Sound Transit is hoping to revamp their Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) design prior to ULink opening. To test a few new UI concepts for the machines, Sound Transit is offering $15 Starbucks cards to riders willing to go to ST headquarters during business hours next Tuesday, August 25th.
If you are a regular transit rider and live or work nearby, this is a great opportunity to engage with your transit agency reps and spend 30 minutes of your time helping them improve the customer experience for millions of riders going forward.
To sign up, take the short survey here and indicate the half-hour time slot that you are able to attend. Not everyone who fills out the survey will be asked to attend, but ST will “notify those that the UI designers think would be a good fit,” according to Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray.
In addition to all that SDOT got right, we think there two important further improvements:
SDOT identifies the likely best single line to serve the northern part of the Seattle core but this is an unnecessary constraint. SDOT’s suggestion leaves the second densest neighborhood in Washington State (Belltown) without a stop and serves South Lake Union (SLU) poorly. We should be looking to serve every dense core neighborhood with subway service.
It is possible to achieve this by branching the system at Belltown as shown on our map. This branching and transfer location has several advantages to the SDOT recommendation:
Serves Belltown, Denny Triangle and SLU well while only adding a quarter mile of tunnel and one station.
A split service plan where West Seattle trains terminate in SLU and Ballard trains terminate south of the stadiums would add very frequent service through downtown Seattle where we know there will be a future capacity issue. It would allow different service frequencies to match potentially uneven north line/south line demand.
Transferring at Belltown will be a direct, center platform transfer and will take pressure off Westlake, which will be an even more crowded station in the future.
It may be possible to reuse the soon to be vacated Battery street tunnel for significant cost savings and easier construction.
SDOT suggested further study of an at-grade option in addition to the publicly-preferred grade separated approach. The critical question here is performance. Grade separation improves the speed and reliability of not just the one line, but the entire system and grade separation’s advantages will be amplified as the system grows. We are not building a system for the next 10 years, we are building a system that will serve Seattle’s transit needs for a century or more. It’s important that studies consider the long-term constraints of the Interbay corridor that will be heavily used by freight, general purpose traffic, and alternative modes for generations. A system hobbled by unnecessary speed constraints, reliability issues caused by collisions at intersections, and inability to increase capacity due to limited headways does not meet our long-term needs as a city. As one of just two lines that crosses the Ship Canal, designing in unnecessary performance constraints will therefore risk losing the support of both advocates and voters.
Now is not the time to be considering compromises, particularly not for Seattle – the most critical transit market in the region. As we pointed out in our Sound Transit Complete article, the next Sound Transit package will be scaled to public demand. If we ask for more, it can be more. We look forward to working with Sound Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle’s many pro-transit constituents to make sure that the next Sound Transit ballot measure is a plan that is very much worth voting for.
Two weeks ago Martin wrote at length – and then our readers commented at a far greater length – about Seattle’s ST3 input, featuring a new alignment proposal that attempted to knit together Downtown, SLU, LQA, and Ballard. As Martin noted at the time, the way the Federal Way alignment process played out reiterated how crucial jurisdictional feedback is to the broader politics of transit expansion. So over the next week or two, we’ll take a brief look at every city or agency letter submitted to Sound Transit as a part of the Draft Priority Project List feedback that will inform the System Plan that will shape the ST3 ballot measure that will go before voters next year. Phew, process!
Auburn: Auburn spent the bulk of their letter addressing parking at Auburn Station. Mayor Nancy Backus notes that Auburn has about 1 parking stall for every 2 Sounder riders, or 633 parking stalls for 1,300 daily riders. The city is fearful both of the impacts of 6,000 new Black Diamond residents, and of the coming shift of Weyerhaeuser employees from Federal Way to Seattle. The letter states that Auburn’s support of additional Sounder runs is contingent on the prior provision of new structured parking as consistent with Sound Transit’s Station Access work from ST2.
Mayor Backus also called out Auburn’s financial support of Pierce Transit Route 497, costing the city $300,000 per year and reducing parking demand by 90 stalls per day, while also acknowledging that this expenditure compares favorably to the $4M that would be required to build parking for 90 new cars. She asks for Sound Transit become a “full financial partner” in funding Route 497, similar to Sound Transit’s funding of Route 596 between Bonney Lake and the Sumner.
ST Express goes largely unmentioned except for a request to see more details before promising either support or opposition.
Burien: Mayor Lucy Krakowiak primarily lamented Burien’s possible exclusion from HCT projects in ST3, twice saying that her community’s votes for the eventual plan would be at risk if Burien lacks projects. The letter contains few specifics about what Burien would want, other than stating general support for 2 ideas: “a rib on the spine to connect westward to Burien” and/or the Downtown-West Seattle-White Center-Burien-Tukwila-Renton line that ST included in the recent Long Range Plan.
Des Moines: After beginning by asking for S. 272nd St to be built with existing funds, Public Works Director Daniel Brewer made an emphatic argument for quantity over quality, saying that, “Extending the system south as fast as possible using lower-cost alignments and station locations should be relatively high on the Board’s priority project list…and this should be a higher priority than system expansion north or east or more slowly developing an enhanced system with more stations.” Yet after going all-in on cheap LRT, the letter then says that infill stations should be studied in South King County, despite an I-5 alignment choice that largely precludes such stations, or at least greatly reduces their potential.
Kent: While similarly concerned about parking and access at Kent Station, Kent’s letter struck me as having both a more realistic and broadly transit-supportive tone compared to Auburn. The letter calls for increased Sounder service (especially mid-day/off-peak), supports platform extensions to accommodate 8-car trains, and supports Link through and beyond the Midway area to Federal Way. The letter recognizes that light rail is “just one piece of the puzzle” and calls for more bus service, both local and express, throughout the valley.
SeaTac: Mayor Mia Gregerson’s letter made 5 requests of Sound Transit:
More parking at Tukwila International Boulevard Station. The letter claims that hide-and-ride behavior is negatively impacting SeaTac’s residential neighborhoods, and also relays the SeaTac council’s belief that the opening of Angle Lake will only induce parking demand rather than reduce pressure on Tukwila, necessitating further parking there.
Building the spine all the way to Tacoma Mall.
Expanding feeder service to SeaTac from West Seattle and Burien.
Consideration that any West Seattle LRT line be extended to Burien and SeaTac.
Building Boeing Access Road Station.
Tukwila: Mayor Jim Haggerton requested the inclusion of 3 projects: Boeing Access Road Station, I-405 BRT from Lynnwood to SeaTac, and an I-405 BRT alignment that serves Tukwila Sounder Station. The city attached their own independent analysis of Boeing Access Road station, claiming it would boost Museum of Flight visits by 25% and that the station would attract 1,400 riders per day, which they note ‘exceeds ridership numbers at other existing stations’.
Today, after a year of work, Houston just revamped its bus network overnight, bringing better service to more people than ever before. Free rides for the first week so people can try it out. I like that off-peak service will be the same every day of the week. It gives a sense of dependability and recognizes that transit is more than just for 9-to-5 commuters.
The amount of work they’re doing to inform and educate riders is incredible. Very ambitious!
Sound Transit staff have long suggested by example prior to adoption of the Link line naming system that Central Link will be named the Red Line and East Link be named the Blue Line. Those “example” names became official in June when ST announced new and improved signage to be unveiled systemwide when U-Link opens next year.
I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray about choosing the colors. This is what he said:
Red and blue were chosen for the first two segments because they are contrasting colors (create a high visual distinction between the two lines). And, we followed the established convention and practice of other transit agencies by starting with red and blue. Our original Central Link line color was a red/maroon color so it made sense to make that segment red.
Austin, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Washington DC picked Red for their first rail line. Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Diego named their first lines Blue. Some of them were given a color name from the beginning and some acquired colors later as the system expanded.
The line presently known as Central Link (Westlake to SeaTac/Airport) has been colored both red and blue throughout its operational history. This confusing state is visible in all the information products ST has produced. Let’s begin with the system map.
On Monday we looked at travel times on Link’s ‘Red Line’, the central spine that will run between Lynnwood and Des Moines (or possibly Federal Way) in 2023. We made a few observations along the way, including the relative benefit to Snohomish County compared to South King, about the gifts of Link to the Rainier Valley, and more. Today we’ll look at the Blue Line – or East Link – which will run from Lynnwood to Redmond via Bellevue.
At the outset, two characteristics differentiate the the Blue Line (‘East Link’) from its spiney anchor, the Red Line, namely demand symmetry and affluence:
Demand symmetry. Beyond Northgate in the north and Rainier Beach in the south, the Red Line serves predominantly bedroom communities with intensely asymmetric demand that today is served by rivers of peak-direction express service. With the exception of Route 512, no suburban corridors along the Red Line currently sustain all-day frequent service, with the 578 and 594 dropping to half-hourly off peak. By contrast, the Blue Line will serve the both the Seattle-Bellevue and Seattle-Redmond markets, both of which sustain frequent all-day service and achieve the most symmetric demand of any city pairs in the region. Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond are job centers in their own right, and reverse peak demand is very strong. The buses that the Blue Line would ostensibly replace – the 545 and 550 – are the most successful all-day bus routes in the Sound Transit system (page 32), nearly breaking even at the farebox with costs of roughly $3 per rider.
Affluence. The Red Line will provide a critical link both for middle class suburban communities and those hit hardest by the continuing suburbanization of poverty, linking low cost housing to job centers, primarily in Seattle. (As I’ve written before, the long travel times from South King County to Seattle should have spurred a stronger movement for intra-South King mobility and development, and the I-5 alignment choice makes that more difficult, though not impossible.) By contrast, the Blue Line will stitch together the wealthiest centers of the region, namely North Seattle, Central Seattle, and the Inner Eastside. The balance between choice and non-choice riders on the two lines will likely be stark, with a much more moneyed set of folks traversing Lake Washington compared to those crossing the Duwamish.
Much like the Red Line, the Blue Line will supplant already successful bus corridors while also creating new travel opportunities via intermediate stations. Relative improvement in travel times is greatest for the new intermediate stations that currently require transfers, while for destinations that replace current bus service, Link’s primary selling point is reliability.
The Blue Line will likely replace Route 550, force a restructure or deletion of Route 226, provide a faster alternative to the B-Line, and replace the Bellevue-Redmond tail of the 566/567. The chart below shows Link travel times to Westlake atop today’s scheduled bus variation for each Blue Line station area. As you can see, the Blue Line halves travel time between Westlake and Overlake Village, Bel-Red, the (yet unbuilt) Spring District, and the East Main area. For today’s big transit markets at Microsoft, Bellevue TC, South Bellevue Park & Ride, Mercer Island, and Judkins Park, the train is slower than the fastest bus trips, but the Blue Line virtually guarantees a median travel time or better in perpetuity, everywhere along the line. For anyone stuck in reverse-peak traffic on I-90, the gold-plated Blue Line is likely actually worth its weight in gold.
Sunday’s open thread had a video about a new light rail line in Toronto, and people took the opportunity to have a little fun with Sound Transit’s expansion plans. The Toronto line is straight, compact, and has dense station spacing, and the Everett-Tacoma-Redmond spine is none of those things. Seattle doesn’t have Toronto’s transit potential in any case, but the complaints have some validity.
There is no objectively optimum way to build a rail line; any claimed optimum has some subjective values embedded in it. But given our community values, I propose the following aspects of the very best light rail lines:
Moves people faster and more reliably than a plausible bus operations plan serving the same areas. This is generally in paths without freeways, and/or where congestion dominates and taking right-of-way for buses is unrealistic.
Allows operating savings by aggregating passengers from many buses. This implies fairly high ridership demand.
Is useful not only for commutes to work and school, but also other incidental trips of a person’s week.
If a line doesn’t meet some or all of these tests, that doesn’t mean it’s not “worth it.” It means it’s not the best. Parts of the emerging Link system meet the tests quite well (the stretch from the U-District to Westlake stands out); others, not so much, mostly because they were built to serve a totally different set of values.
While on a visit to the future Roosevelt station site recently, STB tipper Leslie B. heard that one of Sound Transit’s tunnel boring machines (Brenda) hadn’t moved in a few weeks. We reached out to Sound Transit, and Kimberly Reason told STB that the problem was a large boulder:
Brenda (TBM #1) has stopped mining since July 22nd , and has been undergoing inspection and repairs. Mining is currently expected to resume next week, following a final inspection and readiness check. Evidently, Brenda encountered a boulder large and hard enough to damage several of the teeth on the TBM cutterhead. The inspection and repairs have been carried out to date without incident and per plan. Brenda is currently 1500 ft. from U District Station. No delay to the overall scheduled is expected.
Brenda is now a veteran, having been refurbished from the ULink project prior to working on the Northgate Extension. Though this stoppage was unplanned, teeth wear is very common occurrence, and the anomaly here seems to be the rate of wear caused by the boulder. So this bears no similarities to the more systematic bearing and sealant problems of another famous TBM you just might be familiar with.
The Rainier Valley will be bustling this weekend with two fantastic and family-friendly events. The annual Rainier Valley Heritage Parade, on Saturday from 12:00-4:30pm, will offer food, live music, street sports, a beer garden, a pie eating contest, a police picnic, B!kecitement in front of Bike Works, an afterhours movie in Columbia Park, and more. Take Link to Columbia City and walk a 1/4 mile east to Rainier to join the festivities. In addition to an incredible diversity of food and artistic talent, the festivities offer a great opportunity to see a Rainier Avenue S that prioritizes people, even if just for a day, as Rainier will be closed to cars for the 3/4 of a mile between S Alaska St and S Brandon St.
Among the projects that Sound Transit has suggested for the Eastside are I-405 Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail between Totem Lake and Issaquah. While light rail is a clear priority, Eastside cities are interested in BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) as an interim solution. So there are several proposals in play that could serve as a high capacity transit (HCT) corridor in Kirkland.
Kirkland is attempting to balance these options. Some form of I-405 BRT is very likely to be included in any ST3 package, but requires an expensive station at NE 85th St to be relevant to Central Kirkland. The City has asked for a NE 85th St station along with a fast, frequent connection to downtown. A fixed guideway connection – aerial tram or people mover – has been suggested, but bus is surely more probable.
Light rail on the ERC gets closer to more Kirkland transit riders, but still has a last-mile problem in downtown Kirkland. BRT on the ERC could resolve the last mile issue with a deviation to downtown and at much lower cost than a rail alignment.
Casual observers surely take for granted that any of these new transit options will be better and faster than today. Surprisingly, this is not the case for many riders to the most popular destinations. For riders to Seattle, neither light rail nor I-405 BRT would even approach the travel time of today’s Metro services. For travel to Bellevue, light rail would be slower than current bus service. I-405 BRT could deliver somewhat improved times for some customers, but would mean longer travel times for others. BRT that follows the Eastside rail corridor would handily beat any of the alternatives for a much larger number of transit users.
In 2023, Link Light Rail’s Red Line will travel from Lynnwood to either Highline College or Federal Way Transit Center, depending on funding. Lots of digital ink has been spilled about things like long endpoint travel times, armchair quarterbacking the time savings that might be achieved from buses leaving the tunnel, with no real clarity on the answers. In addition, we usually look at Link in fragments, with the nomenclature of “Central Link”, “U-Link”, “North Link”, “the Spine” etc far more common than the Red Line and the Blue Line. But no one in Portland still refers to the Blue Line as “Eastside MAX” and “Westside MAX”, and come 2023, the wonkier segment names will give way to simple color.
So I thought I’d take a look at the nascent Red Line in its entirety. Where will it take you? In how long? If you were to rent or buy a home to maximize the value of Link’s frequency and reliability to your life – if in Jarrett Walker’s phrase, you wanted to be on the way – where should you live? Where is Link’s ‘center of gravity’, the place along the line where the most places are accessible most quickly?
I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray for travel times between all stations for the full ST2 buildout, and I’ve reproduced those with modification below (also adding Star Lake (STL) and Federal Way (FDW)). I then split the travel times into 5 tiers to show where you can travel from any given station in 0-15 minutes (green), 15-30 minutes (yellow), 30-45 minutes (red), 45-60 (purple), and 60-75 minutes (gray). While the first chart is most useful for seeing the relationship between individual stations, the second chart below presents the same data in a way that is most useful for relating an individual station to the Red Line as a whole.
Abbreviations in the chart are Lynnwood (LNW), Mountlake Terrace (MLT), Northgate (NGT), Roosevelt (RSV), UDistrict (UD), Capitol Hill (CPH), Westlake (WSL), University Street (USS), Pioneer Square (PSQ), International District (IDS), Stadium (STA), Sodo (SOD), Beacon Hill (BHS), Mount Baker (MBS), Columbia City (CCS), Othello (OTH), Rainier Beach (RBS), Tukwila International Boulevard (TUK), SeaTac Airport (SEA), Angle Lake (AGL, Highline College (HGL), Star Lake (STL), and Federal Way (FDW).
Toronto is building a crosstown LRT line. Current bus ridership in the corridor is over 78,000 daily. The 10-kilometer, 12-station, underground portion is about the same distance from the Ballard Locks to Children’s Hospital.
They’re wrangling signatures for Initiative 732, which would put a new tax on carbon burned in gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels — while cutting other taxes by an equal amount. By raising the price of dirty energy, I-732 aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and encourage development of cleaner alternatives.
Jim Whitehead called for people to sign the petition on Page 2, citing its relevance to transit advocacy and he’s right. I’d like to expand on why. But first, our climate-activist state leadership is on board with this, right?
Nope. Instead, a powerful coalition that includes the state’s major green and labor groups is trying to squash the effort…
As a “revenue-neutral” plan, I-732 would not fill state government coffers with cash. While the carbon tax would raise an estimated $1.7 billion a year — and cost the average family an estimated $300 a year in higher gas and energy prices — it would give away an equivalent amount back to consumers, mostly through a full percentage point cut in the state sales tax.
That differs from cap-and-trade legislation offered up by Inslee and backed by the alliance in this year’s legislative session. That plan would have raised more than $1 billion a year from fees on carbon and directed the proceeds to the state education budget, transportation projects, affordable housing and other programs.
The establishment version seems like a classic example of chaining a popular cause (doing something about the climate) to an unpopular one (increasing the size of generic “government”). I can’t help but think of I-1098, the 2010 Income Tax initiative, which chained a very popular progressive tax system to the most beloved of all local government spending, education.
Obviously, there is some segment of the population that prefers a regressive tax system, but not nearly enough to defeat an income tax. But by not making the measure revenue-neutral, I-1098 made the following additional enemies: Continue reading “Carbon Tax Initiative”
Metro is taking a survey in preparation for its new Long-Range Plan, which Victor Obeso generously talked with us about a few months ago. The Long-Range Plan, which is separate from Metro’s short-term Strategic Plan, will be the agency’s first long-range plan in decades. The last day to take the survey is Sunday, August 9. We encourage all STB readers to weigh in today, no matter how (or whether) you use the bus, and no matter whether you typically agree with our views or not.
A bit more about some of my own answers below the jump, for those who are interested.
The last few years have seen explosive growth in Seattle proper, the fastest growth since the early days of the last century. But how long can the boom last? By the available data it doesn’t look like it is going to slow any time soon. From a Seattle Time’s article on the construction industry:
Still, he said, indications favor continued growth for the [construction] industry, with overall permits for the Seattle market up 53 percent through April compared with the first four months of 2014.
Permits for multifamily construction rose 104 percent, he said, with 6,700 units permitted compared with 3,313 permitted [in the first four months of] last year.
And the job growth in the area that is pushing population growth doesn’t appear to be slowing:
Having successfully met our fundraising goal last month, we’re thrilled to announce that Zach Shaner, who has been volunteering for us on-and-off for the last few years, will be our first staff reporter!
Zach has lived in Seattle since 2009 and has been writing for the blog off-and-on since 2010. In addition to volunteering with STB, Zach has worked at Pierce Transit, the City of Tukwila, and Commute Seattle, and he also recently co-founded a bike rental delivery service. Zach recently served on the ULink Sounding Board, and will soon serve on the first iteration of the Seattle Transit Advisory Board. Due to his busy work schedule, we’ve only been able to get a taste of Zach’s writing, and it’s left us hungry for more (the preceding food analogy is in honor of one of my all-time favorite Zach posts, How to Cook a Train).
We couldn’t be happier to find someone who can hit the ground running. Expect to see a lot more news and analysis in the coming months as Zach gets ramped up. Between the elections, Move Seattle, Sound Transit’s System Plan, ST3, Metro’s Long Range Plan, and U-link opening, there will be plenty to talk about. If you have news tips, story ideas, or well-informed gossip, please send it Zach’s way.
And rest assured that our existing volunteer staff isn’t going way. Zach is going to supplement, not replace, the opinion and analysis you already get from STB.
Thanks again to all of you who gave during the fundraising drive. We’ll keep the link up on the right-hand side for a little while longer if anyone still has a deep desire to give.
Back in 2013, Sound Transit introduced a modest pilot project to test permit parking at a few high demand Park & Rides, namely Mukilteo Station, Issaquah Transit Center, Sumner Station, and Tukwila International Boulevard Station. Riders could apply for a space and pay a nominal fee (just $5-$33 quarterly for HOV/SOV respectively, equivalent to 8¢-53¢/day), and in return would be guaranteed a parking space before 9:30am. After 9:30, the spaces reverted to general parking. There was no test of daily parking pricing.
The results of the pilot – which ended last summer – were encouraging enough that Sound Transit will soon ask the Board to proceed with an expanded program. 515 permits were issued (out of 1,427 applications), though just 56 of those (11%) were HOV permits, despite being basically free. Lots were still generally as full as before, though permit holders took advantage of the 9:30am guarantee and took the opportunity to arrive later. Whereas Sumner was usually full by 5:30 am, providing service for only the first two trains of the morning, permits allowed those riders to arrive 1.5-2 hours later. Tukwila Int’l Blvd (TIBS) saw a small decline in usage, indicating that many permit holders didn’t park there daily but were willing to cough up a few bucks for the right to do so a couple times per week. TIBS also saw its peak occupancy shift from 7:00am to 9:30am. So to a small extent, Sound Transit proved the ability to shift customers to later buses and trains, effectively reducing pressure at peak-of-peak. This is a good thing.
The new proposal would issue HOV permits in mid-2016 at a nominal fee at an expanded list of Park & Rides, the four mentioned above plus Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Mercer Island, Overlake, Puyallup, and Angle Lake (which would be unique in having permit parking from Day 1). With Board approval, in late 2016 or early 2017 ST would issue SOV permits at a yet to be determined fee. Whether the fee will continue to be purely administrative or tied to revenue and demand management goals is a policy question for the Board. All permit applicants would have to prove possession of a valid ORCA card and to renew, prove that they rode transit an average of thrice per week during the previous quarter.
Sound Transit will host a series of info sessions in the coming weeks, and they are also taking input via a short survey. If you believe that managed parking is good policy, please let ST hear from you.
At 8:15 tonight the first results of the August primary will be posted. Turnout has been estimated at 30%, but as of tonight only 15% of registered voters have returned ballots. In keeping with tradition most everywhere, the initial results are usually the least progressive on urbanist issues, with decent trending in our direction thereafter. And results may not be known for days, with Kshama Sawant’s slow bleed of Richard Conlin being the most recent example.
The unfortunate tensions in the progressive community between pro-development urbanists and social justice urbanists may also lead to very unpredictable results, so there will be much to watch. Primaries may often seem boring, but they occasionally come in with a bang, elevating the Mallahans and McGinns of the world and sending the sitting Mayor packing for Harvard. And in any case, a 47-candidate free for all and unprecedented district elections leave a little something for everyone to analyze tonight. So go at it! We’ll be liveblogging off-and-on with any interesting observations.
8:26: Quick hits. Godden is the only threatened incumbent, with Johnson a clear winner and Maddux and Godden too close to call. Banks is consolidating the anti-Sawant vote, but that isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough. Braddock and Herbold will almost surely face off in D1. Roderick’s showing is disappointing, and Grant looks to have successfully ridden Sawant’s coattails and consolidated the rent control vote. Bradburd didn’t come close, and Gonzalez will cruise to election in November.
8:43: I agree with Erica’s basic analysis.
The neighborhood pitchforks are blunt. Urbanists look to have survived the night, with candidates like Bradburd losing badly. The interesting races to watch will be D1, where Braddock and Herbold will likely go neck and neck, and Grant vs. Burgess, which will likely be a very ugly contest.