Describing “BRISK” in More Detail

Orange Line - Los Angeles, CA
Orange Line in Los Angeles Source: EMBARQ Brasil

In this post, I’ll provide more details on the BRISK (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Seattle, Kirkland) network, which is one component of a ST3 package that I hope Sound Transit will consider over the next few months. Sound Transit has studied each of these individual corridors, but there are areas where STB readers would probably like additional details as well as areas where enhancements to Sound Transit’s concepts are desirable. The goal of BRISK would be a full-featured BRT system meeting these standards:

  • Right-of-way: Buses would generally operate in right-of-way which has been prioritized over general purpose traffic. This could be done using busways (at-grade or elevated, similar to the LA Metro Orange Line), HOV3+/HOT lanes, or median bus only lanes. Avoiding lower quality solutions like HOV2+, curb bus only lanes, or BAT lanes would be desirable.
  • Service Frequency: Buses would come frequently, all-day long. High frequency service is key to reducing total travel times, particularly for trips that include a transfer to/from Link.
  • Stations: Stations would be fully equipped with off-board fare collection and level boarding much like Swift. Station spacing will vary by corridor and segment with regional travel in mind.
  • Vehicles: Lines would use articulated buses with 3 full-width doors, passive restraint systems, easy to circulate interiors and in-bus bike storage. Again this is much like Swift.
  • “Open” System: In addition to the core BRT routes, parts of the system could be be used by local Metro or ST Express buses to maximize the usefulness of the capital investments.
“BRISK” BRT Network

Community Transit’s Swift and LA Metro’s Orange Line are good examples of BRT lines which meet some of these standards. The Orange Line is a particularly good example for ERC segments since it too was a former railroad corridor and has a multiuse trail along it.  The descriptions below build off of Sound Transit’s existing studies, adding features and modifying routing.

Totem Lake – Kirkland – UW (Purple)

  • Sound Transit’s B1a route from the University District-Kirkland-Redmond Corridor Report is very similar to this route. On average 8,100 daily transit riders used buses in this corridor during 2014.
  • This line would likely replace the current 255/540 and would mostly travel along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland P&R. From the ERC, buses would access the SR 520 HOV 3+ lanes. After crossing SR 520, buses would access UW Station via a new Montlake crossing and an off-street bus-rail transfer station.
  • Like existing successful services on this corridor, this route serves the more transit-oriented neighborhoods in the city, but delivers better travel times between those neighborhoods than the often-congested 108th Ave NE corridor and surface streets between downtown and Totem Lake.
  • Downtown Kirkland would be served with a deviation from the ERC because the ERC skirts the edge of the downtown. There are a variety of ways this could be achieved and Sound Transit should study the options, with the goal of minimizing mix-traffic operations and balancing coverage while also minimizing out of direction travel. Routing options through downtown include 6th Street/Central Way or via the Transit Center on 3rd St.
  • The routing in Totem Lake would exit the ERC near 124th NE crossing that street on an elevated alignment. It would then continue via bus lanes to the transit center and onward to the freeway stop at NE 132nd. This would be a useful connection point to I-405 BRT. The line would reach within easy walking distance of much of the urban center, promoting transit oriented redevelopment in the area.
  • A trail along the corridor would be protected and improved. Capital investments in bus-way facilities should be leveraged to improve the pedestrian/bike experience. For instance, an elevated crossing at NE 124th St could also serve trail users, reducing or eliminating many of today’s conflicts with cross-traffic.

Continue reading “Describing “BRISK” in More Detail”

Metro to Add (Mostly) Suburban Service

What a difference a year makes.  Less than a year, actually.

Metro Route 372
Metro Route 372, targeted for investment. Photo by Kris Leisten.

We spent last summer reporting on the dramatic, high-stakes conflict between Metro, County Executive Dow Constantine, and a faction of the County Council led by Councilmember Rod Dembowski over whether Metro would need to carry through the four increasingly painful rounds of service cuts it planned following the failure of King County Proposition 1.  In the end, of course, Metro made only the first of the four rounds of cuts, under protest that canceling the other cuts made its financial future uncertain.

The growing economy, and possibly fading memories, have apparently eliminated the uncertainty.  It looks like Councilmember Dembowski’s gamble ended up paying off.

In November, Seattle voters passed Proposition 1, using city funds to restore (and then some) the cut service hours within the city.  Late last Friday, the other shoe dropped: Metro announced a new investment in service hours, using its own funds.  Almost all of these service improvements come from the county’s own revenue, and the county cites a laundry list of sources: low diesel prices, higher-than-expected sales tax receipts, and new state grants.  The new investment will add 69,000 service hours, which, combined with Prop 1, essentially makes up for the September cuts.

The catch: all of these Metro improvements are to service not covered by Prop 1.  More below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro to Add (Mostly) Suburban Service”

Piecing Together an Eastside ST3 Package

Last week, I presented some goals that I and several others have considered for ST3 on the Eastside. While there are a range of opinions on specific routes, certain messages came through in comments very clearly. ST3 needs to deliver improved connections across the Eastside. While commuter express service is important, improvements to the core network between urban centers are key.

So where does this all take us? To start this discussion, I’ve pulled together a package of investments that I hope Sound Transit will consider over the next few months as it develops a ST3 package. The package includes:

  • Extending East Link to Downtown Redmond. This is the most logical next-step on the Eastside.
  • Investing in I-405 BRT. I-405 BRT isn’t a win for walkable, mixed-use communities, but it’s the only real solution to address the mobility challenges of the suburban I-405 corridor. Option A3a from Sound Transit’s I-405 Corridor Study is a service-focused BRT concept with a four route “trunk-and-branch” service network and new direct access ramps. Option A3b is a single route that runs up and down the I-405 corridor. These options don’t include all of the bells and whistles, but they advance the corridor in a meaningful way while not over-investing in a corridor that will always be auto-dominated. I-405 is one true “Eastside” corridor and a ST3 package that doesn’t provide improved mobility along it, albeit a commuter focused solution that is contingent on HOV/HOT lanes, will not resonate with Eastside voters.
  • Investing in a 5 line, full-featured BRT network along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), SR 520 and I-90 corridors including:
    • BRT from Issaquah to Totem Lake via the I-90 HOV lanes, Richards Rd, Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. I’ve assumed this would operate as two lines but it could operate as one line. Sound Transit has studied this (Alternative C2) but improved high-quality connections into urban centers are key. I’ll have more on that and what I mean by “full featured BRT” and “high-quality connections” in a later post.
    • BRT from Totem Lake to UW Station via Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. This too has been studied by Sound Transit (Alternative B1a) and would leverage the investment made for the project above. High-quality connections between SR 520 and UW Station are key. More on this later.
    • Upgrading key Metro and ST Express routes to full-featured BRT. The most important routes are 542/545 (Redmond-Seattle), 271 (the Issaquah-Bellevue portion), and 554/212 (between Issaquah and Mercer Island). This would be achieved by leveraging the investments of the projects above in addition to new in-line freeway stations, bus-rail transfer facilities (at UW Station and Mercer Island Station), arterial bus only lanes and other capital investments to allow buses to operate separately from general purpose traffic.

For ease of reference, I’ve nicknamed the list group of projects as BRISK (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Seattle, Kirkland) BRT network. So why do I think this package of investments makes sense? Here’s why: Continue reading “Piecing Together an Eastside ST3 Package”

Limitations of Light Rail as Regional Transport (Part 1)

Deutsche S-Bahn

With light rail expansion and planning well on its way, things look positive for rail transport in the Puget Sound Region. The momentum and demand for rail-based transport in the region appears higher than ever, with residents beginning to realize that our current transport network is simply inadequate for the growth rate in this region. When a single fish truck can bring the region to hours of standstill, transport alternatives cannot come soon enough.

However, as with every major project, there is always a time to step back and once again look at the big picture. What type of transport objectives are we trying to accomplish? What kind of connections and services do we need?

But here is the biggest question that we need to answer before Sound Transit 3: What exactly are we building right now?

The simple answer is, of course, light rail. The more complicated answer is that we are building a regional light rail network.

And that could be a problem, because light rail vehicle technology is not intended for regional services. If Sound Transit pushes these vehicles to compete with cars between Everett and Seattle, or Tacoma and Seattle, it will have to find a delicate compromise between competitive travel times and travel time reliability. Let’s discuss why.

Vehicle performance matters in a regional context

Continue reading “Limitations of Light Rail as Regional Transport (Part 1)”

Hack The Commute Winner


Last Wednesday night the City of Seattle and it sponsors held the Hack the Commute Championship Round to determine the winner of the contest which began last month. The panel of judges was comprised of Microsoft Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Planning Kurt DelBene, Google Transit Engineer Brian Ferris, City of Seattle Deputy Mayor of Operations Kate Joncas, SDOT Director Scott Kubly, and Commute Seattle Executive Director Jessica Szelag. Three finalists presented:


Slugg is an app to help people create informal on demand carpools. Slugg is very similar to the practice of slugging but with one key difference: users will only be matched with other users that are employed by the same company. Those seeking rides simply open the app and will be presented with a list of those offering rides, and a countdown until the driver is planning on leaving.

Hackcessible – Access Map

Access Map is a web-based map that helps those with mobility issues find routes throughout Seattle. The data, which comes from a variety of sources, includes grade (elevation change) information, the location of curb ramps, public elevators, construction projects, and bus stops. In the future, Access Map hopes to crowdsource some of their data, and also wants to share the data to help the city find problem places or identify the most accessible places of the city.

Work Orbit

Work Orbit is a web-based commute planning tool targeted at newcomers to Seattle. Users input their work address and can view walk sheds, bike sheds, and bus sheds of commutes that are 20, 40, or 60 minutes away. The tool also includes data from Zillow to help users get a feel for various neighborhoods that are within the commute range of their work. Work Orbit also plans to integrate overlays with Pronto! stations as well as existing and future Link stations.

…and the winner is: Hackcessible

The team members will walk away with a prize package and will continue to refine their app. Here’s to hoping the city will provide ongoing support for the project, which seems likely given the city’s commitment to open data. Mayor Ed Murray noted that he was just as excited to meet OneBusAway creator Brian Ferris as he was meeting Russell Wilson.

Puget Sound Rail Bias is Rational

I come with priors into this discussion. For years detractors said we didn’t need light rail, that theoretical arrangements of bus service could do the job. If only WSDOT demand managed road capacity on I-5 properly, rapid buses would serve the UW-downtown market much more cheaply than U-Link. And with open BRT those buses could fan out to destinations all over Seattle and the Eastside without forcing a transfer.

Without actually running the numbers, I suspect that argument is broadly true; and yet I feel absolutely sure that if our strategy was to “pressure” WSDOT to do the right thing this transit trip would be just as aggravating in 2016 as it is today.

As the region discusses Sound Transit 3, local decisionmakers are showing a clear preference for light rail over freeway-based BRT solutions, along the I-5 corridor and elsewhere. This is presumably in response to input from constituents. And once again, skeptics are making completely valid technical points about what buses could accomplish.

Freeways are a form of grade separation, making them seductive for rapid transit. However, freeway expresses rely on our brittle highway system, which does not truly insulate transit operations from meltdowns of various kinds. In practice they are not run for rapid transit, resulting in suboptimal operations:

  • WSDOT doesn’t manage High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to ensure free-flowing traffic, partly due to resistance from existing carpoolers.
  • In some cases, HOT lanes will inject more traffic into HOV lanes. More generally, tolling instituted for demand management (as opposed to revenue to pay off projects) hasn’t materialized at all. When the system is most under stress, the optimal toll will likely exceed an arbitrary peak toll set by the legislature for PR reasons, resulting in congestion.
  • WSDOT doesn’t go out of its way to ensure HOV and transit priority during construction episodes, again discouraging transit use when the system needs it most.

These problems will only get worse as the region continues to grow, and inadequate upzones in transit-rich areas force people into cars.

Continue reading “Puget Sound Rail Bias is Rational”

Recently on Page 2: Island Transit, Boeing Access Road, and Metro 1985

Those of you who follow us on channels like Twitter or Facebook may not be aware of Page 2, our reader-powered community section.  If you haven’t been reading Page 2, below are a few recent highlights.

First, the indefatigable Joe Konzlar has been doggedly pursuing the saga of Island Transit, where local officials are debating whether or not to charge fares for the first time.  Here’s a bit from his latest post:

One thing worth noting is that it’s now 21 April and no final decision has been made even to keep the County Connectors going.   Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson (Republican) is really attempting to force the beginning of public hearings on the service change with more passion and vigor than Island County Commissioner Rick Hannold’s (Republican) pontificating bordering on rambling about the need for a fare.

One should note that come Friday will be 67 days before the possible end of this service.  Sixty seven days.  Yet it seems Island Transit Board has been timid since knowing there was a crisis in November.

Back on this side of the Sound, Mike Orr went deep on the pros and cons of Boeing Access Road station, which was deferred from the original LINK alignment but is back in the news again.  Here’s an excerpt:

The 150 goes from Kent to Southcenter to downtown passing very near BAR Station. Metro has so far been unwilling to truncate it at Rainier Beach Station. Would Tukwila support truncating it at BAR Station? Southcenter-Westlake travel time on the 150 is 38 minutes at 5pm, 31 minutes at 9pm. Transferring to Link would take around 45 minutes (10 minutes bus, 30 minutes train, 5 minutes transfer). Aleksandra Culver has outlined how Metro could improve South King County’s network by extending the 164 and 180 to Rainier Beach Station to replace the 150.  This could be modified to BAR Station, and would give 10-minute combined frequency between Kent Station and BAR.

Finally, GuyOnBeaconHill unearthed maps and schedules of Route 15 and 18 from 1985, giving us a picture of what transit service was like on the West side of town 30 years ago (and putting RapidRide C and D in perspective):

In 1985, the 15 and 18 followed identical routes from approximately Harbor Island to just north of the Ballard Bridge. Together, they provided local service on 1st Avenue South in SODO and operated through downtown Seattle on 1st Avenue to the Seattle Center and Ballard. Midday headways on both routes was 40 minutes, which provided service every 20 minutes for Interbay, downtown and SODO; but Alki, Fauntleroy, 15th Avenue NW and 24th Avenue NW only saw a bus every 40 minutes. Today, most of those corridors get headways of 15 minutes or less.

All this and much more on Page 2.  If you’re interested in contributing, sign up for an account.

Bonus Feature: Latest Comments

While we’re going deep on STB features, it seems like a good time to mention a new feature on the site: latest comments.  It does just what it says on the tin: displays all comments, in reverse chronological order, across all STB threads.  You can bookmark the page or find it by clicking on the “talk bubble” icons in the “Stay in Touch” area of the sidebar.

News Roundup: Review Review

Tukwila Station (photo by the author)
Tukwila Station (photo by the author)

This is an open thread.