket machine at 3rd & Pine.
Ticket machine at 3rd & Pine. Illustration SDOT. (The TVM is actually installed elsewhere).

A while ago, King County Metro installed a TVM in the Westlake area, as part of a trial project. I asked Metro for an update, and spokeswoman Metro Rochelle Ogershock kindly sent me this response:

The six-month pilot began in December and will continue through May. At the conclusion of the pilot, we’ll assess elements such as equipment performance, usage, potential benefits to bus schedules and how this TVM might fit with the overall redesign of Third Ave. before deciding whether to continue or expand the program. We also plan to periodically survey users to find out how useful they think the machine is. We estimate about ten percent of riders who board at this stop currently use cash to pay their fare.

Since the TVM was installed three months ago, approximately 400 tickets have been purchased. We have also noticed quite a few incomplete transactions, which suggest riders have been trying the machine out to see how it works. As time goes on, we would expect the ratio of completed transactions to cancelled transactions to increase.

Most people who have been buying tickets from the TVM have been using their credit or debit card to purchase their ticket (69%). This may indicate that the machine is attracting people who don’t have exact change for the bus, which can be a barrier to riding.

Based on some early surveying of usage, it appears that many who catch the bus at that location are not familiar with the machine and how it works. Those people who are familiar with the TVM find it convenient and easy to use.

As Metro and SDOT continue to work on the overall redesign of Third Ave, the use of TVMs will be need to be assessed before we know if or how they might fit in with the longer-term vision. The 30 percent design phase should be completed this fall. Also, the city’s outdoor advertising initiative will potentially introduce new street furniture and transit-supportive features. Once we know how the city proceeds late this year, we will be able to create a comprehensive approach for guiding future transit and pedestrian improvements.

You can look over the Third Ave. Transit Corridor Improvement site for more detail.

So, on the one hand, I’m very glad that Metro and SDOT are attempting to get away from on-board cash payment, especially in downtown Seattle. Metro deserves praise for running this pilot. On the other hand, 400 tickets over three months is about 4-5 tickets per day, which, given the passenger volumes at northbound 3rd & Pine, is pretty underwhelming. I hope Metro manages to find some way to get more purchases from this machine, and that the hitherto-low level of activity isn’t taken as prejudicial to the concept of off-board payment, which is essential to the long-term scalability of buses in downtown Seattle.

One obvious optimization that occurs to me, is to install a second machine at (or move this one to) the northbound RapidRide stop on Pike. Passengers who use the machine at this location will actually get the full benefit of off-board payment, which is the ability to board RapidRide at any door. Doubtless STB commenters will have other ideas.

The Empire Builder Gets Back on Track

Chuck Taylor (Flickr)
Chuck Taylor (Flickr)

On Saturday I was bicycling in Monroe early in the morning and heard a train horn sound and the crossing gates come down. I thought surely it was freight, as the Empire Builder had developed such a reputation for notorious lateness that I wouldn’t have expected it through there until noon. But alas, there it was, on time and humming along adjacent to Hwy 2. Remembering the unexpected dip in gas prices we’ve experienced this year, I thought I’d check in on the train’s on-time performance. Has the Bakken’s bust been the Builder’s boon?

Indeed, it has.  For now at least, it appears that Amtrak has seen a welcome reprieve from the 12-hour delays and terrible headlines of the recent past. In February, the train arrived early into Seattle 17 times, and was late more than 30 minutes only 4 times. Day to day variability is still unacceptably high, of course, but the word ‘success’ when it comes to Amtrak often means ‘doing the best you can within your myriad constraints’, and by that score things are definitely looking up on the Hi-Line.

Empire Builder Recovery

Murray Unveils “Move Seattle”

Priority Projects
Priority Projects

Among the critiques Candidate Murray made of Seattle’s series of transportation master plans (Transit, Pedestrian, Bike, and Freight) was that the projects in those plans were neither properly integrated nor prioritized. Yesterday he unveiled a vision, called “Move Seattle,” intended to address those two concerns.

As one might imagine, there’s way too much stuff, for too many modes, to capture everything here. However, here are some of the 10-year transit objectives listed in the document:

  • Provide 72% of Seattle residents with 10-minute all-day transit service within a 10-minute walk of their homes.
  • Provide RapidRide levels of investment and service on 7 new corridors (for a total of 10 overall).
  • Increase transit service and improve our streets to make transit more reliable
  • Provide real-time travel information to the public.

And some three-year goals:

  • Develop an iconic Seattle transit map to make Seattle’s transit system easier to understand.
  • Expand Transit Screen displays to 20 buildings to improve access to transportation information.
  • Partner to design and launch a real-time multimodal travel and wayfinding app.
  • Implement “Always on Time” bus routes by focusing transit capital improvements on the routes that serve most Seattle residents.
  • Ensure that 75% of Seattle households are within a 10-minute walk of bus routes with service every 15 minutes or better.
  • Install red bus-only lanes and transit priority improvements at pinch points and implement targeted enforcement to ensure bus-only lanes operate effectively.
  • Upgrade bus stops and stations by implementing a street furniture program and adding real-time information signs and better lighting to busy bus stops.
  • Begin construction of bus rapid transit on Madison Street.
  • Begin construction of the Center City Streetcar Connector and the Broadway Extension on Capitol Hill.
  • Explore opportunities to require new development to provide transit passes and other travel options as a condition of development approval.
  • Launch a “Car Light Living” program to promote alternatives to owning a personal vehicle when moving to Seattle.
  • Partner with King County Metro or other transit service providers to pilot automated transit vehicles and expand the use of battery-powered buses to reduce carbon emissions.

Continue reading “Murray Unveils “Move Seattle””

Car2Go Expands Service Area and Adds 250 Cars

Old coverage area (left) vs New coverage area (right)
Old coverage area (left) vs New coverage area (right)

Just six weeks after the Seattle City Council took up expanded car sharing in the city, Car2Go has announced an additional 250 cars and an expanded service area that finally brings service to the entire City of Seattle. From the press release:

“Since our launch in 2012, car2go’s unique point-to-point service has seen rapid adoption among Seattleites, making it the highest membership base in the U.S. with over 63,000 members and nearly 2,000,000 trips to date,” said Michael Hoitink, Location Manager for car2go Seattle. “Our immense growth has been a true testament that car2go is on a very sound footing as a successful player in the mobility market, and we look forward to continuing our path in better serving our valued members in Seattle each and every day.”

Beginning today, car2go will provide an additional 250 smart fortwo car2go edition vehicles for shared use in Seattle, increasing the total fleet size to 750 vehicles within an expanded 83 square mile Home Area, where members can pick up and drop off a car2go. car2go allows members to use the service by the minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – without committing to a specific return time or dedicated location.

750 brings Car2Go to the limit enacted by the city council. While other rideshare services have expressed interest in the Seattle market, for now Car2Go is the main game. The 50% boost in capacity should make it a bit easier to grab one in your particular neck of the woods.

U-Link Restructure Proposals Coming This Week

Capitol Hill Station in June 2014 (photo by the author)
Capitol Hill Station in June 2014 (photo by the author)

Later this week, Metro and Sound Transit will release their initial restructure plans for the opening of University Link next March. Broadly speaking, there will be two alternatives that will be taken to the public. The first will be an aggressive restructure and consolidation that markedly increases frequency and reduces network complexity, while the second will be a conservative restructure with only minor changes. The two alternatives seem designed for maximum contrast marking the poles of a wide range of possibilities, and undoubtedly the final product will be a mix of the two.

We have seen initial drafts of the plans and I have been serving on the Sounding Board, but Metro is still working on the plans and we expect there to be some minor changes prior to release, so we are holding off on writing for now. Once the plans go public, expect a series of 5 posts from STB staff, including:

  • 1 . Overview, or a broad analysis of the entire restructure from a network perspective.
  • 2. Northeast Seattle proposals
  • 3. SR-520 proposals
  • 4. Capitol Hill proposals
  • 5. Center City proposals, including proposed changes to tunnel operations, South Lake Union peak service, and more.

Also included in these posts will be a new mockup of the proposals using Oran’s Frequent Network Map, which will do an excellent job of quantifying the benefits and drawbacks of the proposals to the all-day transit network.

Stay tuned.

SDOT Will Finally Make Rainier Safer

The 7 & Mount Rainier

Photo by Oran

Walking up Rainier Ave. S toward the Columbia School for a community meeting on SDOT’s latest Rainier Avenue safety proposal last Thursday night, I was struck once again by what a dangerous and inconvenient street Rainier is for pretty much anyone who isn’t driving a car. Once upon a time I biked to work on Rainier almost daily, a practice that prompted City Council member and fellow cyclist Sally Clark to write a blog post, titled “Hey, Erica,” suggesting three circuitous but very helpful safer routes from Columbia City to downtown. In 2008, the council quietly shelved a proposal to reduce Rainier from four or five lanes to three, including a turning lane, at a time when the street had nearly 30 times as many crashes, per rider, as the Burke-Gilman Trail. (In 2006, the city’s updated bike master plan acknowledged that “improvement [was] needed” on Rainier, but proposed no actual improvements.)

Screen shot 2015-03-01 at 7.41.11 PM
Photo via SDOT

After years of Band-Aid upgrades to nonmotorized street users’ safety – a pedestrian-activated crossing here, a safety-promoting yard sign there – it looks like the city is getting serious about safety on at least a portion of this fast-moving, accident-prone urban highway.

On Thursday, as part of Mayor Ed Murray’s “Vision Zero” transportation strategy (the zero refers to traffic deaths and serious injuries), SDOT staff presented three scenarios for reducing speeds and improving safety on Rainier. Notably, all three included rechannelization, or a “road diet.” Perhaps it’s a testament to Murray’s coalition-centric leadership style, or a reflection of his predecessor Mike McGinn’s more contentious reputation. Perhaps it’s changing attitudes and the shift away from driving alone. Whatever the reason, what was once unthinkable (a road diet? On Rainier?) is now Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. After years of indecision from SDOT, it finally appears there’s no turning back.

Continue reading “SDOT Will Finally Make Rainier Safer”