Montlake Stops are Moving

montlakeAfter much STB hand-wringing over the distance between existing Montlake Triangle bus stops and the coming UW Station, at the last meetup Metro revealed that they’re working to improve the status quo.

Sending most 520 buses to UW Station instead of downtown saves service hours that Metro and Sound Transit can use to improve frequency to UW. It can also save time and improve reliability to downtown, but only if Seattle provides transit priority on Montlake Blvd. and the transfer penalty due to stop placement isn’t onerous. That’s why early failures to rethink car and transit flow in the Triangle were so disappointing.

The latest concept is a significant improvement over the status quo. In the figure, the half-green circles are pick-up only, the half-red circles are drop-off only, and the yellow circles are both. Among all-day routes, the 44, 45, and 67 would stop immediately across the street from the station. These routes also terminate there, so transfers from frequent Link to (relatively) infrequent buses should be reliable.

The 48 and 271 would have a southbound stop very close to the station’s south entrance. Their northbound stop, closer to the hospital than the station, would split into a boarding-only and dropoff-only stop, the latter a quicker operation that would block the lane near the intersection for a shorter amount of time. As both routes will terminate in the U-District, few people would likely board at this stop.

Link Excuse of the Week: Columbia City Beatwalk

Beatwalk is a neighborhood music festival held in Columbia City for the past 21 years. After the successes of 2013 and 2014, this year will also be a whole series of events held the second Sunday of the month June-October from 6-10pm. All shows, indoor and out, will be FREE. The location of downtown Columbia City is a short walk east from the Columbia City Link station.

Each Sunday event will have its own theme and unique lineup. Tomorrow’s will be funk oriented:

Join us Sunday, June 14 as we kick-off Beatwalk 2015 and celebrate Beatwalk’s 21st Birthday! Funky Times is the theme and we have a freakin’ phenomenal line-up! Get your groove on to Grace Love & The True Loves, The Chancellors and Thaddillac! KEXP’s DJ Johnny Horn will be spinning fantastic tunes on the street! There will be the usual circus of buskers on the sidewalks and spoken word artists. Also be sure and check out our new youth initiative program! As always it is FREE and Family Friendly!

For more information check out their facebook page.

See past Link excuses here.

Two Cheers for Customer Service


I’m eager to rip Sound Transit when their operations department does rider-unfriendly stuff, so it’s fair to commend them for absolutely flooding the zone with employees during tunnel closures the last two weekends.

I had a couple of trips to the Sodo/Stadium area on Sunday, and there was so much staff there that no one could be confused about the transfer to the 97. With an unusually high tourist content, this human contact was worth any number of online tweets and alerts.

Moreover it seemed like there was pretty much always a 97 around when people got off the train, minimizing the delay for riders.

Bravo to Sound Transit.

East Link Stations Named


On Thursday, the Sound Transit Capital Committee approved permanent names for the planned East Link stations. Their recommendation will go to the Board for approval on June 25th.

Six of the ten planned stations have ‘new’ names. Names were selected after a public comment process with input from the cities. Sound Transit received 823 comments from the public and affected jurisdictions. Most notable was a suggestion that Rainier Station be renamed for Jimi Hendrix. The Committee instead recommended ‘Judkins Park’, but with a staff recommendation that the art and legacy of Jimi Hendrix be reflected in the station design.

Names also had to meet naming criteria established by the Board. They should reflect the nature of the environment, such as neighborhoods, street names, landmarks, or geographical locations. Names should be brief, easy to read and remember. They must comply with federal ADA guidelines and be limited to 30 characters. Commercial references are to be avoided because they may change. Similar names or words in existing facility names should also be avoided.

The Committee approved an amendment from Mayor Claudia Balducci to reverse the names for some stations in Bellevue so that they not start with the numbered street name first. Putting the numbers first would have created wayfinding and legibility issues.

So, drumroll please, here are the approved names, and some runners-up from the public input process:

Temporary Working Name Public/City Input Recommended Name
Rainier Jimi Hendrix Park; Judkins Park Judkins Park
Mercer Island Mercer Island Mercer Island
South Bellevue South Bellevue; Enatai South Bellevue
East Main East Main; Surrey Downs East Main
Bellevue Transit Center Bellevue Downtown; Downtown Bellevue Bellevue Downtown
Hospital Lake Bellevue; Wilburton/Midlakes Wilburton
120th Kelsey Creek; 120th; 120th/Spring Blvd Spring District/120th
130th Bel-Red; 130th; Midlakes Bel-Red/130th
Overlake Village Overlake Village Overlake Village
Overlake Transit Center Overlake Transit Center; Redmond Technology Center Redmond Technology Center

News Roundup: Massive Expansions

Sounder 909 and 911 at King Street Coach Yard
Photo by SounderBruce on Flickr

This is an open thread.

Q1 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report

Sound Transit’s summary then some analysis and my charts after the fold.

Total Sound Transit boardings increased by 7% during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Boardings increased on all modes except Paratransit. System growth is trending about 6% over the annual budget and SIP forecasts. Aside from 56 slide-related train cancellations on Sounder North Line, there were no major service disruptions during the quarter.

ST Express buses had 6% more boardings in Q1 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Average weekday boardings reached 62,285 for a 7% increase. No major changes in service took place during the quarter.

Sounder commuter rail boardings were up an impressive 17%, with an 18% increase in average weekday boardings. Ridership increased significantly on both Sounder lines. Mudslide conditions resulted in 56 cancelled North Line trains, compared to 91 annulments in the first quarter of 2014.

Tacoma Link Link light rail ridership also showed impressive growth with total boardings up 11%, and a 12% increase in average weekday boardings. This stands in sharp contrast with 2014, when ridership declined during each quarter.

Link light rail boardings were up 5%, with a 7% increase in average weekday boardings. A planned service closure related to University Link preparations and a drop in the number of major sports events this year contributed to lower growth compared to escalation rates seen in 2014.

Full report here. My charts and more below the fold.

Continue reading “Q1 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report”

Metro and Sound Transit Conducting Joint Public Outreach

ST Central Link 126
Photo by Wings777 on Flickr

Both King County Metro and Sound Transit will be conducting a flurry of public outreach this month.  Metro is finally climbing out of its multi-year revenue hole and is in a position to start thinking about how to grow service for the first time in a long time.  Sound Transit, meanwhile, has a little initiative called ST3 they’d like you to weigh in on, as alluded to in Monday’s guest post. There will be multiple opportunities for public commentary, online and in-person.  Here’s the Metro site and here’s Sound Transit’s.  Four of the six open houses will be joint ST/Metro affairs.  There’s a wealth of information at both sites.

Attack of the Incessant Insensitive Announcements

Atomic Taco/Flickr

This past Saturday, King County Metro rolled out three new public safety announcements to play on buses. A day later on Sunday, Metro decided to pull the plug and remove the announcements, effective Monday morning.

I got to be on the receiving end of the aural assault Saturday and Sunday, as an announcement played after every door closure and every five minutes thereafter, reminding riders to hold on while the bus in motion, to stand behind the yellow line, and most annoyingly, that their every activity is being surveilled and recorded and that illegal activities will be prosecuted.

While the first two were merely annoying and unnecessary, the surveillance message needed to be put back through sensitivity training. Hearing it every five minutes left me wondering if my driver was paranoid. Nor did the message educate riders on what the rules are. We later learned that drivers had no control over the timing or volume of these announcements, and that many of them were just as upset about them as riders were.

We are used to hearing announcements multiple times to please turn down the volume on cell phone conversations and music players, and they are played when someone is actually ignoring the rules. Usually, the announcements are effective, and don’t get the rider mad at the driver. This latest message about cameras recording all our illegal activities not only crossed the line of sensitivity, but quite likely had drivers worried that irate riders would take measures. And irate riders did take measures, flooding Customer Service with complaints about the announcements. Reading Metro’s @mentions on Twitter gives you a sense of the intensity of rider displeasure.

To their credit, Metro issued an apology and statement, late Sunday night. Of note, Metro promised to take better care before rolling out the announcements again:

We’ll be reassessing and taking into consideration concerns about the volume, frequency and tone of the announcements before moving forward with any revised announcements, and be sure to share them with customers ahead of time.

I hope that when considering future messages, they think not only of their content, but also their timing and automation. Drivers should have broad discretion about playing messages in contexts that make sense. Forcing riders to endure the same message every time the door closes – tens of thousands of times per year  for a daily rider – is indeed an unnecessary aural assault. Kudos to Metro for being so responsive to pulling the plug, and let’s hope that many valuable lessons were learned this weekend.

Seattle Subway’s Recommendations for the Sound Transit 3 Survey


Last Thursday, Sound Transit unveiled a new website about future rail expansion in the region. It’s pretty slick; if you haven’t seen it yet, it worth checking out. At the same time they also opened a survey, asking what people would like to see in a future ballot measure:

While the survey has its flaws (why do we have to support parking garages to support sidewalks and bike trails?), it’s a great way to let the agency and Sound Transit Board know what you want to see on the ballot next year. If you haven’t filled it out yet, here are Seattle Subway’s suggestions.

First off, these types of surveys have a hard time capturing nuance. If you want to have an effect, you need to push at the extremes. Rate outcomes that you don’t like very low (1) and ones that you do very high (5).

Our recommendations:

1. We recommend rating all the Seattle options that say “at-grade” a 1 and all the Seattle options that say “elevated/tunnel” a 5.

2. Top 3 projects.  Here are the four best options (pick 3.)

These projects are the best bang for the buck while avoiding unacceptable compromises.

3. Missing projects that need to be studied.

  • A Metro route 8 Subway from Belltown to South Lake Union/Denny to Capitol Hill to the Central District/23rd corridor. This is an extremely high demand corridor that has never been studied by Sound Transit before. It would add the dense, high demand, locations of South Lake Union, Denny Triangle, Capitol Hill, and the Central District to the system.   This line is the missing link that would, with other investments (Madison BRT, First Hill Streetcar, SLU Streetcar), give the densest neighborhoods in Seattle an integrated transit network.
  • A bypass line to the airport via Georgetown to speed up service to downtown Seattle for South King and Pierce extensions and speed up airport service. In addition to adding Georgetown and South Park to our regional system, this line serves a very important function as a bypass of the slow section through the Rainier Valley.  We estimate a time savings on this bypass line versus the Rainier line of 12-15 minutes per trip.  This matters some for airport trips but is extremely meaningful for trips from South King and Pierce. Without this bypass light rail will be painfully slow for commuter trips to downtown Seattle.
  • An Issaquah to Kirkland line that connects in South Bellevue to improve transfers and access to transit supportive destinations.  The only studied Kirkland to Issaquah line slows transfers to Downtown Seattle and direct service to Downtown Bellevue.  We wrote an article here on this subject last year.
  • A line that extends from Ballard to Crown Hill, Greenwood, North Seattle, Lake City and out to Bothell.  This line was identified in the transit master plan and would connect areas that are currently dense and may be upzoned in the Seattle 2035 plan.  The connection at Aurora would allow direct connections for buses traveling south to fast, reliable, transit.

This is the just the beginning of the process, not the end, but we need come out strong and get it started on the right track.

Sound Transit to Cut Some Bus Service Starting June 8

photo by Frank Chiachiere
photo by Frank Chiachiere

While King County Metro, Community Transit, and Pierce Transit are expanding service starting this weekend, Sound Transit is cutting a few trips on its least productive bus routes. Cuts to Sound Transit Express bus service, effective this coming Monday, June 8, will include one trip from route 560, six trips from route 566, one trip on route 578, and three trips on route 590.

Bruce Gray at Sound Transit explained that the trips being cut from route 566 had only 11-18 passengers per trip, and more hours were needed for the peak-hour peak-direction runs, due to increasing travel time. However, some mid-day trips just between Renton Transit Center and Auburn Station will be added.

Routes 567 and 577 will have related significant schedule changes. Routes 545 and 550 will have minor schedule changes. Route 586 will have its standard summer service reduction starting June 12.

You can view the updated weekday ST Express schedules here. Also available online are Metro’s, Community Transit’s, and Pierce Transit’s new schedules.

This is the second and final weekend (for now) of transit tunnel closure for system upgrades. Link Light Rail will once again only run as far north as Stadium Station, with several connecting options to downtown, including free route 97 shuttles.

News Roundup: Those Crazy Confusing Lanes

This is an open thread. 

Route 245 to Slow Down for Restroom Access

Comfort Station Program sticker
Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

Last November, the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) fined Metro for failing to provide adequate restrooms for bus drivers.  The fine reflected longstanding problems along a number of Metro routes.  Famously, Metro seemed incapable of ensuring the basic cleanliness of a portable serving eight buses an hour, at the Othello Station end of routes 36 and 50.  But that was only one of many issues.

Metro acknowledged the problem in its response to L&I, and came up with an abatement plan that included a list of routes needing help.  Some routes were addressed by paying 24-hour businesses near route ends to allow drivers access.  But many other routes do not have such businesses near their ends.  Starting this Saturday, three routes are changing to give drivers easier restroom access.  More routes will see changes over time.

Most important to riders will be changes to routes 245 and 246 in Bellevue.  There is no restroom at the Factoria end of route 245 or the Clyde Hill end of route 246.  Both routes will be revised to give drivers time to use a restroom in the middle of the route: Eastgate P&R for the 245, and Bellevue Transit center for the 246.  This means that riders from the affected end of the route will have to wait through a layover, or transfer to another bus, if they want to ride past the designated restroom point.

For route 246, a 30-minute coverage route that uses small buses, this isn’t a big deal.  Very few Clyde Hill riders ride past Bellevue Transit Center, and the change comes with a sweetener in the form of a very useful extension of the route to Yarrow Point Station.

But for route 245, the change is bigger news.  Route 245, with 15-minute frequency, is a core service on the Eastside.  It’s the major crosstown route outside of downtown Bellevue, connecting Factoria, Eastgate, Bellevue College, Crossroads, Microsoft, and Kirkland. (Think of it as the “48 of the Eastside.” ) Plenty of riders originate in Factoria and ride past Eastgate, and all of them will now have to wait or transfer at Eastgate on every trip (except a few late at night).

Metro’s Jeff Switzer reassured me that this is an interim solution.  But, even in the interim, it creates a major slowdown for a lot of riders.  If this sort of solution is extended to some of the even busier core routes on Metro’s list, such as the 11, 48, or 128, many more riders would be affected.  Choice riders are not going to put up, and should not put up, with a 10- to 20-minute delay of service in the middle of their routes.  Given the severity of the rider impact, it is probably worth cutting service at the margins to fund real solutions.

In some cases, Metro might be able to build small, standalone permanent comfort stations with running water, such as those that exist at the ends of a number of Seattle routes today.  For example, it appears there is room for such a comfort station to be built near the Factoria terminal of route 245.  In other cases, Metro might be able to extend or change routing so that riders are covered without delay.  (Old route 65 in Lake City was a good example of this sort of routing: buses served north Lake City, then doubled back to Fred Meyer without passengers to provide drivers with restroom access.)

The other change is to cut route 73’s “tail” on 20th Ave NE.  Buses will lay over behind the Jackson Park QFC, together with route 65.  This is not a major change for most riders, given that the “tail” largely overlaps with the main routing on 15th Ave NE.

I want to emphasize that I do not support just keeping things the way they are.  Drivers need reliable access to clean, well-maintained restrooms at both ends of all but the shortest routes.  But forcing passengers on busy core routes to wait through long layovers, like Metro will do on route 245, is not the right way to provide that access.

Sunday service returns to Community Transit on June 7

The newly-opened Smokey Point Transit Center on a recent Sunday, without a single bus or rider in sight. (Photo by author)

Snohomish County residents looking to ditch their car for Sundays and holidays can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in five years. June 7 marks the restoration of Sunday service for Community Transit after its massive service cuts in June 2010, thanks to sales tax revenue returning to 2008 levels as well as a 25-cent fare increase to take place in July. Sunday and holiday service will be limited to hourly headways on most local routes, with the exception of Swift bus rapid transit (20 minute headways) and rural lifeline routes to outlying communities (2 hour headways). The June changes page on their website has specific, route-by-route details, which includes minor improvements to existing local service and additional trips on commuter routes 413 and 860.

In addition to the service restoration, Community Transit has modified its local service to eastern Snohomish County with the replacement of Route 275 with Route 271 on the Highway 2 corridor and extensions of certain Route 280 trips to serve the Boeing Everett plant.

Full list of changes below the jump.

Continue reading “Sunday service returns to Community Transit on June 7”

Pierce Transit Adding Service on June 7

Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

While we recently covered the highly-anticipated June 6th Metro service change – the first time we’ll see Prop 1 additions hitting the streets – we’d do well to remember that Metro and ST aren’t the only agencies adding service this weekend.

Beleaguered Pierce Transit will be celebrating much needed good news this weekend, adding a decent amount of service (12,000 annual service hours) for the first time since the dark days of 2011. The 3% service boost will be spread around the system, adding weekend span of service to 20 routes and boosting frequency on 4 routes. Even so, it’s still worth remembering that with these additions PT is still just 70% of the agency it was at its peak in 2007, so there’s a lot more work to do to improve transit in the South Sound.

Some of the ideas that had been floating around for years are finally happening, such as the consolidation of Routes 204 and 410 into a single Route 4 connecting Lakewood, Parkland, and Puyallup. While the ‘Super Route’ branding used to be reserved for frequent service, this new 30-minute route is still a sensible consolidation that will provide a reliable crosstown connection for South Pierce County.

Full service change details from PT’s Website below the jump:
Continue reading “Pierce Transit Adding Service on June 7”

Real-time Transit in Google Maps

google maps transit

Google Maps keeps getting better for Seattle-area transit users. After last week’s integration of Community Transit route data, we now have real-time information for the major Seattle-area agencies, including King County Metro, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, and Intercity Transit.

Once again, Brian Ferris, who created OneBusAway and works at Google had a major hand in making it happen. Via email, Brian says he’s “excited about the way Google is able to integrate real-time information into its trip planning features.”

Real-time means that Google not only knows the bus schedule but knows if it’s running on time or not. Combine that feature with Google’s already excellent trip planning, and you have a one-stop shop for determining what bus to take. “We are getting better and better about being able to tell you the fastest way between two locations given the state of the world,” Ferris said.

The upgraded Google Maps is coming to Android first and will appear soon on iOS.

New Converts to the Spine

Hewitt Ave, Everett (wikimedia)
Everett Herald reporter Noah Haglund says Everett and Snohomish County officials are adamant that light rail must serve Paine Field, Downtown Everett, and Everett Community College north of downtown:

A letter [Everett Mayor] Stephanson sent to Sound Transit’s board Friday listed three destinations he believes light rail must reach in Everett: the Boeing Co. and other manufacturers clustered around Paine Field; the downtown transit hub at Everett Station; and the expanding higher- education district around Everett Community College at the city’s north end.

There’s overwrought language about “promises” and “priorities,” but ST studies suggest the vision Stephanson articulates would cost as much as $3.72 billion. My (optimistic) assessment is that Snohomish County will generate at most about $2.5 billion for new capital projects in Sound Transit 3. It’s fine to have a vision that exceeds your immediate financial resources, but their reaction is not to complete it in ST4:

Stephanson and other Snohomish County leaders are nervous, in part, because transit authorities have been talking more lately about light-rail segments to places such as West Seattle and Ballard. They’re worried that those destinations could come at the expense of Everett and other cities where people have been paying taxes since the 1990s based on the promise of the original plans.

This is a pretty creative reading of history. It’s fine to prioritize the light rail “spine” to Everett, Tacoma, and Redmond, but back when the spine construction was only in North and South King County, Snohomish and Pierce County officials had no interest in contributing to those regional priorities. Instead, they spent their counties’ tax dollars on ST Express service, Tacoma Link, and Sounder. That may have been a vote-maximizing decision that also improved transit outcomes, but it isn’t a single-minded emphasis on “the promise of the original plans.”

It’s mighty convenient, now that the Seattle sections of the spine are fully funded and the East King sections are very close to that, to now say that the region must subordinate all other projects to the spine. The case for more rail in Seattle’s inner neighborhoods is both obvious and strong, in both the electoral and technical senses.

There are non-ridiculous arguments for the core to subsidize the periphery. Seattle isn’t allowing nearly enough new housing to absorb growth, which is going to force a lot of people out into the I-5 corridor. It’s unbecoming for allegedly liberal richer areas to heartily object to a transfer of wealth to the poorer ones. It’s also true that North King residents have gained more than zero benefit* from ST Express while paying nothing for it. But the argument that Seattle spending its own money on its own needs is a violation of existing agreements and norms ignores everything that has happened before.

*though mainly the East King routes.

WSDOT Ferry Reliability


When WSDOT ferries make the news, the press seems to focus on fiscal issues, rather than the logistical aspects of the ferry system. We wanted to remedy that and answer the question – are ferries generally on time?

We filed a Public Records Request with WSDOT and here we present findings for on-time rates for calendar year 2014, with a focus on the difference between actual and scheduled departure times. For simplicity this analysis only considers Puget Sound region ferry routes (i.e. non-San Juan Islands routes). Also, because WSDOT runs a holiday schedule on most Federal holidays, we specifically accounted for those dates.

Overall we find WSDOT Puget Sound region ferries to be very reliable. Over approximately 133,000 sailings throughout 2014, the average departure occurred 2.8 minutes after the scheduled departure.

Figure 1. Click to Enlarge.
Figure 1. Click to Enlarge.

Continue reading “WSDOT Ferry Reliability”

Meetup: Talking Link Connections


We had a full house of STB readers for last Friday’s meetup at the Impact Hub to discuss Metro’s Alternative 3 for restructuring Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill buses when U-Link opens next year.  Metro planners Jeremy Fichter and Ted Day gave a short presentation and then took your questions for over an hour.  Afterwards, a few of us decamped for Good Bar down the street to continue the discussion.

Thanks to everyone who showed up and to Ted and Jeremy for coming out to answer questions and share their thinking with us.  Were you there? Say hi in the comments and tell us what you thought.