GTFS for Microsoft Shuttles

I recently found out that Microsoft posts the schedules for its fixed route service on the publicly-accessible Those that are affiliated with Microsoft can also use the site to book rides for on-demand (e.g. intracampus) shuttles. Note this is not the same as the Microsoft Connector–the commute-oriented bus network whose reservations and schedules are part of a different application available only to Microsoft employees.

I’ve converted the shuttle data to GTFS, which you can download here. The GTFS is generated with a small PHP script.

Could this be added to OneBusAway? Maybe; the (also private) Children’s Hospital Shuttles are already there. Enterprising users can also grab OneBusAway Quickstart to host your own OBA server.

Roosevelt HCT Open Houses This Week

This is last-minute, but SDOT is doing some early open houses for Roosevelt-Downtown, one of the corridors identified in the Transit Master Plan for high-capacity transit (bus or rail):
South Lake Union
Monday, May 18
Y at Cascade’s People Center
309 Pontius Ave N, Seattle WA

Tuesday, May 19
UW Tower, Cafeteria North
4333 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle WA

Who Wants Their Bus in the Tunnel?

train and bus in tunnelThe Link connections exercise, which has spilled much ink on this blog, has focused on many elements of route paths, but not much on downtown routing.

After March 2016, only eight routes are currently planned to be in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, according to Alternative 3 of Metro’s and Sound Transit’s Link connections route restructure process, released last week: Routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 106, 150, 255, and ST Express 550.

The original proposal kept Route 73 in the tunnel, but the new proposal for route 73 turned it into an all-day neighborhood route to UW. Route 255 was scheduled to leave the tunnel in all previous proposals, but now is being left in the tunnel due to route 73’s departure.

We have discussed which routes ought to be in the tunnel, from a systemic view. But we haven’t posed the question: Who wants *their* bus in the tunnel?

This question is directed towards those who actually ride those routes, or would if it were moved upstairs / downstairs. You can suggest that your bus be moved into the tunnel, moved out, or remain right where it is. If you want your bus to leave the tunnel, please say where you want it to go downtown (or if you don’t want it to go downtown at all). Please include reasons.

I will start with my own route, 132. I would prefer it not be in the tunnel. It would have to make two extra turns to get into downtown. If it ends up there, I will ride it just the same, though, and won’t mind too much.

The Other Low-Income ORCA Card Fee

Per Rochelle Ogershok at King County, the ORCA Joint Board is considering adjusting the regular and youth card fees ($5), with a decision expected in the next two months. The Regional Reduced Fare Permit card fee ($3) is set by an interlocal agreement among all the members of the ORCA pod, plus a few more agencies outside the pod, so that fee is not being looked at.

kids on Laredo busIt should come as a shock to nobody that children disproportionately live in poverty. Indeed, the annual count done by Kids Count Data Center has the portion of children under 18 in Washington living below 200% of the federal poverty level hovering closely around 40%. That number contrasts with 28% of the state’s adult population qualifying as below 200% of the federal poverty level.

The ORCA Lift program’s eligibility threshold is 200% of the federal poverty level. However, the card is for adults. The fare structure, on the services that accept the LIFT ORCA, has the LIFT fare identical to the youth fare, at least when using ORCA.

One difference is the card fee. King County opted to not have a fee for the LIFT ORCA. The $5 youth card fee remains in place.

Many public school students get a free card, and loaded passes, through their school district. In those cases, the school district is assumedly eating the card cost.

Nearly every transit service in the ORCA pod allows riders 6-18 to pay the youth fare just by paying that amount of cash. The King County Water Taxis are the exception. So, there is little incentive to get the card, unless it is being offered for free through one’s school.

The agencies want to partially recuperate the administrative costs of card production and distribution. Of course, the agencies will probably save more in bus travel time speed-ups by simply offering the card for free. The main differences between the regular and youth administrative calculations is that youth card distribution is a little more expensive, and the transit agencies would end up charging the school districts less. (This would not necessarily be a bad result, if we want school district money to be spent first and foremost on education.) Also, there is little reason to believe youth cardholders would treat the card as disposable or swiftly replaceable.

The ORCA Joint Board may look to the $3 RRFP card fee (which is actually a “permit fee”, with the card technically being free) as a philosophical reason for keeping the regular card fee at least $3. However, there is nothing in law requiring that the RRFP permit or card fee be no higher than the regular card fee. Again, it comes down to gambling lots of service hours that people will readily pay $3 for the card rather than continue just paying with cash, years of evidence (See page 13.) to the contrary. And it would still leave ORCA as easily the most expensive bus smart card in the USA if one doesn’t count Utah Transit Authority’s Fare Pay, which exists only because not every rider has contactless debit/credit cards, which are readily accepted on UTA services.

Nor does the RRFP interlocal agreement pre-empt having $3 of e-purse pre-loaded on each new RRFP ORCA card.

Madison BRT Survey


As a follow-up to the recent open house on the Madison BRT project, SDOT is conducting a survey to gauge more feedback on the project.  If you have an opinion, now’s the time to share it.

SDOT’s Maria Koengeter also filled us in on a few details of the project, which is slated for opening in 2019, assuming it gets funding (such as the Move Seattle levy).  She indicated that, while no decisions have been made, the agency currently prefers the idea of a “closed system” that would look and feel more like a rubber-tire version of the Seattle Streetcar than a traditional Metro bus.  Depending on how the system was designed, however, it’s possible that Metro buses could use the same right-of-way.

If the system is extended to MLK, the assumption is that trolley wire would be built the whole distance.  We’d initially heard that articulated coaches couldn’t sustain the vertical bending required to climb Madison, but SDOT is confident that they can spec vehicles that can handle the climb.   SDOT would work with Metro to determine service hours and operating revenues as the project develops.

The survey closes May 24.

Top 10 Locations for Transit-Friendly Employers


There are several regional awards for transit-friendly employers, which usually recognize their implementation of programs that subsidize commute modes other than driving alone to work, or provide some other amenity or scheduling framework that supports car-free commuting. And that’s great, because there should be incentives for pro-social policies.

However, the best pro-transit policy is to choose a location that has good transit service in the first place. Cut-price transit passes and shower facilities only do so much if employees have to pay an enormous time penalty when getting out of their cars. If you’re an employer interested in attracting talent that doesn’t want to stare at taillights all day, here are some recommendations from your friendly local transit experts.

The criterion here is how much of the region is reachable with minimal time penalty over driving. If your employees want to live in Ballard or Capitol Hill or Puyallup or Bainbridge Island, can they get to your office in a reasonable amount of time or not? Since Seattle lies at the center of the region, its best-connected neighborhoods are among the most accessible ones. And of course, to be on this list there has to be an appreciable amount of office or industrial space.

10. Northgate. The minor office park district just south of the Northgate Transit Center is already a hub for bus service for prosperous North Seattle, including the freeway express #41 to Downtown. It’s also six years away from light rail, which will provide very quick connections to points in Central Seattle and the Eastside, and later will stretch into Snohomish County. The City also has ambitious plans for more commercial development here. If making a long-term siting decision, Northgate moves up a bit on this list when Link offers an alternative to the daily nightmare on I-5 reverse-commute to downtown.

9. Rainier/I-90. The modest commercial district strung along Rainier Avenue on either side of I-90 also surrounds the intersection of a very intense-yet-slow transit corridor (Rainier) and an intense-and-fast express bus corridor (I-90) with rapid, frequent connections to the downtown hub and the Eastside. In 8 years, Link will improve connections to the Eastside and transform its relationship with North Seattle.

Continue reading “Top 10 Locations for Transit-Friendly Employers”

News Roundup: Out of Scale

Yesler Terrace (Joe Wolf - Flickr)
Yesler Terrace (Joe Wolf – Flickr)

How Metro Should Revise “Alternative 3”

Trolley buses heading toward Capitol Hill. Photo by LB Bryce.

On Tuesday, Metro presented its new “Alternative 3” U-Link restructure proposal, and we reported on it.  This post is different: it’s an opinion piece about the changes I, personally, would like to see in the final proposal.  Some of these requests are easy, some are a bit harder, and the big one is a reach.  But I hope Metro’s hard-working planners will consider all of them.  (And, as everyone should, I will provide feedback to Metro through the normal channels as well as this post.)

Easy Wins:

  1. Keep the 271/45 through route.
  2. Move the 255 out of the tunnel.
  3. Move the 373 in the U-District to match the new 73.
  4. Send the 9 to Group Health.

Slightly Harder:

  1. Increase evening frequency on the 8.
  2. Move the 271 so it can serve Evergreen Point.

The Big Reach: Restructure Capitol Hill (again), in a way that should be easier to implement and easier for riders to understand.

Details below the jump.

Continue reading “How Metro Should Revise “Alternative 3””

SDOT Proposes New Bus Lane, Pedestrian Signal for Ballard

The Seattle Department of Transportation has, at last, formally proposed a Ballard transit project I’ve been hearing rumors of for nearly a year: a northbound Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane for 15th Ave NW, between the Ballard Bridge and Market Street. This stretch of 15th Ave is one of its most congested sections, and it currently lacks any kind of transit priority. The new lane should bring about a noticeable improvement in transit travel times and reliability.

Ballard BAT lane

The project has, furthermore, been extended to include a major walkability upgrade: a new pedestrian signal at 52nd St. This half-mile of 15th is a six-lane car sewer comparable to Aurora, and while it is legal to cross at all of the intersections between 51st and 54th, in practice, a person would have to be insane to attempt any of those crossings when the road is busy. Today, 15th between Leary and Market is a wall to pedestrians and bicyclists, and this crossing will bisect that wall.

I have nothing but good things to say about the proposed work. The cost in dollars to restripe a road is minimal, and the street space being reallocated for transit is coming from a turn lane that almost no-one uses. SDOT is doing a great job of improving RapidRide D on a shoestring capital budget.

For pedestrians and bikes, this new signal will singlehandedly make 52nd the safest, lowest-stress way to cross 15th between the 58th St Greenway and the Interim Burke-Gilman trail (is it time for another Ballard Greenway route?). I’d argue this new striping will even improve life for drivers, who will have a less-stressful merge onto 15th from Leary.

My only regret is that the project will not involve any sidewalk work on 15th (other than at 52nd): the current sidewalks are broken, narrow and and inaccessible. Still, sidewalks are very expensive, and the prospects for this area to redevelop are good enough that it makes sense to wait and get new sidewalks for free.

Watch this space for more proposals (from SDOT) and ideas (from STB) on making the Elliott/15th corridor better for all users.

Metro Releases Next U-Link Restructure Draft

(Metro’s “Ted Talks” about each subarea are available on Metro’s website.)

In March, Metro released two alternative proposals for the service change that will take place in March 2016, at roughly the same time Sound Transit’s University Link opens.   We spent a lot of time covering (and mostly praising) “Alternative 1,” an ambitious restructure of service in Capitol Hill, northeast Seattle, and across SR-520.  “Alternative 2” was strictly a minimum change proposal.  As planned, Metro has now developed a single new proposal, based on feedback it received on Alternatives 1 and 2.  This proposal will be subject to one more round of feedback, after which Metro will send a final proposal to the King County Council for adoption.

The new proposal can be summarized like this:

  • In Northeast Seattle, Alternative 1 was adopted almost entirely, with only minor changes.
  • In Capitol Hill, Metro got negative feedback on both alternatives, and this proposal is substantially different from either of them.
  • Across SR-520, Alternative 2 was adopted—that is, almost nothing will change.

We should emphasize that, unlike either Alternative 1 or Alternative 2, this proposal includes funding from Seattle Proposition 1.  The service levels in this proposal are the service levels riders can actually expect to see in March 2016.

We remain as enthusiastic as always about the Northeast Seattle restructure, which will bring 15-minute service to a startling number of new corridors and create several new connections.  The Capitol Hill restructure is a “minimum pain” change for everyone but Montlake residents—but it’s also “minimum gain,” with several opportunities missed to increase frequency and connect riders to Link.  With three regular SR 520 riders on staff, we are quite disappointed by the abandonment of any change along SR 520.

Details below the jump.  And, as with our earlier coverage, many thanks to Zach Shaner for serving on Metro’s Sounding Board and providing much assistance with these posts.

Continue reading “Metro Releases Next U-Link Restructure Draft”

The Eastside Needs Better Choices

ST Express 545 arriving at Evergreen Point. The busy SR 520 corridor is not on the draft priority list for high-capacity transit investments

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Executive Board reviewed a proposed draft project list for the Sound Transit 3 ballot. On May 28, the full Board will consider and perhaps amend this list. After June 4, the public will be asked to comment on the draft project list, and the subsequent comment will guide the Board in further whittling down the list to a feasible proposal for ST3.

Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick explained yesterday that the public outreach will “ask people’s views about the priority level for each project on the draft list, and to identify projects they think should be added or deleted”. The public will not be specifically asked about projects that are not on the draft list. So while the door is not closed to members of the public who may point to their own priorities, the presented options will be the “starting point for the Board and public’s conversation”.

Predictably, the draft project list for Snohomish, Pierce and South King is focused on completing the spine. All of their projects are just alternate alignments for doing so. Snohomish’ goals will be hard to achieve without large revenue transfers from elsewhere. The draft list includes costly projects such as alignments to Everett via Paine Field and a further extension to North Everett.

North King has ten projects to consider; all are light rail and would serve West Seattle or Ballard. Mayor Ed Murray would like to add Madison BRT to the list. The quality of the eventual outcomes in North King will depend on how these goals are balanced.

East King has just three options on the draft list. These are (i) the Eastlink extension to Redmond, (ii) I-405 BRT from Lynnwood to Seatac, and (iii) a light rail line from Totem Lake to Issaquah via the ERC and I-90.

The first two are highly likely to be in the final plan, and I endorsed their inclusion along with the BRISK BRT network last week. The last cannot, because even the maximum revenue authority sought by Sound Transit won’t support all three. The high-end cost estimate for Totem Lake to Issaquah rail is $2.67B (vs. about $900M each for East Link and I-405 BRT). With Eastside revenues well under $4B, Sound Transit could build to either Totem Lake OR Issaquah, but not both. Depending on the size of the final revenue authorization and competing demands from Everett, they may not build either end.

Continue reading “The Eastside Needs Better Choices”

How the NBA/NHL Arena Sites Stack Up

It’s probably a sign of regional progress that access to transit always receives prominent mention in any discussion of a potential arena site. I suspect that wouldn’t have happened in 1965 or 1980 or even 1995, although in each of those cases we didn’t have much in the way of traffic-separated transit that freed attendees from horrendous pre- and post-game congestion.

Sodo arena
Sodo arena

According to the wonderful NHL to Seattle blog, there are three arena sites still under consideration: the well-known Chris Hansen Sodo site, Downtown Bellevue east of I-405, and a new location near the Tukwila Sounder station. Superficial glances at route maps are nice step, but how do the transit features of each site stack up to an expert eye?

Sodo (1st Ave S & S Holgate St)

Assets: Central regional location. Within reasonable walking distance of the great Sodo/Pioneer Square transit hub, providing access to ferries, Link,  Sounder, and the busway. Regular service runs frequently deep into the night and on weekends.

Liabilities: Most of those assets are a long walk away, with frustratingly indirect pathways, and are unpleasant for pedestrians.

Scope for Improvement: Major work to improve pedestrian access. Most effective (and expensive) would be to break up some of the superblocks and provide new exits to Sodo and Stadium stations, providing more direct access to the arena that lies between them.

Overall Grade: B+. People would take transit to events here no matter where they live, although fewer than would if the arena were an easier walk.

Bellevue (NE 4th St & 116th Ave NE)

Continue reading “How the NBA/NHL Arena Sites Stack Up”

March 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Taking off again?


It looks like Link’s ridership growth is pulling out of last winter’s slowdown. Throw out last February’s Superbowl parade and so far this year Link is growing at around 9%. Last year’s ridership gains were so high (high teens!), I don’t think it possible to match them this year, but a return to low double digits (what it was averaging before last year) would be nice. It would also be enough to comfortably get us back to pre-launch (and pre-recession) estimates.

March’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 32,893 / 21,898 / 17,452, growth of 9.9%, -2.2%, and 3.2% respectively over March 2014. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 10.4% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 6.9%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 3.0%. System wide weekday boardings were up 5.9%, and all boardings were up 8.0%. The complete March Ridership Summary is here.

Sounder is doing great, 25% growth in Jan, 10% in both Feb and March. ST Express is marching along. How much more can it grow before overcrowding becomes an issue? Tacoma Link seems to have finally turned around. New employer down there?

My charts below the fold. Continue reading “March 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Taking off again?”

News Roundup: Tunnel Bid

Bellevue Transit Center (Dan Reed – Flickr)
Bellevue Transit Center (Dan Reed – Flickr)

This is an open thread. 

ST Staff Submits “Draft Draft” ST3 Project List

ST3 Draft Draft.pdf-10

At Thursday’s Sound Transit Executive Committee meeting, the staff presented its proposal for the draft project list for Sound Transit 3.  The board will amend and approve this draft list at this month’s meeting and there will be public comment all summer. In the fall, Sound Transit will launch more detailed studies with refined cost and ridership estimates of all these projects. Next June, the Board may decide on overall package size and define its approach to subarea equity, allowing to pick from this menu of choices and determine what goes on the ballot.

Any worries that the study concepts last month limited the range of projects were unfounded. Nearly every project covered in one of last year’s long-range plan studies appears here, with some new permutations. There are five categories of project:

  1. ST2 Leftovers: anything voters approved in ST2 that ST had to defer due to the recession; most notably, Link to Star Lake.
  2. Existing system enhancements: infill stations, Sounder runs, DSTT improvements, etc.
  3. Corridors from the ST2 High Capacity Transit (HCT) studies: both the spine (North Everett/Tacoma Mall/Redmond) and “additional corridors” in Seattle and on the Eastside.
  4. Systemwide programs from the LRP: IT and access improvements, more corridor studies, financial reserves.
  5. Supporting System Expansion: vehicles, maintenance facilities, ST4 planning.

I’ve reproduced the other slides that have specific projects below. I chatted with ST bigwig Ric Ilgenfritz to clear up some points that might not be evident from the short descriptions.

Continue reading “ST Staff Submits “Draft Draft” ST3 Project List”

Seattle’s Parking Proposals are Reality-Size

Screen shot 2015-05-06 at 10.34.53 PM

City council member Tom Rasmussen stopped by the council’s planning and land use committee this week to express his view that the city’s new parking recommendations—which would, among other things, continue to allow new developments to be built sans parking, while encouraging alternatives to driving such as carsharing, biking, and riding transit—might violate the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The recommendations (all meeting materials available here) were based on a survey of 219 newly reviewed or permitted residential developments in parts of Seattle where no parking is required, which found that three-quarters of developers are choosing to build parking anyway, despite the fact that parking adds between $20,000 and $50,000 per space to the cost of new developments (or about $500 a month per unit in rent) and reduces the total number of units that can fit in a development. The market, not the government, determines whether a developer chooses to build parking.

The developments with parking comprised 16,600 units; only 2,400 units in the survey will have no parking, mostly in places with easy access to frequent transit such as Capitol Hill, the Central District, Ballard, and the U District. The rest will average 0.55 spaces per unit.

Screen shot 2015-05-06 at 10.37.00 PM

A separate survey, King County’s “Right-Sized Parking” study, found that in Seattle, about 35 percent of parking spaces in multifamily buildings go unused, becoming, in planning committee chair Mike O’Brien’s words, “a wasted resource.”

Continue reading “Seattle’s Parking Proposals are Reality-Size”

Making “BRISK” a Reality

This week, I’ve sketched out an Eastside package Sound Transit should consider for ST3 funding. A key element of that is the BRISK network that would connect the Eastside with fast, frequent and reliable HCT service. Today, I’d like to discuss what it might cost and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

Assuming a $15 billion dollar ST3 package and subarea equity, all of the lines described can be built. The complete portfolio of capital improvements described may, depending on the accuracy of the cost estimates, is roughly in line with the projected east subarea revenue. The cost estimates are based on Sound Transit’s corridor studies, augmented with guesstimates for additional capital investments not in their corridor studies. Those estimates are derived from actual costs from comparable projects elsewhere in the region, but some of those estimates are necessarily speculative.

No funding from the cities, WSDOT, or the Federal Transit Administration is assumed. However, Congress has shown interest in supporting high-quality BRT services as part of ongoing Federal Transportation Bill discussions, so it’s possible future funding may be available.

While the projects are somewhat differently arranged, all of the corridors proposed have analogues within combinations of corridors studied by Sound Transit in 2014 (plus the East Link extension). BRISK matches Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan with HCT or BRT as an identified service for all of these corridors.

Their mid-point capital costs from Sound Transit’s corridor studies are:

ST Corridor Study Alignment Capital Cost ($ 2013)
East Link from Overlake to Redmond $760M
I-405 BRT (Alternative A3B, I-405 Study) $800M
UW to Totem Lake (Alternative B1a, UKR Study) $210M
UW to Redmond via 520 (Alternative C1, UKR Study) $55M
Totem Lake to Issaquah + Highlands Extension (Alternative B1, B1a, KBI Study)


By Sound Transit’s numbers, that would mean a total capital investment of $3,230M. Arguably $200M or more of I-405 BRT costs should be assigned to Snohomish County, commensurate with ridership. The remaining $3,030M would fit very comfortably within a fully funded ST3 package. However, network I’ve described is more robust than the corridor studies assume. Major additional elements include direct access ramps and inline stations to improve access and travel times. These add incremental capital costs could add roughly $820M, for a total of $3,850M. That’s slightly over one-fourth of ST3 projected revenues, so just on the edge of what’s possible.

Continue reading “Making “BRISK” a Reality”

Madison BRT Open House Tonight

SDOT Image
SDOT Image

Since we last reported on the Madison Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project back in February, SDOT and Nelson Nygaard have been busy refining concepts with an eye toward identifying a Draft Preferred Alternative in June. Tonight from 5-7pm, SDOT will host an open house at Seattle Academy (1432 15th Avenue) to update the public on the status of the project. Tonight’s presentation will reveal SDOT’s updated thinking on several key decision points for the project, including but not limited to:

  • Downtown’s eastbound pathway: Marion or Spring?
  • Downtown’s western terminus: 1st, Western, or Alaskan Way?
  • Eastern terminus: 23rd Avenue or MLK?
  • “Open” or “Closed” system?
  • Center,  Side-Running, or a mix of both?
  • Where should the I-5 vicinity stations be located? 6th or 8th Ave?
  • How should SDOT integrate bicycle facilities along the corridor?

This is a very important stage in the process, and if you live, work, or travel along this corridor, we encourage you to attend tonight’s meeting. Just as one example, alignment decisions made now will have cascading effects on the eventual shape of the line. For instance, a side-running solution could be an “open” system shared by several routes, which would frame the BRT project as primarily a capital improvement that could adapt to various service planning concepts over the years. By contrast, choosing a center-running solution that requires left door boarding would turn a capital project into a permanent service planning concept as well, requiring new vehicles and a dedicated route in perpetuity. Whether this would be a feature or a bug is for SDOT, Metro, and the public to decide, but the decisions and tradeoffs are substantial.

If available, we will update this post tomorrow with SDOT’s slides from the presentation.