How Can Link Vehicles Be Improved?

Peter Lorimer (Flickr)
Peter Lorimer (Flickr)

At its September Board Meeting, Sound Transit approved the largest single budget item in its history, $733M to procure the remaining 122 light rail vehicles (LRVs) needed for the full ST2 buildout to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Des Moines. When delivered, these LRVs will triple Sound Transit’s fleet from the current 62 LRVs to a total of 184.

Originally planned to occur in phases, with a vehicle budget within each Link extension project, Sound Transit switched gears and decided to execute vehicle procurement as a single contract, transferring $236M from the Northgate Link budget in order to do so. Sound Transit “determined that procurement of all 122 LRVs under a single project would provide efficiencies in coordinating, monitoring, tracking and reporting of the project progress.”

The design and function of the new vehicles relative to the current fleet is an open question, though Bruce Gray hinted at some of the RFP requirements, such as four bicycle hooks per car instead of two. However, Sound Transit has already said that the two fleets will operate separately due to what is seen as insurmountable technical incompatibility between them. There will not be the ability to couple older and newer cars together.

While this is somewhat unfortunate from a fleet flexibility perspective, it does provide an opportunity to substantively improve over the first-generation design, providing ST with a much wider choice of manufacturer and specs. So how would you improve upon Link’s current fleet?  A few of my ideas after the jump.

Continue reading “How Can Link Vehicles Be Improved?”

ACTION ALERT: Tell Sound Transit to Expand the Low-Income Fare

ST bus 51401
Newly delivered New Flyer XDE60 coach. Photo by SounderBruce.

Metro’s ORCA LIFT program is one of the first low-income transit fare products in North America, and it is fully worth your support. Earlier this year Sound Transit began accepting LIFT on Link Light rail but not on Sounder or its ST Express buses. Pierce Transit and Community Transit don’t participate in LIFT while operating the majority of ST Express routes, so accepting LIFT there would have introduced operational complexity.

But now Sound Transit is considering expanding its acceptance of ORCA LIFT, either to all express routes wholly within King County, on all ST Express buses, or acceptance systemwide including Sounder. It is also considering a parallel general fare increase of $.25-$.50 to offset the lost revenue.

The comment deadline is November 5, and you can comment by taking their survey, emailing, by phone (1-866-940-4387), or in person at Union Station (November 5, noon-1pm).

Please comment and ask for systemwide acceptance of ORCA LIFT, as the other options on the table create absurd outcomes for riders. For example, the proposed option to accept LIFT only on routes wholly operated within King County – crucially, distinct from routes operated by King County Metro! –  would create a nightmare of complexity.

Consider just a trip from Federal Way Transit Center to Seattle. Peak riders on Route 577 would get a low-income fare ($1.50), but off-peak riders on Route 578 wouldn’t ($2.75). Thus Metro would be in the business of having higher peak fares while Sound Transit would be in the business of having lower peak fares. And while Community Transit could blissfully ignore the complexity, as none of their Sound Transit routes operate wholly within King County, Pierce Transit would have to accept LIFT on some routes (such as Route 560, 566, and 567), but not on others (574, 578, 580, 590, 592, 595).

Let that sink in. That would be a terrible outcome for system usability, and would directly contradict King County Executive (and Sound Transit Board Chair) Dow Constantine’s goals for agency integration.

Please comment by November 5, and ask for the simplest system with the broadest access for all. Ask for full LIFT acceptance on all Sound Transit services. See TCC’s Action Alert for example language to use in your comments.

Sawant Proposes Commercial Rent Control, Tax for Night Transit Service

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.38.35 AMEarlier this week, Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced a sweeping set of proposals with the stated purpose of helping small business while flanked by local small business leaders. Two of those proposals relate directly to land use and transit. People simultaneously encouraged by Sawant’s categorical support for transit, and apprehensive about her attitude to market-rate development,* will find a lot to confirm their biases. I chatted with Sawant staffer Ted Virdone about the two relevant policies: tax increases for more nighttime buses and rent control on commercial property.

More Bus Service

Ms. Sawant proposes to restore the $25-per-employee**-per-year  “Head Tax”, with an exemption for small business but removing previous exemptions for employees that use carpools or transit. Council Central Staff estimates that this would generate $4.8m in 6 months of operation in 2016, or close to $10m annually. Furthermore, a 5-point increase in the commercial parking tax (CPT, now 12.5%) would generate about $15m annually. By my calculation, this would fund roughly 200,000 annual service hours, or 548 additional hours every night of the year.

According to Mr. Virdone, this is more than shoring up the night owl network that he described as “skeletal”. Service today gets less and less frequent on the daytime network as the evening progresses, finally switching to a handful of night owl routes sometime after midnight.

Virdone said that SDOT would determine the actual route allocations, but the Council’s instructions would limit the new services to “between the end of the evening peak and the beginning of the morning peak.” Among the objectives they would provide SDOT would be “transit options for drinkers to get home” when the bars close, access to working-class late-night jobs, and anything else likely to generate ridership in those hours. He said Ms. Sawant was “open to input” about other transit demands in the wee hours.

There’s a lot to like about this proposal. Late-night service doesn’t have much to do with “congestion relief,” but it does provide alternatives that discourage drunk driving. Sparse late-night service is also a significant obstacle to car-free living, which transforms transportation choices in a cheaper, more sustainable, and healthier way.

Commercial Rent Control

Continue reading “Sawant Proposes Commercial Rent Control, Tax for Night Transit Service”

Say Goodbye (Sort of) to the Shoreline Rule

Welcome to Shoreline.

A few months back, I wrote, with much exasperation, about an irritating quirk of King County Metro policy I dubbed the “Shoreline Rule”–the requirement that, without exception, all Metro riders who want to contest a transit infraction drive or, more likely, take the bus all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. I ended up paying a $124 fine for a ticket I believed should have been a warning, because I didn’t want to take a day off work and because I had the money and privilege to do so. Many others, of course, aren’t so fortunate.

Had I chosen to take the bus to Shoreline, Metro’s Trip Planner tells me the trip would have taken me about an hour and a half on four buses each way. For King County Council member Dave Upthegrove, the trip time from the bus stop a block from his house in Des Moines to Shoreline remains unknown–because, he says, “When I entered my home address and Shoreline District Court into Trip Planner, I got an error message that said, ‘Cannot compute due to more than three hours in transit.’

“I’m not that far out” in King County,” Upthegrove continues. “Imagine all the people in Auburn and Covington. You get out there and it’s a fairly transit-dependent population. The people who can’t pay their bus fare can’t rely on the bus.”

This week, Upthegrove introduced a motion that will amend the Shoreline Rule, eventually, to allow juvenile violators to go to court in Burien, instead of schlepping to Shoreline. According to King County Council staff, 72 percent of juvenile violations occur in South Seattle or South King County, so the Burien relocation makes sense. (Upthegrove’s legislation also recommended ending the practice of treating fare evasion and failure to pay tickets as a criminal infraction; adults can still be charged with a misdemeanor for failure to pay or show up in court.) If the county executive’s office develops the legislation and the council passes it on schedule, the Shoreline Rule, for the 200 or so kids who receive fare evasion tickets each year, will be history sometime in 2016. fare

Continue reading “Say Goodbye (Sort of) to the Shoreline Rule”

News Roundup: Final Design

Interior of Sea-Tac Airport people mover vehicle

This is an open thread.

Correction: ORCA2 Timeline

In my post on ORCA2 a few weeks ago, I used target dates from documents included in Sound Transit’s contractor request, which according to ST staff, were incorrect. Current ST plans have ORCA2 starting to go live in 2020, not 2019. New equipment will begin appearing in late 2019, not 2018. The old system will be turned off by 2021, not 2020. ST’s Geoff Patrick told me that “we’re still very early in the program, and it’s possible the dates may change.”

The original post has been corrected with the changes marked.

Six Days to Election Day

An election that will determine the future of Seattle governance and transportation priorities for a long time to come is just one week from its conclusion. Ballots must be post-marked by Tuesday, November 3, and must include first-class postage worth at least 49 cents.

ballot drop boxThere are also drop boxes, where you can drop off your ballot without postage until 8 pm on November 3, at the King County Administration Building, the Ballard Branch Library, Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue, Burien City Hall, Federal Way City Hall, Issaquah City Hall, Kent Regional Justice Center, Lake Forest Park City Hall, Redmond City Hall, or the King County Elections headquarters in Renton.

Drop vans will also be available on Saturday, October 31, 10 am – 5 pm; Monday, November 2, 10 am – 5 pm; and Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, 10 am – 8 pm, at Red Square on the UW campus, Rainier Community Center, Magnuson Park, the south side of West Seattle Stadium, Auburn City Hall, Kirkland City Hall, Tahoma School District Building in Maple Valley, Sammamish City Hall, SeaTac City Hall, Aurora Square Shopping Center in Shoreline, the Greenbridge Branch Library in White Center, and Woodinville City Hall.

Accessible voting machines, open to any registered voter, are available at King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Union Station (just west of International District / Chinatown Station), and Bellevue City Hall. The machines are available this Monday-Friday at the Renton headquarters 8:30 am – 4:30 pm. Union Station and Bellevue City Hall will also be open for voting this Friday 10 am – 5 pm, and Saturday 10 am – 3 pm. All three sites will be closed Sunday. The Renton headquarters will be open Monday, November 2, 8:30 am – 7 pm, and Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, 8:30 am – 8 pm, while Union Station and Bellevue City Hall will be open Monday, November 2, 10 am – 7 pm, and Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, 10 am – 8 pm.

STB Editorial Board endorsements for the November 3 election were issued here, here, and here. The full list of STB Editorial Board endorsements for the November 3 election is below the fold. Continue reading “Six Days to Election Day”

Even with ULink, Pike-Pine Will Be Busier Than Ever

As an addendum to Bruce’s post about the proposed Pine Street bus lane, I thought it would be worth making the point that despite the opening of University Link and the associated restructure of bus service, that net service levels on Pine Street will be still busier than ever during peak periods.

This chart looks at 4 distinct time periods over the last two years:

  • Immediately after the September 2014 service cuts (blue), in which the 47 was eliminated.
  • After the first round of Prop 1 investments (red), in which a limited 47 was restored.
  • After the second round of Prop 1 investments (green), in which the 47 was expanded, the 11 given 15-minute off-peak service, and Routes 216, 218, and 219 added to Pine Street.
  • After the ULink restructure (purple), in which the off-peak 43 is eliminated and the 49 will move to 12 minute service.

Pine Street Service Levels

With these service levels, peaking at 32 buses per hour in the 4:00pm hour, a bus lane is entirely appropriate and overdue. Please submit your supportive comments to SDOT’s Jonathan Dong.

SDOT Proposes Pine St BAT Lane

pine st lane

The Seattle Department of Transportation is proposing to install six blocks of 24/7 bus lane, downtown, on Pine St, between 9th Ave and 3rd Ave. The proposed installation will mirror a similar installation on Pike St, between 2nd and 7th, completed last summer: It will be a painting and signage exercise in the right-hand curb lane, with turns permitted. If approved, the lane should be installed this fall. You can send comments on this proposal to

I don’t have much to say on this specific proposal, except “Yes, please do this last year.” Pike/Pine is the primary transit corridor for service between Westlake Station, the downtown core, and Capitol Hill; plus it serves more than half a dozen suburban commuter routes in the peak periods. Riders on these routes deserve all the relief from car traffic they can get. The opening of University Link next year will change the nature of Pike/Pine, making it an east-west oriented corridor, but by no means negating its importance to the transit network.

If this lane is installed as described, buses making the Pike/Pine loop will be have continuous lanes starting west of I-5, with just one problematic gap: One long block southbound on 2nd Ave. Buses here bog down terribly in the afternoon peak, although I’m not sure what can be done about this, given the eventual certainty that SDOT will (and should) extend the 2nd Ave cycletrack north along that block and into Belltown.

Perhaps, then the next area for attention should be the intersection of Pike and Boren, another rush-hour schedule killer. A well-executed BAT lane and queue jump could free buses from traffic, and get Pike St riders quickly across First Hill’s worst car sewer.

UW Station Needs More Bike Parking

OHSU's Bike Valet at the Aerial Tram on the South Waterfront (Image from BikePortland)
OHSU’s Bike Valet at the Aerial Tram on the South Waterfront (Image from BikePortland Blog)

Now that the major bus restructure has passed and questions about transit access to UW Station have been answered, it’s time to focus on another part of the access equation: bikes. While other Link stations (such as Rainier Beach) intersect some of our regional trails, it’s fair to say that the Burke-Gilman is in a league of its own, and that UW Station will be Seattle’s first high volume bike-rail transfer point. It’s important to get it right for several reasons:

  • Taking bikes on Link is a niche option that cannot scale. Assuming no luggage in the bike spaces, Link can currently carry 2 bikes per railcar (4 including standees), at a small added cost to boarding/adboarding time. With thousands of commuters taking to the Burke-Gilman every day, it is both unrealistic to believe that Link can absorb the likely demand and inappropriate to allocate excessive train space to bikes. (I say this as a person who bikes every day.)
  • Prior to Bicycle Master Plan implementation on Eastlake, switching to the train will be highly attractive for traffic-wary bike commuters from NE Seattle. Link represents a huge opportunity to expand the attractiveness of stress-free bike commuting, and it should be strongly encouraged by the city, UW, and Sound Transit.
  • One year after U-Link opens, the “West Approach Bridge North” project will be completed, providing a brand new dedicated bike path across SR 520 that ends at Montlake. This connection will be likely be very popular and a significant number of these riders can be expected to transfer to Link.
  • Access between the heart of the UW Campus and UW Station will always be fastest by bike, as transit services will skirt its edges on Pacific or Stevens Way. Pronto will help for pure last-mile connections, but we should expect a surge of riders on personal bikes as well coming up and down Rainier Vista.

Continue reading “UW Station Needs More Bike Parking”

Still Not Registered to Vote? It’s Not Too Late!

If you still aren’t registered to vote, it’s not too late, but you’ll need to hustle–today is the last day to register to vote in the November 3 election.

It’s a great time to get involved by voting in your local elections. In Seattle, this is the first outing for district elections, which means all nine council seats are up for grabs. The critically important Move Seattle ballot measure, which would add seven new RapidRide routes, implement the Bicycle Master Plan, partially fund the deferred Graham Street light rail station and the Northgate pedestrian bridge, and build sidewalks across the city, is on the ballot. So is Initiative 122, which would change the way we fund elections by funding “democracy vouchers” for every citizen to donate real money to the candidates of their choice, and place new restrictions on campaign donations. And Tim Eyman’s latest power grab, Initiative 1366, is waiting for your “no” vote.

In other words, what are you waiting for? Go out, register, and weigh in on the local issues and candidates on the ballot in Seattle and other local elections. And once you’re registered, check out our endorsements for Seattle races, suburban races, and local transit measures. Ballots must be postmarked or delivered to an official drop box or van by 8pm on Tuesday, November 3.

A Grand Bargain for Mercer Island

Crushloaded at 6:00am at Mercer Island (Photo by VeloBusDriver)

Zach’s report on Mercer Island’s East Link comments was disappointing reading.  It’s clear that not everyone will get everything they want. However, I think there’s a path, assuming goodwill from the major players, that meets a goal that I think regional leaders, interested activists, and concerned Mercer Islanders can all agree on. That goal is that the majority of interested Mercer Island residents should have a plausible means of reaching the station.

There are some challenges:

  1. Parking spots at the station are a precious resource, at 447 not large enough to accommodate likely Link demand (ST projects about 2,000 boardings in 2030, constrained by access limitations) and unlikely to grow significantly.
  2. Buses are already at crushloads beginning very early in the morning (see photo).
  3. Banning outsiders outright from the public garage is unlikely to be acceptable to the rest of the region, and rightfully so.
  4. Although better bus service will help, a significant part of the island will only ever be practically accessible by car.

Although some sacrifices and compromises are necessary, we can achieve the most important goals without vast resource expenditure:

Continue reading “A Grand Bargain for Mercer Island”

For Neighborhood Exclusionists, New People are Never in Context

Seattle at night
Seattle at night. Photo by Michael Grigorian.

If you have ever attended a neighborhood or city zoning meeting you probably noticed four main arguments of those opposed to new residents:

  1. Arguments from poverty, usually spoken in terms of gentrification and displacement.
  2. Arguments from wealth, usually coded in comments about renters not “putting down roots” or about the preservation of a neighborhood’s culture.
  3. Arguments for the status quo, usually expressing general support for upzones elsewhere, but with concerns about context and scale in their own area.
  4. Parking, usually anger over the prospect of losing their hitherto exclusive access to public spacein the form of on-street parking.

In Monday’s Seattle Times there was a letter from condo owners in the Escala ($) building, upset that a new tower similar to their own will be built across from them. They like their views and seem to believe that their property deed entitles them to said views in perpetuity, even though they obviously did not also purchase air rights. They want the city to step in and give them the air rights they didn’t pay for by taking it from the people who did pay for them (the owner of the lot). Knowing that this argument will likely not get much play, they looked in the neighborhood exclusionist handbook and latched on to argument number 3:

We support growth and density, but it must be responsible and in proper context to the neighborhood.

That is traditional NIMBY thinking applied to downtown Seattle, or NIMBA-ism (Not in My Back Alley). If 500′ towers aren’t ‘in context’ in downtown Seattle two blocks from Westlake Center, where are they in context?

Though FAR regulations, podium heights, and tower setbacks are all legitimate policy questions, the city cannot legislate by the qualitative aesthetic desires of millionaire condo owners. Appeals to “emotional breathing space”, “loss of privacy and neighborliness”, and “Seattle’s soul” are no substitute for good code and property rights, but are instead the recycled rhetoric coming from the Craftsmans of Crown Heights, this time spoken from the 30th floor of the Escala.

Thanks to the Escala owners for pointing out that no matter the neighborhood, for those with a vested interest in the status quo, growth is always ‘out of context’. Hopefully our city leaders are aware of this and give ‘context’ appeals all the consideration they deserve.

How ST Administratively Adds New Trips

Sound Transit 2004 New Flyer DE60LF 9606K (Bellevue Rare Coins wrap)

David covered the goodies in Sound Transit’s 2016 Draft Service Implementation Plan on Tuesday. Most of the big changes, including opening the new light rail stations, the additional daily Sounder runs, the new ST Express route 541, and long-term construction re-routes on routes 555, 556, and 560 still have to be approved by the ST Board.

Smaller additions of trips to ST Express routes can be approved administratively, as long as the service level does not change by more than 25%. This happens to allow the 15 additional route 545 trips to be added in 2016 without a need for Board action.

Chapter 5 of the Draft SIP explains the process for adding new trips, and lists the unfunded “immediate needs” for additional trips. The wish list and explanation are below the fold. Continue reading “How ST Administratively Adds New Trips”

SDOT Releases Detailed Move Seattle Budget

Northgate Pedestrian Bridge Concept
Northgate Pedestrian Bridge Concept

Perhaps responding to criticism that no one understood the details of the Move Seattle levy, late yesterday SDOT released a detailed spreadsheet that explained their year-by-year spending plan.

According to Director Scott Kubly,

The plan’s allocations are consistent with the levy legislation and its specific funding categories. If the levy is approved, oversight for spending and deliverables will be provided by a levy oversight committee and the City Council, and information on large projects will be available through SDOT’s new online capital projects dashboard.

Quite sensibly, the City retains some flexibility as needs and opportunities arise. But barring any interesting developments, there are three components of the $930m plan through 2024:

  1. A steady $22-23m every year for Safe Routes, for a total of $207m.
  2. $420m for maintenance and repair, including
    • $250m for paving
    • $30m for Urban Forestry
    • $140m for bridges, with about half for seismic reinforcement, and finishing the Fairview Bridge by 2018 ($27m).
  3. $303m for “congestion relief,” various improvements to mobility and access, on which more after the jump.

Continue reading “SDOT Releases Detailed Move Seattle Budget”

News Roundup: Up Again

Sound Transit Sounder #922 MP40PH-3C

This is an open thread.

It’s Official: Council Adopts U-Link Restructure

Route 65 coach with strangely persistent misspelling. Photo by Kris Leisten.
Route 65 coach with strangely persistent misspelling. Photo by Kris Leisten.

UPDATE: Metro’s Jeff Switzer provided some corrected information about the routing of Routes 65 and 67.  See below the jump for details.

Yesterday, the King County Council approved an ordinance directing Metro to restructure service in much of North Seattle and on Capitol Hill in conjunction with the opening of University Link.  The restructure is now final and official.  What you see in the ordinance is what you will get in March 2016.  Metro has not yet put final detailed information online; when they do, we’ll update this post with a link.

Final approval seems almost anticlimactic after the process, which is the longest and most public process I’ve seen in over two decades of following Metro closely.  From Metro, we saw initial maximum- and minimum-change ideas, a second proposal responding to feedback on the initial proposals, and then a substantially different final proposal to the Council when further feedback was lukewarm on the second proposal.  Metro assembled a Sounding Board (on which our Zach Shaner served) to help advise it on the changes, and held numerous public hearings following each proposal.

After Metro submitted its final proposal, the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee held a long, dramatic hearing focused on the Northeast Seattle part of the restructure.  Committee Chair Rod Dembowski, rumored through much of the process to favor scuttling the restructure altogether over concerns about the UW Station transfer environment, strongly denied that intent and introduced an amendment to fix what he saw as significant problems with Metro’s proposal.  Councilmember Dembowski’s amendment, which (among several other changes) restored partial service on routes 43 and 71 and mostly eliminated Metro’s proposed route 78, passed the committee and remained in the final ordinance passed yesterday by the council.

In addition to the U-Link restructure, another ordinance passed yesterday makes official the split of the RapidRide C and D Lines.  RapidRide C will now terminate in South Lake Union—dramatically improving bus connections between SLU and downtown, and connecting SLU with West Seattle for the first time in several years—while RapidRide D will now terminate in Pioneer Square.

We’ve always been enthusiastic about the restructure, particularly in Northeast Seattle, and we’re very happy to see it become final.  Details of the Dembowski amendment, which represents the only changes from Metro’s final proposal, are below the jump.

Continue reading “It’s Official: Council Adopts U-Link Restructure”

Joni Earl Receives a Courage Award from Crosscut

Joni Earl, Special guest

Good piece in Crosscut on Joni Earl’s remarkable tenure running Sound Transit:

Shortly after Earl came to Sound Transit as chief operating officer in 2000, questions about the agency’s ability to manage the Seattle area’s first light rail line grew into a crisis. State lawmakers complained about the transit agency, federal transportation officials launched a two-year audit and pulled back on a big financial commitment, and congressional leaders demanded officials come to D.C. to answer their questions. It was a crisis that might have spun into a death spiral.

As Sound Transit’s then-CEO and a host of other executives left under fire, the board turned to Earl in 2001, just months after her arrival, and asked her to take the helm.

If you weren’t paying attention to Puget Sound transportation issues back then, let’s just say that things were looking pretty grim for Sound Transit and rail as a whole. The 2001 turnaround was quite something. Sound Transit’s 20-year history can be easily separated into two eras: pre- and post- Joni Earl’s arrival. The former era was marred by cost overruns, delays, and poor planning, while in the current era the agency has been able to deliver projects on time and on budget, even through the Great Recession. This record allowed ST to win another vote in 2008 and build a wave of enthusiasm for a third measure as early as next year.

ST Adds All Sorts of Stuff for 2016

ST bus 51401
Newly delivered New Flyer XDE60 coach. Photo by SounderBruce.

Faithful readers already know Sound Transit is headed for a banner 2016.  University Link alone would be enough to ensure that; it will connect the three most important transit destinations in Washington state with frequent, fast, high-capacity transit for the first time, replacing bus routes that are one of Seattle’s most notorious time sinks.  Also no surprise are the opening of Angle Lake Station and a new midday round trip on South Sounder.  But that is not all the agency has up its sleeve to drive an expected increase of 18 percent in total system ridership.  Last week, ST released an early draft of its 2016 Service Implementation Plan, which includes a most welcome surprise: a substantial increase in ST Express bus service.

The increase is a surprise because ST Express stubbornly has remained a zero-sum program for several years, despite the expanding economy. ballooning ridership, and rapidly recovering tax revenue streams.  Expansion of oversubscribed routes such as the 550 and 545 has been paid for by chopping the span of service of less popular routes, while increasing I-405 congestion has resulted in cut trips on South King County-Eastside routes.  This time, there are no cuts and no surprises, just a very peak-heavy expansion driven primarily by overcrowding relief and better connections to U-Link and Sounder.  Details below the jump.

Continue reading “ST Adds All Sorts of Stuff for 2016”