Page Two articles are from our reader community.

As Seattle’s transit advocates, we often like to brainstorm about transit infrastructure because it generates discussions. It helps define what the region wants, and these discussions often drive politics. Light rail connections, BRT, and a second downtown tunnel are just some highlights of an ever-growing wish-list.

However, our focus on modes and infrastructure also leads us to overlook the actual objectives of these transit investments. We ask ourselves whether we want light rail and BRT, but rarely do we emphasize, “How quick and reliable should the system to be?” or “What is this system trying to accomplish?”

As a result, transit advocates are often surprised by operational deficiencies late in the process, leading to reactions like this:

We have supported RapidRide and BRT from the beginning but Metro and the Council have let “BRT creep” and politics take over, not what is best for riders. When RapidRide C and D lines open on October 1st we’ll have a glorified shiny new bus that is slower than existing service. – STB

Part of the reason is because specific objectives are not clearly defined before transit is built. There were never defined travel times or reliability requirements from the beginning. We simply said “Build BRT” and assumed that everything would work out. As a result, decision makers have leeway to push for more infill stations to satisfy a few constituents, because why not? There was no legal requirement for what the actual travel time between A and B should have been. It’s easy to backtrack and modify service objectives that were never well-defined in the first place.

On the other hand, if we had defined our objectives as, “The BRT system shall travel between Aurora Village and Downtown Seattle in 35 minutes, at 90% punctuality within 10 minutes of the scheduled time”, and made them project requirements from the beginning, the results may have been different.

I can’t speak for all engineers and planners, but I would suspect that most (myself included) would not only prefer clear objectives to accomplish, but also more defense against backtracking due to political pressure. If decision makers want to satisfy a few constituents with an infill station, clearly-defined project requirements would provide more leverage to say, “Adding this infill station would breach the project conditions, unless there was more funding for a bus-only lane.”

I’ve been using BRT examples, but this applies to rail as well. If we had defined that we wanted a regional rail network with a 40-minute connection between Everett and Seattle, we could say that the currently proposed half hour travel time between Lynnwood and Everett is far too slow. However, we specified little more than the fact that we wanted a train. In the end, we got light rail, which takes 7 minutes to travel 1.3 miles through Downtown Seattle and is proposed to spend an hour between Westlake and Everett (28 minutes to Lynnwood and 30 more to Everett).

This pattern needs to change, and we can start by modifying our planning process: Define specific and realistic service objectives, reach a consensus with agencies, and make the objectives part of the project requirements.

Including specific preconditions into the discussion process, enforcing them and defending them against negative political interests will make the outcomes of our transit investments more predictable. After all, transit should be built to achieve mobility goals, not just for the sake of building it. Let’s take a look at how we can add these objectives to our discussions.

A few examples for defining objectives

Service objectives should be defined before the infrastructure. These should be specific, measurable and realistic, rather than general descriptions such as “improve reliability”.

Here are examples of what specific objectives could look like (with fictitious numbers):

  • Travel times (e.g. West Seattle to Ballard within 30 minutes)
  • Reliability (e.g. 95% punctuality between West Seattle and Ballard, where a vehicle is on-time when it arrives within 5 minutes of scheduled time)
  • Frequency (e.g. Provide the capability to run trains at 90-second frequencies)

By specifying these objectives in our discussions, we can begin a dialogue with agencies to determine whether they are realistic. Once a consensus has been reached and the objectives determined, there should be a method to enforce these objectives, giving agencies more leverage to ask for funding or defend against political interests. Service objectives would then determine the infrastructure, such as whether surface options would even be worth considering.

We would then hopefully be presented with several alternatives that, more or less, satisfy our objectives, rather than receiving a smorgasbord of varying options with questionable operational effectiveness and then collectively wailing. In the end, we may also save ourselves from wondering what the infrastructure is actually capable of.

Moving forward with our discussions

Setting clear quantifiable objectives in cooperation with our agencies will help them better determine what people really want from transit investments. Providing means to enforce these objectives will give agencies more leverage to push back against political influence. With potentially billions in transit investments around the corner and discussions about to begin, we need to refine how we plan transit. After all, why vote for and throw money at projects without fully knowing what they’re trying to accomplish?

As we move forward, discuss and define the travel times that regional rail or urban rail should provide, not whether we should build light rail. Discuss and define the reliability that BRT should provide, not whether we should have bus lanes. The infrastructure (and funding) should be decided only after it is known what will be accomplished. By setting service objectives earlier in the process with agencies and turning those objectives into requirements (this is worth its own discussion), we may actually get the system that we expected to get.

35 Replies to “Transit objectives should be defined before its infrastructure”

  1. This should read: “Adding this infill station would breach the project conditions, unless there was more funding for [additional] bus-only lanes.”

  2. You’ve got a very good idea: having good, reasonable travel-time requirements will prevent all sorts of creep. However, defining them at the very beginning of the study, before considering questions of mode at all, raises the question of how they’ll be defined in the first place.

    Unreasonable requirements can be worse than nothing. For example, suppose we had a requirement of Everett-Westlake in half an hour, coming every fifteen minutes, all day. That’s just plain impossible without building express lines and running empty 65-mph trains on them all day, missing Northgate, the UW, and everywhere else in-between. Granted, that’s an unlikely requirement, but the same problems can crop up in more plausible places. For example, ID-SeaTac at 30 minutes would’ve prevented the Rainier Valley service, and UW-Westlake at 5 minutes would’ve prevented additional Capitol Hill stations.

    A better way of phrasing these requirements would be something like, “70% of Capitol Hill residents and businesses will be within a ten-minute walk of the Link system, which shall travel to Westlake within six minutes.” It’s easy to insert numbers into this phrasing in a way which makes it completely impossible save for multiple bullet-train lines – “90% of Bellevue, five-minute walk, Westlake in four minutes” – but adding in a budget review would kill such projects and in fact highlight the better projects as within-budget.

    1. “Everett-Westlake in half an hour, coming every fifteen minutes, all day. That’s just plain impossible without building express lines and running empty 65-mph trains on them all day.”

      Actually, you just followed the logic :D

      If that was a requirement, we WOULD need express tracks (that determines the infrastructure). If another requirement was “Lynnwood, Shoreline, etc. must also have access to the system”, then the infrastructure requirement would be a local-express setup with sidings.

      Good addition regarding access and walkshed though. German planning procedures actual specify guidelines for both travel times and walkshed. I’ll take a look into those a bit more and save them for another day.

      1. Although yeah, the 15 minute-frequency would be very unrealistic. Then a more realistic requirement would be the “capability” to run at that frequency.

      2. I guess you’re right that such logic would determine the infrastructure. What I meant to point out with that example is that (1) we need to list every requirement, including the seemingly-implicit ones (or our Everett-Westlake system might not serve Lynnwood at all); and (2) we could inadvertently make firm requirements that make our system a lot more expensive, or exclude important advantages (extending the time a little could let us use standard Link cars, or let the express trains stop at Lynnwood TC or the UW.)

      3. It all comes down to a balance and probably a lot of negotiation. We would have to list the requirements (access, travel time, reliability, service area), determine with the agency whether those are realistic, and then find out what kind of infrastructure/cost would be needed to meet those requirements.

        If the proposals are too expensive, then the question becomes whether people would accept lower quality levels or accept higher costs.

        But if the proposals also allow the agency to eliminate alternatives from the beginning (for example, 95% reliability would probably never be satisfied by surface buses), then we may end up a set of grade-separated rail options. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s up to the public to decide whether they would pay for them.

    2. What we’re getting now is a schizophrenic system that’s trying to meet lots of goals, and not succeeding very well at any of them. All of that discussion, up front, would certainly lead to a better situation: stakeholders would actually need to understand the tradeoffs in what they’re asking for.

      Of course, that’s an engineering-driven idea, and the politicians are likely to hate it.

    3. The requirement proposals should include sample modes with performance estimates for reference. That’s the only way to evaluate whether the requirement is realistic, the cost range, and what we’re giving up if we choose that requirement. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for Ballard-downtown HCT: start with the travel time, compare it to some known sample modes, and then look at how far it could be compromised down and still be acceptable.

      So for Ballard, the problem is that it’s the largest urban village conglomerate in Seattle that’s not on the HCT network (ST2 Link). That adds an extra 20-45 minute overhead to every network trip involving Ballard, each way. That puts Ballard at a serious disadvantage inconsistent with its size and density. Looking at the Westlake – Market Street corridor, sample modes for comparison are:

      * University Link Westlake – UDistrict at 12 minutes
      * 15X at 16-23 minutes (6:48am southbound, 5:09pm northbound)
      * D at 26-30 minutes (same times and directions)
      * ST study at 10-11 minutes for grade-separated light rail

      Looking at that, we could start with the principle that the solution must be faster than the D and at least match the 15X. That suggests that 10 minutes would be excellent, 15 minutes pretty good, 20 minutes OK, 25 minutes unacceptable. So we could set the requirement at 12 minutes or 20 minutes. 12 minutes would essentially mandate grade separation. 20 minutes would allow leeway for a lower-cost system such as MLK-style surface on 15th and Leary Way. Again these are just samples to illustrate something that would meet the requirement. Then it becomes a values question: is a 12-minute maximum essential? Is a 20-minute maximum reasonable? Is 12 minutes worth it if it would likely cost $1 billion more? Would it be better to spend that billion on a second HCT corridor or another project somewhere?

      1. And just to throw in another wrench: People are willing to walk a quarter mile for a bus or a half mile for rail.

        So within the mode and travel time tradeoff, we also have to consider its attractiveness. Is it better to sacrifice travel time, reliability and usage levels by using buses, but then have to build an adjacent line to achieve the same amount of accessibility?

        Or would one rail line provide the same accessibility?

        Details details…

      2. They’ll walk half a mile to a high-quality bus route. The problem is, few people have seen a high-quality bus route in their lifetime, so they have trouble believing it’s possible. Conversely, people won’t walk half a mile to a streetcar if it’s as slow as the SLUT. So not all rail is created equal.

  3. Making the first, primary requirement, “We have to get from Everett to Westlake in x minutes,” would be idiotic. Just idiotic enough that we would do it. That’s the sort of requirement, by the way, that got us the deep-bore tunnel: a travel-time requirement between Green Lake and the Port, essentially.

    The first requirement is reliable, frequent service between a variety of destinations where people actually want to be on foot. The second requirement for a north line is getting it built quickly south of Northgate, because that’s the part where we don’t have bi-directional HOV lanes (and probably never will despite the obvious need). If I’m going to criticize ST I’ll criticize their failures at these things, not how fast they can run between Everett and Lynnwood.

    Another thing about big infrastructure projects is that they influence land-use. Rail lines helped define where many towns and cities formed in the western US, and their potential to grow. Service patterns on these lines helped define the form of these towns, too! Highways later did much the same, with access patterns to major highways influencing the form of nearby local street networks. Today a lot of urban infill potential depends on transit investments. The great railroads and transit systems of our great cities were built with a vision for their future. Our freeways were built the same way, in service of a vision of transforming the country and its cities. Overlaying new urban rail on top of the freeway system in order to fill in where and when the freeway network is overloaded is a visionless strategy. ST had to plan its bus operations on the freeway network we had, and has managed to operate some very useful services despite that severe constraint! But infrastructure has to do more — it has to shape our future. Shaving minutes off long-distance trips between freewayside parking-lot stations won’t shape our future. It didn’t in the Bay Area and it won’t here.

    1. “The first requirement is reliable, frequent service between a variety of destinations where people actually want to be on foot. The second requirement for a north line is getting it built quickly south of Northgate, because that’s the part where we don’t have bi-directional HOV lanes (and probably never will despite the obvious need).”

      That’s a good point, but I think that again hints at the fact that “specific objectives are not clearly defined before transit is built.”

      If accessibility by foot was defined early on as part of a project requirement, then the planning process would have been different and so would the infrastructure.

      Now here’s another question: Is ST’s goal to connect the region? Or is its goal to facilitate urban mobility? Those are two different things. If we want a bunch of infill stations with high accessibility within King County (good for development within King County), then that degrades regional travel times.

      Then in that case, is it Metro and Seattle’s job to provide the type of transport that would facilitate TOD?

      I bet no one can clearly answer this, because we haven’t really defined what each of these agencies should be doing (i.e. Which one should be connecting regional urban centers? Which one should be connecting neighborhoods within an urban area?)

      In the end, we have agencies stepping on top of each other providing duplicate services (just look at the I-90 corridor with the 554, 556, 210, 212, 214, etc.). And somehow Tacoma Link (streetcar) belongs to ST, but operates entirely within the city of Tacoma…

      Clearly defined roles and service requirements, whether it be travel times, accessibility, reliability or TOD potential, should be established from the beginning, but we haven’t done that.

      1. ST’s important role is that it’s the agency that’s allowed under state law to raise money for transit infrastructure. Therefore wherever transit infrastructure needs to be built ST is probably going to be involved.

        It would be better if the agencies had cleaner roles in terms of purpose, but the makeup and attitudes of the state legislature are largely out of “our” control (by any reasonable definition of “our”) and there’s already a bunch of institutional inertia. It’s not worth restructuring all that.

        I’m not so big on urban-suburban distinctions — to me, urban mobility is what you’re doing when you’re commuting or running errands, whether you’re going to Capitol Hill or Lynnwood. So urban mobility is obviously what ST is there for, and the long-haul stuff is one part of that. ST is the agency that does the big capital projects that are most important for overall urban mobility in the region. That covers a pretty wide range of stuff, before it even gets into the political CYA BS that it gets involved in.

        If ST poured all its money into, say, the city limits of Seattle, that would represent a failure in its duty, since Seattle accounts for only around a quarter of the people it represents. But if ST prioritizes travel times over all else, defining regional importance by distance rather than impact, that’s just as great a failure.

      2. Jason Lu, please stop using the phrase “King County” when I believe you mean “Northwest King County.” Transit with urban infill stations will only ever serve Seattle, the Eastside, and the near-in suburbs north of SR 518. That leaves the entire rural Cascade foothills, plus the south King County suburbs – roughly 75 percent of the county by area – excluded from your “King County” description. This gets very old for the residents of the “other” 3/4 of the county who often get excluded from these conversations. By the way, if you look at a map, Renton is better described as “West-Central” King County than “South” King County.

        Regarding your article, excellent work! We do need to define measureable objectives at the beginning of these projects. This is a common problem for the soft science of civil engineering. (Try quantifying pavement condition sometime and let me know what you come up with.) Quantifiable goals – as you suggest – would actually make the work of engineers & planners on regional transit projects much easier. And, when we determine that a particular objective is unattainable with ordinary cost-effective measures, we would go back to the drawing board and either adjust budget or suggest an alternative measureable objective. Thank you for the Pg2 Post.

    2. Al,

      I’m pretty sure Everett-to-Westlake was only used as an example. An “X-minute”-Everett-to-Westlake stipulation would exist amid hundreds or thousands of other access requirements, requirements like UW to Downtown in X minutes, UW to Capitol Hill in X minutes, Capitol Hill to Downtown in X minutes—from there you can see how such access requirements can be achieved in the context of other requirements.

      You’re right that thinking about these outcomes separately would have horrible results—express trains to nowhere everywhere. However, thinking about these outcomes in aggregate and considering them for their relative local and regional importance would produce more desirable results and a transportation system that makes sense for the most people.

      1. Don’t start with speed requirements, start with a vision. Is the top line of what we’re trying to accomplish an x-minute trip from y to z?

        Of course it isn’t! The top line is that we want a system that makes our lives better. In order to make our lives better it must be something we’d use. In order that we’d use it it has to go where we need to go.

        It’s never going to go where we need to go if our current origin-destination pairs are set in stone forever. A lot of that was built in the wake of freeways, without much thought for other modes of access. But it could go where we need to go if we build a system to transform the city! This requires a vision. And since we’re coming in so late, we have the great opportunity to learn from what other cities have done.

        It doesn’t take a complicated analysis with numeric requirements to realize you can only stop so many times between Seattle and Everett and have a fast trip; it doesn’t take a complicated analysis with numeric requirements to realize tighter stop spacing has diminishing returns along a freeway, but not so much in a dense neighborhood; it doesn’t take a complicated analysis with numeric requirements to realize freeway ramps are an absolute waste of station-area; it doesn’t take a complicated analysis with numeric requirements to realize station parking extends the reach of the station but doesn’t drive ridership from other stations the way that destinations do. The reason we’re building such a goofy system to the north isn’t that we didn’t look at enough numbers, it’s that we didn’t think seriously about what we wanted our system to do for our city.

      2. You’re right that we don’t start with travel time requirements and that a transportation system exists to make our lives better.

        But how does it do that? By providing access. That is our “top line”.

        Deciding how much access we can provide to given areas is our first step. Once that vision is determined, establishing travel time requirements is one way to guarantee the levels of access we have committed to providing.

      3. Yes, but the top thing that makes people’s lives better is good travel time, closely followed by frequency, span, and stations where concentrations of pedestrians are. People use transit as a means to get somewhere, not to spend time on the vehicle. Transit studies overwhelmingly show that the thing passengers hate most is a slow or unreliable vehicle, and the secondmost is waiting for it. So there’s travel time and frequency right there.

      4. Exactly, Mike.

        That map of access (and others like it) represents what you can reach considering all those elements you name (frequency, span, station placement). A consideration of travel times is inherent in the definition of access I’m using—for example, what you can access in 4 hours isn’t really important for day to day quality of life. Maximizing what we can access in 30 to 60 minutes is the outcome we should be aiming for; part of that is locating people closer to things and part of it is better connecting people to things. Deploying a transit service with a given speed, capacity, frequency, and span with interfaces in useful places is how we achieve that predetermined outcome.

      5. Also, let’s keep in mind the fact that the reason why freeways created sprawl was because it allowed people to go farther in less time.

        In other words, people were able to access remote areas because there were a ton of access points (exits/on-ramps) built along high-speed roads. It essentially turned the efficiency of transport into the inefficiency of space.

        That shows how crucial travel times are to land development. It’s not just about where to put a station. If someone has a station close to them, but it still takes them an hour to get to work, it solves nothing. If the car in their garage can get them there in 45 minutes, guess what they will use?

      6. It’s not freeways’ speed that created sprawl; it’s their centrifugal nature. If you’re in an SOV and can drive literally anywhere, why not have a house in some random sparse location and shop at big-box stores and gas stations at the furthest-out freeway exits. Trains are the opposite; they’re centripedal. It’s advantageous to live within walking distance from a station or a short bus ride away, so people concentrate there (and housing costs rise near stations, proving it). And trains lead to a linear chain of development, unlike, say, Woodinville. The fact that Sounder has not stopped sprawl or reversed it is not because Sounder’s 79 mph causes sprawl; it’s because Sounder exists in a freeway/SOV/P&R context that is much bigger than it is.

      7. “If you’re in an SOV and can drive literally anywhere, why not have a house in some random sparse location and shop at big-box stores and gas stations at the furthest-out freeway exits.”

        But that’s facilitated by the fact that the travel time required to reach those places are low (high accessibility). You can spend half an hour taking public transport and stay within the city, or you can spend half an hour driving to a far-flung suburb.

        Either way though, it comes down to accessibility to “perform actions”, i.e. shopping, go to work, going for a night out, etc. If a rural suburb allows you to reach all of those within 15 minutes by car, then people will use cars. If an urban neighborhood is designed with the 3D concept (density, diversity, design) and residents can reach their activities within 15 minutes by PT or non-motorized transport, then they will go by foot/bike/PT.

        So regarding the Sounder example, why would people want to live close to the station when there isn’t a diversity of functions that they can perform? We can argue that this situation should be changed, but that would require zoning changes and lots of other factors outside of ST’s control (and yes, like you said, including easy access to a high-speed freeway that allows people to go further in less time).

      8. In the early 1900s everybody took trains and lived near the stations because cars were uncommon and the roads were bad. The interurbans travelled around 30 mph so Sounder would have been considered high-speed rail. In that environment, Sounder would have accommodated further-out but not sprawling (low-density) development. That may or may not have been a good transit objective.

        In the current situation, cars and freeways are ubiquidous. Sounder either has no effect on development or slightly encourages closer-in living. Sounder only goes to well-established parts of the metropolitan area, not the furthest-flung exurbs. In that environment, Sounder may or may not be a good transit objective, but it does not exacerbate sprawl. It’s a tool to serve the population distribution that exists.

    3. Making the first, primary requirement, “We have to get from Everett to Westlake in x minutes,” would be idiotic.

      There are some fairly successful systems out there that do in fact plan that way.
      If you know that you need to reach between two major transit points in order to hit timed transfers at those two major transit points, the time you need to make between them is defined.

      Of course, that assumes that creating a regional network is a goal.

      Not that such goals should override everything else completely, but trying to plan around the natural rhythm of the system or network, or designing the system to have such a rhythm so as to reduce transfer time, can be extremely helpful.

  4. The Daily Journal of Commerce has a lead article today (5/18) about WSDOT’s plan to “do a lot more on a lot less”. Sec. Peterson of the WSDOT is looking at ways to right-size construction projects by moving away from past design standards and looking to design new projects using modern safety data as an integral part of the design process. Part of the new design process will be to focus on the desired outcome of the project. While it may seem strange that WSDOT hasn’t apparently focused on the desired outcome of a project in the past, it wasn’t until 4 years ago that there was a national Highway Safety Manual. It seems that projects in the past may have been over-designed, partly because routine maintenance was irregular, due to budget constraints and the legislative process. If the design process can focus more on the desired outcome of the project and spend less money on design overkill, more work can be accomplished.

  5. I think this is a very reasonable proposal. It would do a better job of setting expectations as well as providing for a better system in a demonstrable way.

    I think a lot of people (myself included) wanted to jump on the Everett to Seattle time estimate. My first thought was “Thank God we didn’t build that”. But then again, if that was our goal, then I think we would soon realize right away that it would be crap. Would Seattle want to pay for a system like that? I don’t think so. But that is fine — that means the estimates change, and people adjust their thinking on a project. If it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get from Everett to Seattle by rail (because of the other requirements) then I think those in Everett might not be so eager to push for it.

    I think the tricky thing is the other requirements. When I think of the big failures with Sound Transit, I think of the things that are harder to measure. Speed is fine and easy. Connectivity is not. Even ridership is not that easy. So, for example, there is no easy way to connect 520 buses with Link light rail, despite the fact that the line goes right under 520 (and 520 at that point is under the pedestrian walkway). Should that have been a requirement? If so, how should it have been worded? The same can be said for a NE 130th station. It is pretty obvious to anyone who knows anything about transit that it makes a lot of sense, but how, exactly, do you specify that a system works well and compliments the bus network?

    I could see this approach being used for West Seattle, but it would be tricky. You might say something like “provide 70% of the people in West Seattle with a half hour ride to downtown”. This would, of course, lead to either a really expensive light rail project, or BRT. That would be ideal, of course. But I’m not sure if Sound Transit is really thinking that way. They are much more likely to say something like “get from West Seattle to downtown in twenty minutes”, thus ignoring the fact that this would only improve the travel for a handful of people in West Seattle.

    This is really the problem. Anyone who has ever worked on projects “written to spec” knows that unless it is specified really well, you can build crap. This works great for bridges and the like, because there is a long history of that sort of thing. But as you start moving into more large scale systems, it becomes a lot harder. Designing a transit network means designing a very complex system, with lots of trade-offs.

    Ultimately, it means having an organization that is competent to make those sorts of trade-offs and then presenting the alternatives to the public. Right now, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, Sound Transit has failed in that regard. It would have been really easy and cheap to just add a flat spot under 520, so that a station could be added later. But that will never happen, and we are right now talking about sending more buses from 520 to downtown (to the tunnel no less). How’s that for crazy? I look forward to the transit map showing the bus route crossing right over the train route, then meeting up again in the same tunnel, while an outside observer just goes “Huh?”.

    I don’t think the problem, then, is a lack of specification. I think the problem is an organization that knows nothing about transit. There isn’t enough delegation. If I was Dow Constantine, I might ask for better transit for West Seattle (or some other area) but I certainly wouldn’t insist on light rail. I would want to provide the best value for the most people, even if I emphasized one area over another. I don’t see that with this board. If there was a more independent, knowledgeable staff, they would, of course, make integrating with buses a high priority. They would come to the conclusions we did. Maybe they might present a report saying “Here is what light rail to West Seattle would cost, and what it would mean” , to be followed by “but this is a much more cost effective — or just plain effective — set of improvements for the same area”. But it is obvious that this is being driven by politicians who want to say “I brought you rail” as opposed to “I brought you better transit”. It is bad enough that some areas (like West Seattle) get to jump in line, but it is terrible that we are thinking about spending billions for a clearly inferior system. Just about any independent expert transit organization would say so. But Sound Transit doesn’t have that. They have a bunch of politicians (and I like politicians) who are way out of their element, and think they know how good transit works, when they obviously don’t (and they are afraid to hire independent experts to tell them and provide alternatives).

    It reminds me of when McGinn was elected mayor. He knew transportation and he knew that the tunnel was stupid. But he was elected mayor. When faced with a typical big city mayor problem (how to deal with a big police force) he was lost. Right now we have the opposite. Constantine and Murray can handle problems like that (which is why they are decent administrators) but they know nothing about public transportation, and they haven’t bothered to delegate. That is problem.

    1. West Seattle isn’t likely to get light rail because ST is stupid; it’s because people in West Seattle have organized effectively and gotten the relevant politicians to advocate for them. Same thing for Ballard, for which Seattle Subway is effectively an advocate.

      if you really think a BRT system to West Seattle is superior for West Seattle, go to WSTC and convince them. If you convince the activists there, the chances of it happening skyrocket.

  6. Coming up with objectives and metrics to measure them as part of early project planning is crucial. It would give us all a common language that we lack now. Different groups (transit fans, politicians, planners, regular citizens, etc) bring their assumptions to the table, but those assumptions don’t get examined, and people just keep talking past one another because they don’t understand the others’ assumptions.

    Discussing, agreeing on and prioritizing objectives up front would be a huge step forward–Those assumptions would get examined, and we could get decisions made based on a consistent set of principles, rather than politics or drawing lines on maps because they look cool.

  7. I don’t think this vision — and some the others outlined in comments — have anything to do with how decisions are made in the Puget Sound. People don’t vote for requirements; they vote for projects with cost estimates and physical manifestations they can visualize.

    The Sound Transit network does reflect requirements; they’re just not the requirements you would prefer. One requirement is to maximize the number of votes a package can win; another is to fit within the funding authority provided in the legislature; another is to provide direct benefits for all parts of the district. Seattle essentially wants an urban subway; the suburban areas are generally interested in high-quality commuter rail. As there aren’t nearly enough existing rail lines for comprehensive commuter rail, and many lines that do exist are fundamentally flawed, we’re combining the purposes into the Link system.

    1. “People don’t vote for requirements; they vote for projects with cost estimates and physical manifestations they can visualize.”

      That’s a good point. But they are asked to vote “Yes or No for light rail with X amount of taxes”. Instead, they should be asked to vote “Yes or No for light rail that would connect Everett with Seattle in 60 minutes with X amount of taxes”.

      I think travel times would be a good indicator for “physical manifestations they can visualize” and I have a feeling that there would be less support for regional light rail if it was well-known that it would provide travel times equal to or worse than buses today.

      “Seattle essentially wants an urban subway; the suburban areas are generally interested in high-quality commuter rail.”

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and when done right, you can actually have both. But to have an effective system, we would need to determine the requirements for:

      1. Suburban travel times (influences stop spacing, vehicle acceleration/speed)
      2. Frequencies for the core area (where to combine multiple suburban routes to form high-frequency corridors)
      3. Accessibility to the stations (location and walkability to urban stations, catchment area for suburban stations and whether or not suburban park and rides will be needed to satisfy the catchment area)
      4. Many other strictly defined criteria

      But like you said, ST is geared towards satisfying political requirements, not necessarily operational requirements that truly affect the end user. In the end, we will have a system that satisfies political requirements, but not end users.

    2. It’s not always obvious what the requirements for past projects have been. And where it is obvious, some of the logic is questionable, if not completely flawed. And that makes it a lot easier to say “Sound Transit are imcompetent” than “I guess we need better priorities”.

      If those requirements were obvious, we would at least know why those decisions had been made, and be able to measure the outcome vs. the projections.

      1. “If those requirements were obvious, we would at least know why those decisions had been made, and be able to measure the outcome vs. the projections.”

        And if we can measure its outcomes and projections, that creates a foundation for discussion if it doesn’t work correctly.

        Local example: WSDOT’s goal for HOV lanes is to operate at 45+ mph at 90% of the time. Because this performance standard was identified, we (including STB) are able to identify situations when it doesn’t meet this goal (and pinpoint areas that affect bus reliability).

        Its performance deficiency is also used as leverage and support to invest in improvements, such as the I-405 Express Toll Lanes. Whether you support it or not is an entirely different discussion. But the fact that targets lead to better assessment and better assessment leads to action exemplifies why this is necessary.

  8. Two sides of the coin and both must be clarified. Is it “go where we need it to go” OR “stop where we need it to stop”?

  9. For the record, the TransitNow package did include specific RapidRide travel time objectives, including the “requirement” that the D line must both detour through LQA and also run as fast as the 15X between Market and Westlake.

    An impossible enough benchmark that there was no attempt whatsoever to come close to meeting it.

    1. Exactly. The King County Council settled on the tool (RapidRide) before considering if their chosen implement was capable of meeting goals they hadn’t even come up with yet (it wasn’t/isn’t)—the reverse of what Jason seems to be pushing for here.

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