Sunday Open Thread: The Cambridge Guided Busway

The Cambridge Guided Busway is the world’s longest with 16 miles of guided sections. The guidance allows buses to run on a very narrow right of way (typical of many former railroad lines). It’s greener due to the vegetation that grows between the grooved concrete slabs which contain the wheels of the bus.

Running the buses on a narrower footprint leaves more space for a busy bike/walking path alongside.

Does Roderick’s 10,000-Foot Transit Plan Have Wings?

Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 3.48.01 PM

City council candidate John Roderick, one of two leading contenders to take on council member Tim Burgess in citywide Position 8 in the November general election (the other is tenants advocate Jon Grant), recently unveiled the centerpiece of his transportation plan.

No, not funiculars or gondolas or any of the other far-fetched (supporters would say far-sighted) ideas you’ll hear him expound about at forums. What Roderick, along with Alon Bassok, a less-viable candidate in the other citywide position, is proposing is something he calls “neighborhood rail.” The idea is to build a system of short-line rail connections between neighborhoods in the north, south, and west sectors of Seattle that operate largely independent of each other, using existing bus and rail lines to connect people over water crossings. The streetcars would not cross the ship canal, saving enough money in bridge and tunnel construction to bring the price down, in Roderick and Bassock’s estimation, to $1 billion for 75 to 100 miles of streetcar rail. After the system is built, ongoing maintenance would be funded by an employee hours tax, known derisively as a head tax.

The idea would be to supplement regional systems like Sound Transit with a city-only rail system that serves “people who live and work in our great city,” according to the text of the proposal—emphasis on and. “This would be a transit network for people who live in the city,” Roderick says, and it would be paid for entirely by city dwellers. The idea is similar in principle to former mayor Mike McGinn’s plan to build a go-it-alone rail system, which would also have been funded by city-only taxes. That shouldn’t be too surprising—Roderick says McGinn, who has endorsed him, was one of his advisors on the plan.

After looking over the three-page, 10,000-foot-level proposal, I had so, so many questions. Among them: Was $1 billion just a nice, round number, or does Roderick think the city can actually build 100 miles of rail for $10 million a mile? Does he consider regionalism a bad thing? Is this proposal, which would require a significant increase in property taxes (Roderick and Bassock estimate around $200 per year for the average household), a whack at Mayor Ed Murray’s $930 million Move Seattle property tax proposal? And how does he expect to afford the kind of right-of-way that would be necessary to give each streetcar “its own lane, priority at traffic signals, and … complete separat[ion] from traffic”?

Continue reading “Does Roderick’s 10,000-Foot Transit Plan Have Wings?”

Reminder: STB Meetup and Happy Hour Tonight

As a reminder, we invite you to join us for our next STB Meetup TONIGHT from 5:30-7:30pm at the Impact Hub in Pioneer Square.

Metro planners Ted Day and Jeremy Fichter will join us to discuss the U-Link restructure, with a brief presentation beginning at 5:30 and plenty of time for open Q&A thereafter. At roughly 6:30, we will head over to Good Bar down the street for beer, snacks, and continued conversation.

Meetups are a great opportunity to meet your fellow readers, get a little face time with agency staff, and to get more involved with transit advocacy more generally.  We hope to see you there!

When: Friday, May 29, 5:30-7:30pm
Where: Impact HUB, 220 2nd Avenue S. (2nd & Washington)

Please RSVP in the comments to help us get a rough head count.

Redmond Transit Planning Workshop

Transit Network Design Course (Jarrett Walker + Associates)


Are you a resident, employee, or frequent traveler in Redmond? Would you like to help plan the future of transit in the city?

The City of Redmond, with Jarrett Walker + Associates, is hosting an interactive transit planning workshop on Saturday June 13th to explore service planning scenarios and help establish community priorities as Redmond develops its Transit Strategic Plan. The results from this workshop will help define coverage areas and high frequency corridors, which in turn will guide speed and reliability capital planning.

The workshop will take the form of a game in which participants allocate limited amounts of transit service on boards representing cities with realistic but simplified geographies, including Redmond. No transit or transportation planning experience is required. Players must work within real-world constraints to accomplish various transportation goals. The game portion of the event will be followed by a discussion and voting exercise (using handheld clickers) where participants can weigh in the priorities that will guide the Transit Strategic Plan.

Space is limited. If you are interested or have questions please contact Patrick McGrath at or 425-556-2870 to reserve your place. The workshop will be held at Redmond City Hall (steps from a 545/542 stop and blocks from the Redmond Transit Center) on Saturday June 13th from 9AM-3PM. Lunch will be provided.

ST Staff Presents Refined Project List, Conceptual Study Results

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

Yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting included two staff presentations important to the future of Sound Transit 3. Most important was the first revision to the draft list of projects to study for potential inclusion in ST3. Less significantly, the staff also presented the results of a conceptual study that caused much activist angst when it started, but seems to have spawned relatively benign conclusions.

Based on input from the ST Board in previous meetings, there were three changes to the draft project list from May 7th: ST added Madison BRT and a Tacoma Link Extension to TCC. They also clarified an ST Express item to explicitly include capital improvements to the HOV system.

The next step is public outreach, beginning June 4th and continuing through July 8th, using internet resources and public meetings. The staff will present these comments to the board to make final additions and deletions to the project list on August 27th. The project study will improve estimates for everything on the project list, providing better information for the Board to (potentially) form a package in the middle of next year.


State law requires ST to conduct a conceptual study to gauge the impact of various investment levels. The takeaway that ST executive Ric Ilgenfritz highlighted from the conceptual study is, anticlimactically, that the benefits of ST3 expansion are roughly proportional to the size of the revenue package. In his words, “the more you spend, the more you get.” Best case, the maximum system attracts 566,000 daily boardings, or about 200,000 boardings above the ST2 best case.

There’s really not much more to say about the results, depicted in the figure above, and I’m not sure how productive further digging is. But Mr. Ilgenfritz did clarify a few points in response to my questions. Keep in mind that the more spine/less spine variations at spending level 3 are somewhat haphazard; as a quick reminder,the additional corridors in 3a are Ballard/West Seattle. 3b is Ballard plus Totem Lake/Issaquah, 3c is Ballard/West Seattle with no downtown segment, and 3d is just Ballard/Downtown. Option 4 is Ballard/West Seattle plus I-405 BRT. Full scenarios are here.

Continue reading “ST Staff Presents Refined Project List, Conceptual Study Results”

News Roundup: Impacts

The best place for light rail? Federal Way thinks so.
The best place for light rail? Federal Way thinks so.
  • Federal Way didn’t take the advice of yours truly, recommending an I-5 alignment for Link instead of SR 99. Apparently avoiding nebulous ‘impacts’ is worth serving fewer people, with harder to access stations, in halved or nonexistent walksheds, in perpetuity. We need to figure out a way to organize for better outcomes in the suburban subareas. (Federal Way Mirror)
  • Bedroom counties: Only 7% of King County residents commute outside the county, compared to 40% for Snohomish County and 29% for Pierce. (The Urbanist)
  • Our hot housing market: the average Seattle home sells within just 9 days. (Curbed)
  • New ferry: WSDOT’s  M/V Samish is now plying the waters of the San Juans. (Seattle Times, $)
  • Remember LEAP Transit, the new techie bus in San Francisco with $6 fares and $7 cold-pressed juice and luxury seats? It’s been shut down, at least temporarily, for operating without the proper permits. (SFGate)
  • The right tool for the job: Light rail is our best bet, says former state Representative (and Republican) Bill Finkbeiner. (Seattle Times, $)
  • Reclaiming space: 5th Avenue may get a protected bike lane from Mercer to Stewart, in the westernmost lane. Cars would in turn be allowed to park in the unused space underneath the monorail supports. (Seattle Times version ($), and Seattle Bike Blog version.)

REMINDER: please join us for our meetup and happy hour on Friday at the Impact HUB from 5:30-7:30. Talk with Metro planners about the ULink Restructure, meet the STB bloggers, and have a beer or two! The ImpactHUB portion is all ages, and drinks at Good Bar afterward are 21+.

This is an open thread.

Metro to Add Service Starting June 6

Vashon service on Routes 118 and 119, which see minor schedule revisions. Photo by LB Bryce.

It’s Metro and Sound Transit service change time again!  But this service change will be more fun than most for Seattle riders, because Metro will be adding the first of two rounds of new service funded by Seattle Prop 1.  The changes will start on Saturday, June 6.

In addition to the new service in Seattle, there are a few other changes of interest at Metro.  Most importantly, there will be long-term disruption in the Central District as SDOT begins its 23rd Ave rebuilding project.  Route 4 will be temporarily truncated at Garfield High School on weekdays, and there will be major reroutes of routes 8 and 48.  Also, there are new contracted “alternative service” routes in Mercer Island and Burien, and revisions to service patterns in Jackson Park, Factoria, and Clyde Hill.  Details below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro to Add Service Starting June 6”

Inside Capitol Hill Station

Photo by the author
Photo by the author

Yesterday Sound Transit gave elected officials and media the most in-depth tour to date of Capitol Hill Station, set to open sometime in Q1 2016. Mayor Murray, Executive Constantine, and others praised ST’s project management, nearly breaking into a repetitive chant of “$150m under budget and 6-9 months ahead of schedule.”  They also renewed their call for Olympia to pass a transportation package with ST3 authority.

Officials announced that “substantial station completion” will occur in August, at which point testing can begin and Broadway can be fully restored with a protected bike lane and parking, where for over a year it has been reduced to just one travel lane in each direction.

Sound Transit brought a four-car train up to Capitol Hill for the tour, providing a glimpse of what service levels could look like in 2021. Spokesman Bruce Gray noted that while two-car trains will still be the norm for U-Link, three-car trains will be mixed in during peak, with flexibility for four-car trains for special events. In 2018, three-car trains will be the norm, and four-car trains will run full-time upon the opening of Northgate Link in 2021.

The station itself is compact, deep, and tall. Relative to the DSTT, the mezzanines are graciously much smaller, and the center platform really narrows the feel of the station box. The overall feel is reminiscent of a cross between an industrial cathedral and the flight pod from Battlestar Galactica.

More photos below the jump. Continue reading “Inside Capitol Hill Station”

New Summer Hiking Shuttle

This summer various hiking interests have banded together to respond to congestion at parking lots at popular trailheads. The “Snoqualmie Valley Adventure Shuttle” will run on weekends from June 6th through September 12th. Reservations are recommended.

The shuttle will be an 11-passenger van running from North Bend P&R to Little Si, Mount Teneriffe, and Mount Si trailheads, running every half hour through the heart of the day. On Saturdays, this connects with Route 208, providing 7 round trips to Issaquah Transit Center, which the 554 in turn serves regularly from Downtown Seattle.


This is a sensible response to congested lots, a lifeline to carless hiking enthusiasts, and an encouraging initiative. The idea of special routes with enhanced frequency on weekends to recreational destinations is a good one that I wish Metro would embrace. At the risk of being churlish about this positive step, however, there are several problems with this implementation.

The round trip fare is $5 per person, which includes $25 in “SnoValley Adventure Bucks” good for some credit and local businesses. As a daily park Discover Pass is $10/car*, parties of two will break even if they have no use for the Adventure Bucks. While not gouging passengers by any means, this price point fails to reward most people for the greater inconvenience of taking parking pressure off the trailheads. For most parties of two or more, the optimal strategy is to go straight to the trailhead and use North Bend strictly as an overflow lot, assuming there is space available on the van.

Furthermore, the 208 is a thin line with which to connect, one that doesn’t run at all on Sundays. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of sponsorship by North Bend and efforts to control costs, but direct service to Issaquah would make an all-transit trip downright convenient. With two-hour-plus headways on the 208, this shuttle is, again, more in service to a North Bend satellite lot than a true transit alternative.

But once again, bravo to the City of North Bend, DNR, Mountains to Sound Greenway, and Washington Trails Association for putting this service together. Hopefully this summer’s pilot will demonstrate that there is demand for these trips.

* $30/year for unlimited access.

Community Transit on Google Maps

Just 6 hours 22 minutes from Olympia to Darrington
Just 6 hours 22 minutes from Olympia to Darrington

Planning a trip to or through Snohomish County?  You’re in luck. Community Transit buses are now integrated with Google Maps.  You can now plan that trip from Olympia to Darrington.

CT data has been available for some time now on OneBusAway.  However, it was only once Sound Transit – which now manages OneBusAway and associated data – opened up their feeds last February that it became possible to integrate the CT data with Google.  Great news for folks who use Google to plan their trips around the region.  Thanks to Brian Ferris, friend of the blog, OneBusAway creator, and current Googler, for pushing it through and for giving us the heads up.

Transit Tunnel Closed Next Two Weekends

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be closed for the next two weekends (May 30-31 and June 6-7) to allow further preparatory work for U-Link. Per Bruce Gray at Sound Transit:

Similar to what we did in the Beacon Hill tunnels in March, we’re testing the newly upgraded fire/life/safety and train control systems in the DSTT over the weekend of the 30-31. The following weekend, if all goes well, we will make the final switchover from the old to the new systems in the DSTT and integrate with U-Link ventilation control. Finishing this upgrade is an important step towards connecting all tunnel systems later this summer and being ready for more intense testing scheduled through the fall.

Route 97 will pick up Link riders at Stadium Station, and take them downtown.
Route 97 will pick up Link riders at Stadium Station, and take them downtown.

Link Light Rail will only run between Stadium Station and SeaTac Airport Station, and will serve all stations in between. A free shuttle (route 97), as well as regular routes 101, 106, 124 and 150, will serve the bus stops closest to Stadium Station and SODO Station. All the tunnel buses except route 255 will run on 2nd and 4th Ave through downtown. Route 255 will run on 4th and 5th Ave. Route 97 will run on 3rd Ave. A full list of stop locations for the re-routed tunnel buses is here.

The Mariners will be playing here both of these Saturdays and Sundays. The Sounders will be hosting the New York Red Bulls at 2 pm on May 31. Three-car Link trains will be running all day on the 31st. Sounder will be serving the simultaneous Sounders and Mariners games on May 31, and the Mariners’ game on June 7.

Roosevelt HCT is Underway

Click to Enlarge

SDOT has started work on its second HCT corridor, “Roosevelt to Downtown”. It’s one of three HCT corridors in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) adopted in 2012. The other two HCT corridors are Madison BRT, which is in design, and Ballard to Downtown, which was part of a joint light rail/streetcar study done by Sound Transit. The TMP also has fifteen Priority Bus Corridors, of which 23rd Avenue is about to start construction. The goal of the current Roosevelt study is to identify a “locally preferred alternative” mode and route by November. This summer SDOT will choose two alternatives and analyze them in detail.

SDOT held open houses last week to present their initial work and ask for comments. The initial alternative has a downtown rectangle (5th and Boren Avenues, Stewart and Virginia Streets), then goes north on Fairview Avenue N, Eastlake Avenue E, Roosevelt -11th-12th, NE 80th Street, and 5th Avenue NE to the Northgate transit center. Readers will recognize this as route 70 south of the Ship Canal and route 66 north of it. A “South Alternative” follows the SLU Streetcar’s routing from Valley Street on south. Most of the work done so far focuses on the corridor’s existing conditions and expected growth; i.e., the context for the line.

SDOT is heavily leaning toward BRT rather than rapid streetcar for this corridor; they said most of their results are pointing in that direction. One of the posters showed a chart of the unique advantages of BRT vs streetcars: BRT came out ahead in 8 of 11 metrics.


Continue reading “Roosevelt HCT is Underway”

Seattle’s Population Growth in Context

Image from
For the first time in 100 years, Seattle is growing faster than its suburbs. Image from

On Thursday, the Seattle Times’ Gene Balk broke the news that Seattle was no longer number one. Our time as fastest growing city in the nation lasted only a year. While it’s sad to no longer have those bragging rights I think a bit more context is in order.

First off, as the data wonks at fivethirtyeight pointed out Seattle is the fastest growing big city that is an actual city:
[T]he new census population data shows that the fastest-growing large cities tend to be more suburban. Among the 10 fastest-growing cities with more than 500,000 people, five — Austin, Fort Worth, Charlotte, San Antonio and Phoenix — are majority suburban, and a sixth, Las Vegas, is only 50 percent urban. Only one of the 10 fastest-growing, Seattle, is at least 90 percent urban.
Wait, when did Seattle become 90% urban? Apparently the bar for ‘urbanity’ is pretty low. Just goes to show how suburban the other cities in the top 10 are. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Seattle’s Population Growth in Context”

To Linkage Fee or Not?

Solar array with crane (See: for usage information)

A few weeks back Owen Pickford made the urbanist case for linkage fees, a controversial proposed tax on new construction that would fund affordable housing:

Seattle urbanists often conflate additional building costs with limits on housing; frequently suggesting that regulatory cost, not housing limits, are the biggest impediment to affordable housing. The result of this mistake has been detrimental to urbanists’ goals, creating an adversarial relationship between urbanists and affordable housing advocates. Furthermore, blurring the lines between housing limits and regulatory costs induces urbanists to overlook the most important factor in housing affordability: land values.

This week Dan Bertolet wrote a rebuttal:

To put a finer point on it:  Pickford’s position contradicts the standard methodology used by the City of Seattle, King County and countless other municipalities to estimate “buildable land,” that is, land that can be redeveloped. This alone should be enough to cast serious doubt.

For bonus credit, here’s Martin’s take from last fall when the fees were first announced.

Bertolet has the stronger argument, but I wish he’d discussed the actual recommendations on the table instead of refuting the concept in the abstract. The linkage fees are designed to be higher in the central city and taper off in the North and South ends, which would seem to mitigate concerns about the development of “marginal” lands.  That said, to the extent that linkage fees keep cheaper market-rate housing from getting built while at the same time pushing up the costs of high-end housing, they are problematic.

Memorial Day Service Levels

Northwest Folklife 2015

Monday, May 25 is Memorial Day.

King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, Intercity Transit, the South Lake Union Streetcar, the West Seattle Water Taxi, and Sound Transit will be operating on Sunday schedules (which means no Sounder).

Washington State Ferries will be adding trips on select routes, so check your particular route’s schedule.

Community Transit will not be in service, hopefully for the second-to-last time ever (with the last time hopefully being Sunday, May 31). Sunday service resumes on June 7 after 5 years of no CT Sunday bus service.

In addition to Sounder and Community Transit, Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Skagit, Whatcom, and Island Transit will not be in service on Memorial Day. The Vashon King County Water Taxis will also not be in service.

Bucking this trend will be the Monorail, which will be open regular weekday hours, 7:30-11:00, well beyond the hours of the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Also, Sounder will be serving the Sounders match vs. Sporting Kansas City this Saturday, arriving in town ca. 5:00, and departing ca. 9:30. First kick is set for 7:00.

News Roundup: Test Run

SDOT Photo
SDOT Photo

This is an open thread.

Meetup: Talk ULink Restructure May 29

UW Station rendering
UW Station (Sound Transit rendering)

We invite you to join us for our next STB Meetup on May 29 from 5:30-7:30pm at the Impact Hub in Pioneer Square.

Metro planners Ted Day and Jeremy Fichter will join us to discuss the U-Link restructure, with a brief presentation beginning at 5:30 and plenty of time for open Q&A thereafter. At roughly 6:30, we will head over to Good Bar down the street for beer, snacks, and continued conversation.

Meetups are a great opportunity to meet your fellow readers, get a little face time with agency staff, and to get more involved with transit advocacy more generally.  We hope to see you there! We also encourage you to attend Metro’s Link Connections Public Meeting tonight from 6-8pm at Seattle Academy (1432 15th Ave).

When: Friday, May 29, 5:30-7:30pm
Where: Impact HUB, 220 2nd Avenue S. (2nd & Washington)

Center-running open BRT on Madison

There seems to be wide agreement that enhanced bus service on Madison Street between the waterfront and at least 23rd Avenue would be a great asset for the city.

The debate here on STB seems to be whether to move forward with dedicated, center-running lanes and median platforms, or bus/right-turn only lanes on the outsides of Madison with platforms constructed on current sidewalks. This center vs side debate exists in part because, though center-running lanes provide protection from right turns (leading to improved travel times and reliability) and afford greater visibility, the current center-running configuration seems to necessitate buses with left-side doors, precluding open BRT as the rest of the Metro fleet does not have doors on both sides. So the center-running vs side-running discussion has really become a discussion about closed vs open BRT.

As it turns out, no operational compromise is necessary to achieve open and center-running BRT on Madison. Below I explore two options (one of which SDOT seems to be considering but doesn’t get much attention) that are compatible with the center-running and open BRT concept.

Option 1: Center-running contraflow lanes

What if we could have all the benefits of center-running bus lanes and joint median platforms while allowing multiple routes to make use of different segments of the Madison BRT infrastructure?

Madison Street center-running BRT mockup

One way this is possible is to have contra-flow, center-running bus lanes that allow buses with right side doors to drop off and pick up passengers at a median platforms. With this arrangement, there is no need to purchase buses with left side doors or exclude other buses that might travel down Madison—like a Broadway to Madison route 49—from using the infrastructure. Center-running contraflow lanes would allow us to retain future operational flexibility while still building what is necessary for a premium BRT the length of Madison.

This center-running contraflow concept creates a few complications:

Continue reading “Center-running open BRT on Madison”

Top 5 Irritating Agency Operations Habits

ST Express 9641K waiting for Link under Airport Way & 5th

Our transit system, like any other, has many problems. Many will cost a lot of money to fix, or will require the political will to basically ignore the perceived interests of drivers. But a few of them are the result of nearly inexplicable agency policies. The delays and inconvenience are small in the scheme of things but they communicate to riders that their time isn’t valuable. As with any internet listicle, I wouldn’t get too excited about the precise rankings below:

5. Missing or inaccurate real-time data. Brian Ferris and Caitlin Bonnar detailed the technical problems with Metro’s data in January. Real time information is absolutely critical to a decent experience when riding unreliable transit, even at moderate frequencies, and quite useful even with frequent and reliable modes. Data problems degrade it considerably.

At least Metro exports their data; Community Transit still isn’t sharing it with onebusaway (OBA). And as for Sound Transit…

4. Misused electronic signs. The wonder of electronic signs is that they can change dynamically to reflect real-time conditions, but the ones in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) are almost entirely wedded to canned policy announcements. OBA data, or even Sound Transit’s Twitter feed, would provide much more useful information to users.

Continue reading “Top 5 Irritating Agency Operations Habits”