Sound Transit Presents ST3 Options

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Sound Transit 3 (ST3) kicked off in earnest today with a Sound Transit Board Workshop. The bulk of the information involved more detailed corridor studies to further assess various alternatives against the criteria the board set out. However, there was also an interesting look at the benefits of expanding the package from 15 to 20 or even 25 years, as well as absolutely fascinating operational concepts for the final system. We’ll have a much more detailed look at financial models and operational concepts in the coming days, but here are some project highlights. Continue reading “Sound Transit Presents ST3 Options”

Metro’s Political Problem Hits Georgetown

124 bus
Route 124, using some hastily un-retired equipment. Photo by LB Bryce.

The last few weeks have been deeply discouraging for close followers of Metro. First we learned that Metro and the King County Council were raising the white flag on any significant effort to improve Link access, or bus service generally, in Capitol Hill. Then we got wind of Metro’s new proposal in SE Seattle, which would resurrect a redundant service pattern that Metro already canceled once because of low ridership, while cutting a couple of services proven over the years to perform better.

In both cases, the common thread is political interference with professional planning decisions. That needs to stop. In a time of plentiful resources, entire neighborhoods with thousands of residents–including Summit, east Capitol Hill, and Georgetown–are about to undergo major cuts in bus service for the sake of appeasing a few activists who do not represent many riders. The process hands ammunition freely to those who would paint transit as a sop to special interests and a waste of public money, rather than the core public infrastructure it is.

The Council adopted a professional service planning process (the Service Guidelines) in 2011, based on guidelines enacted into law, to avoid what had become a chronic pattern of micromanagement by Councils and Executives that left the county with an incomprehensible, spaghetti-like transit network. The process has resulted in meaningful service improvements and sharply increased ridership in neighborhoods across Metro’s service area, and helped ensure that Seattle’s Prop 1 funds went to solving real problems. But recent events, almost all occurring behind closed doors, appear to be signaling that the Council’s professional process is essentially dead, and Metro is back to direct planning by politicians and their appointees. Along with the public, we are reduced to relying on hearsay, rumor, and leaks; the players offer little or no insight into how decisions are made until after the fact. More details underlying this state of affairs as applied to Georgetown in particular, after the jump.

Continue reading “Metro’s Political Problem Hits Georgetown”

How the 106 Downtown Extension Money Could Benefit a Lot More Riders

Zach pointed out last week the major flaw in Metro’s proposal for an otherwise praiseworthy restructure of southeast Seattle bus service. The restructure features a re-route of route 106 to head up MLK Way north of Rainier Beach Station to Mt Baker Station, then up Rainier Ave to Jackson St, and on over to 4th Ave. It will cost roughly $2.5 million per year for the portion of new route 106 that duplicates route 7, from Mt Baker Station to 4th Ave.

There are a lot of other service investments that just got pushed back in line by this apparent circumvention of Metro’s Service Guidelines. But in addition to the line in which the 106 downtown extension just cut, there is also a call on the new money by a report that has collected only two years of dust.

Microsoft Word - Final Draft June 18Recommendation #6 from the Final Report and Recommendations of the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee was “A low‐income fare program should be considered as a beneficiary if the County has new or increased revenue.”

Metro has now revealed that it has expanding revenue — enough to propose at least $2.5 million in annual new service, beyond what is being funded by Seattle’s 2014 Proposition 1. How much fare relief could $2.5 million provide for youth and low-income riders (who pay identical fares)?

A report recently put out by Metro showed roughly 3% of boardings on Metro were paid for by ORCA LIFT (low-income) cards in September. Perusing quarterly ORCA Joint Board Program Management Reports for the past year shows youth boardings hovering around 6% or less of all boardings. Summer youth boardings dropped off substantially in 2014, but less so in 2015.

Let’s presume youth/LIFT boardings collectively climb to 10% of all Metro boardings in 2016. With 120 million Metro boardings a year, that is 12 million boardings where Metro would stand to lose money from a youth/LIFT fare decrease. If the fare is dropped by 25 cents, Metro could lose as much as $3 million in fare revenue. However, once passes and transfers are accounted for, the hit would be pretty close to $2.5 million. Metro has now admitted they have the money to do that, if that is the county council’s pleasure.

Throw in a grand bargain in which the county agrees to make the youth/LIFT fare a half-fare or less, in perpetuity, in exchange for getting rid of paper transfers, and nearly every rider on Metro would see a positive difference in Metro service.

One red-tape hurdle in the way of this is that Metro uses fare recovery — that is to say gross fare recovery, which doesn’t account for fare collection costs — as a primary tool for setting fares. If Metro were to measure net fare recovery in addition to gross fare recovery, the public would see more clearly why fare recovery is a political tool, not a good budgeting principle.

Move the 10: A Quick, Easy Fix for Summit

KCM 4315 in Downtown Seattle

(UPDATE: Metro’s Victor Obeso has responded, saying Metro is “actively considering” this change.  Mr. Obeso’s full statement is below the story.)

By now, everyone is familiar with our dismay over the lack of a meaningful Link restructure in Capitol Hill, and in particular over some of the major losses that Metro’s final restructure package is imposing without much countervailing benefit.

Arguably the worst loss in service is to the Summit neighborhood, one of the city’s densest. Summit is currently served by two frequent routes running along Olive Way: route 43 to downtown and Capitol Hill, and route 8 to Uptown and Capitol Hill. (There is also the vestigial, infrequent 47 to downtown.) Today, each of the 8 and 43 has 4 buses/hour during the day. The restructure adopted by the County Council slightly increased frequency on the 8 to 5 buses/hour, and cut the 43 altogether except for peak-hour, half-hourly service.  In the ordinance, the lost service on the 43 was fully replaced by route 11, moved from Pine Street to Olive Way and John Street through Capitol Hill. But now, route 11 has been moved back to Pine without any other change, leaving no replacement for the 43, and almost no downtown service, for Summit residents.

The story of why the 11 ended up back on Pine is political, convoluted and not worth rehashing here. But the good news is there is an easy, and still-possible, way for Metro to salvage Summit service.

Metro should move route 10 from Pine to Olive and John.

Together with Link, this would fully replace current 43 and planned 11 service for Summit residents. In addition to making Summit whole, the move would make a new connection between one of Capitol Hill’s major business districts and Link, and meaningfully improve east-west service from Link generally. It would not significantly reduce transit access for anyone or make any common trips significantly more difficult. For Pine riders, frequent service would remain along Pine, on routes 11 and 49. Riders on 15th south of John would have no more than a three-block walk, on flat terrain, to either the revised 10 or the now-frequent 11 or 12.

Legally, this change could be accomplished as an administrative change, not subject to County Council approval, because no part of the route would move more than 1/2 mile. Practically, the could be done with the same resources as currently planned for route 10 and with almost no change to existing schedules. The outbound trip time using Olive and John is 1 to 2 minutes slower at some times of day than the outbound trip time using Pine, but current recovery time is sufficient to absorb those additional minutes.

Metro should make this happen. It’s easy and would make things better. Please let Metro know by calling (206) 553-3000 or submitting an online comment.

Statement from Metro Deputy G.M. Victor Obeso: “Changing the path of Route 10 is an idea we are actively considering, based on constructive feedback and in light of Route 11 remaining on Pine Street. Moving Route 10 off of 15th Avenue East to carry riders along East John Street past Capitol Hill Station is a concept Metro planners examined during the Link Connections effort. Our focus continues to be on serving our customers with the connections they want and need, and work to balance community support and concerns as we consider changes to bus service.”

Metro Responds to Our Capitol Hill Restructure Article

STB has a longstanding policy to print unedited responses to our articles by agency officials. Metro’s Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso submitted this response to Zach’s Tuesday piece entitled “Metro Cancels Capitol Hill Restructure“. 


Photo of Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso
Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso

Metro hasn’t canceled the Capitol Hill restructure. Riders will see more frequent and reliable bus service integrated with rail service when ULink launches in 2016.

Metro did have to pull back on the proposal to move Route 11 to John/Thomas, intended to help Capitol Hill riders have better east-west service. As part of our regular planning routine to test that bus turns can be made, we tested the turns between Madison and 19th and determined that changes to roadway channelization would be necessary to enable the right turn from Madison to 19th. SDOT rejected Metro’s rechannelization proposal. As a result, Route 11 will still take riders downtown on its current path. Metro heard a wide array of comments on changing or keeping the path of the Route 11.

Not being able to change the path of Route 11 doesn’t diminish the other key changes with real benefits for riders: Better frequency and better reliability on Capitol Hill.

  • Buses will be coming to Capitol Hill Station every 12 minutes North-South and East-West during the mid-day, and every 10-15 minutes during the peaks.
  • We will be splitting Routes 8 and 48 to improve their reliability. (Unlike the Alternative 2 network)
  • Riders will see added service on Routes 8, 12, 48 and 49.
  • Routes 8, 9, 49, 60 and the Streetcar all go past and serve Capitol Hill station with frequent service.
  • More frequent evening trips on Route 8 will be funded by keeping Route 11 on its current, more direct path.

Overall, we received mixed feedback from Capitol Hill riders and from surrounding neighborhoods on more aggressive restructuring concepts. There was no consensus throughout the process and we attempted to balance a number of competing objectives.

We’ll be monitoring travel patterns after ULink launches and look for opportunities for further changes, including participating in SDOT’s Madison BRT efforts. We’ve been working with SDOT on making many transit improvements we need across the city and they continue to be a key partner in working to make March changes a success.

We continue to plan jointly with Sound Transit so bus transfers work easily for riders. Each new station gives us an opportunity to learn from our past and make the system work better, and this is a responsibility we take seriously.

Metro and Sound Transit continue to chart a shared path forward, with integrated long-range planning, coordinated bus-rail connections, ORCA Lift coordination and open data sharing – examples of joint transit systems we successfully operate every day. Metro will continue to roll out bold restructures to better integrate rail and buses as ST2 projects come on line.  Sometimes public resistance, council opposition, or decisions on city street operations cause us to go back to the drawing board.  We will continue to look at changes to the Capitol Hill service network in the coming years.

Metro Cancels Capitol Hill Restructure, Cuts Access to Link

SounderBruce (Flickr)
SounderBruce (Flickr)

[CORRECTION: We mistakenly asserted that Metro did not test the feasibility of the 19th Avenue turn prior to implementing the Route 11 change. Metro replied by email to stress that they did test the turn, it failed, they requested street improvements from SDOT, the restructure passed, and then SDOT denied the request. We regret the error and the original post has been updated below.]

The saga of restructuring bus service for University Link continues this week, with Metro transmitting the official restructure details in two packages (A and B). These packages are the marching orders needed for each department (marketing, facilities, operations etc) to implement the changes in time for March 2016 service change. There are lots of small changes in these packages, and we’ll cover the rest of them in a subsequent article. But the big news isn’t in these packages, because it’s a non-change: the Capitol Hill restructure is basically dead.

Due to the technical inability to make the 135° turn from East Madison to 19th Avenue, Routes 8 and 11 will no longer move to 19th Avenue and E Thomas St, but will continue on their current routings, with Route 8 on John/Thomas and Route 11 on Madison/Pine (though Route 8 will still split from Route 38 and get a boost to 12-minute frequency). As an “administrative change” – in which no stop is more than a half mile from its current routing – the 19th Avenue deviation was neither part of the restructure as adopted by Council nor released for public feedback. We are told that its inclusion met political objectives to secure Council votes, but Metro apparently did not test the operational feasibility of the the route prior to the restructure’s adoption. Metro approved the proposal without SDOT approving the necessary street improvements, which SDOT subsequently denied after the restructure was passed.

Analysis and lamentations after the jump. Continue reading “Metro Cancels Capitol Hill Restructure, Cuts Access to Link”

ST3 – Once in a Lifetime


ST3 is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

Let’s make it great!

As you sit in a car or bus stuck in ever-worsening traffic in our region, do you ever imagine what our region would be like if we had approved Forward Thrust in 1968 or 1970—a system that would have been completed in the 1980s?

There is an equally important opportunity in front of the ST board starting on Dec 4th. We are not talking about just getting rail to Everett & Tacoma, or just West Seattle to Ballard. We are talking about a complete system in one vote.

Due to a unique convergence of factors, the Sound Transit board has a rare opportunity to do just that. They have the ability to connect our entire region and provide the Puget Sound with a much more complete solution to our transit troubles than they envisioned 3 years ago when they commenced planning for ST3.

Changing Times

During the height of the recession, when the board decided that ST should plan for a possible 2016 ballot measure, the choice seemed bullish. It is a bullish decision no longer. Our region is among the fastest growing in the country. Seattle alone added 58,000 people within its borders from 2010 to 2014. Traffic delays have increased up to 290% in some areas since 2010. We suffer from a challenge of abundance—unemployment in most large cities in our metro area is only in the 3-4% range and hiring doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Option that solves more problems

With our rapid growth in population and jobs, should we be content with a limited, recession-era plan to grow our rail system? What if we could do more while spending money more responsibly on a clear, long-term path to a complete transit system in just one vote? And what if that complete plan would cost us the same amount per year as the smaller, recession era version? The basic concept is this: Sound Transit puts forth a ballot measure that has more projects with more time to pay for them and more time to construct them. By planning and building a system instead of multiple votes for a few lines at a time, we have the ability to think and act strategically, save staff time and set ourselves up for more federal funds.

Continue reading “ST3 – Once in a Lifetime”