News Roundup: Plate of Nations

KCM 4602 (Proterra) charging at Eastgate P&R

This is an open thread.

How to Fix ST3 so Seattle Will Vote For It

stc__complete-v7_seattleSEATTLE SUBWAY

When most Seattleites saw the draft ST3 plan that Sound Transit released on Thursday, they were taken aback. 22 years to get to Ballard with a long section at-grade? 15 years to get to West Seattle? None of the other extensions we need? Seattleites were expecting more out of a $50 Billion dollar regional plan. Upon further review of the draft ST3 plan, however, Seattle Subway believes that we’re really not that far away from a plan Seattleites can get behind.

Here is how to fix it:

1.  Expedite the construction of light rail in Seattle.

The biggest criticism of the proposed package that we’ve heard from Seattle voters and our supporters is the glacial pace of construction to Ballard and West Seattle.  Sound Transit must do everything it can to expedite the construction of light rail in Seattle, including the elimination of projects that do not contribute the same benefits to mobility in Seattle.  The line to Ballard is the single best project in the package, by every possible metric (Ridership per dollar?  Check.  Potential for Transit Oriented Development?  Check.  Potential for federal funding?  Check.).  Seattle voters will not support a package unless they will live to ride the rail.

2.  Make Ballard to Downtown fully grade separated.

Once light rail is constructed at-grade, our city will be stuck with a flawed system, forever. Delays from our existing stretch of at-grade rail ripple throughout the system and limit the future  capacity of rail through the Rainier Valley.  All new light rail must be constructed with grade separation. This line, in particular, needs to be built to the highest quality possible. The high range ridership estimate for Ballard to downtown is 145,000 riders per day, which would mean:
-Ballard to Downtown’s daily ridership will be greater than the entire population of Bellevue.
-Ballard to Downtown’s daily ridership will be equivalent to the entire Portland MAX system.

3.  Provide complete funding of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the extensions from Ballard to UW and from West Seattle to Burien, and add both lines as “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available.  
Continue reading “How to Fix ST3 so Seattle Will Vote For It”

7 ST3 Public Meetings Scheduled for April

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Now that Sound Transit has released its Draft System Plan – a 25 year, $50B behemoth that would build Link from Everett to West Seattle, Ballard to Tacoma, and Bellevue to Issaquah – it’s time for you to come out and provide feedback on project selection, project phasing, financing, and more. In addition to Sound Transit’s online survey, there are 7 public meetings scheduled for the last couple weeks of April, spread throughout ST’s 4-county service area. All meetings are 5:30-7:30pm, with the exception of the April 28 meeting at Union Station.

A Cautionary Tale from DC Metro

Ballston Metro 208/365

Recently the DC Metro, which has had its share of challenges over the last few years, was closed for an entire day for an impromptu safety inspection. During the outage someone tweeted this article from The Washingtonian about how bad things have gotten at the agency. Once the shining example of postwar US rail, the system is starting to fall apart, for reasons mechanical and political.

As we contemplate expanding Link here in the Puget Sound, let’s make sure we’re not repeating all of DC’s mistakes. For example, replace WMATA with Sound Transit and see if any of this rings a bell:

The first [structural problem] was the power-sharing compact among DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The hastily designed agreement creating WMATA handed control of the agency to political appointees from three jurisdictions (four, once the feds were added). The board reps aren’t required to have a background in transit—they just need to use Metro.

This didn’t hinder the agency much in the beginning, when Metro’s main job was to build new stations. But the arrangement became unwieldy after 2001, once the original build-out was complete. At that point, the agency had to transition from what was a de facto construction company to a rail operator. Officials were now tasked with the more mundane challenges of providing reliable, timely service along 103 miles of tracks. And parts of the infrastructure were already more than 30 years old.

Fortunately, Sound Transit taxes include dedicated operations and maintenance funding, something DC lacks. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a future where maintenance gets shafted in favor of new service:

The board generously supported other parts of WMATA. According to a 2010 report by former Metro GM David Gunn, then a consultant, government funds for the buses doubled and for handicap transit tripled from 2000 to 2009. During the same period, rail funding increased by only 12 percent.

It came down to politics, Gunn says: A board rep might not be able to get a new Metro station in his district—too costly—but could certainly swing a bus stop. “They stripped [funding] out of the rail system, and they had it go to the handicap services or to buses,” he says. “And they did that because those are politically positive things.”

While all this is happening, Metro is trying to become more of a late-night subway and less of a commuter system:

Continue reading “A Cautionary Tale from DC Metro”

Metro Proposes New Scaled Back SE Seattle Restructure

Othello Station (Avgeek Joe – Flickr)
Othello Station (Avgeek Joe – Flickr)

With ULink’s opening and Metro’s unprecedented service changes in NE Seattle and Capitol Hill, it’s been a quiet few months for the proposed SE Seattle restructure that it’s safe to say we’ve had a few reservations about. On Monday, Metro transmitted a scaled back version for consideration by the King County Council (Metro blog post here). It will be heard in the Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee on April 5, with a possible council vote in May. The changes would take effect in September 2016.

Unlike the previous proposal, the proposal would leave Routes 106 and 107 as is, with both positive outcomes (no cuts in Georgetown) and negative outcomes (foregone opportunity for improved connections between Renton and the Rainier Valley, which we’ve been advocating for in some form since 2012). The likely reasons for Renton’s omission are political simplicity and because including Renton would bring the new routes below the eligibility threshold for a Prop 1-funded boost. In a phone call yesterday, Metro staff noted a continued openness to a larger restructure if city funding partnerships emerge.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 9.46.44 AMInstead, the scaled-back proposal would simply retain the raison d’être from the original proposal, namely the restoration of a direct connection between mid-MLK (in between Link stops) and the International District. The proposal would extend newly-minted Route 38 to the International District, but only on weekdays from approximately 6am-6:30pm. Evening and weekend trips would continue to terminate at Mount Baker Station as they do today. The extension would be paid for by cutting Route 9 back to peak-period, peak-direction only, which is how a majority of its riders use it today.

The 15-minute route would combine with Route 7 for 10 buses per hour along Rainier and Jackson, albeit at unavoidably uneven combined headways. Routes 7, 14, 38, and Link would combine for 18 services per hour between Mount Baker and the International District. The 38 would be far slower than Link but a tick faster than Route 7, retaining the express stop pattern of today’s Route 9.

During peak hours, savvy riders headed to ACRS or the Filipino Community Center would still often save time by using Link + Route 38 instead of Route 38 alone, as peak hours are when Link frequency is highest and bus reliability lowest. 6 minute Link headways and a 9-minute travel time to Mt Baker (average trip time of 12 minutes) compare favorably to 15-minute Route 38 headways with an 18-minute travel time (average trip time 25 minutes). Transfers between bus and train will be frequent but also suboptimal, as Metro doesn’t have the available funds to both extend Route 38 and offer frequencies to match Link.

In an ideal world we’d ease transfers by expediting the rebuild of Mt Baker, harmonize fares between agencies, reduce or eliminate the ORCA card fee, radically expand ORCA access, and then reinvest these service hours to provide 6-10 minute frequencies on Route 38 and extend it all the way to Renton. But lacking good movement on any of those issues, community advocacy for restoration of MLK-IDS bus service is more understandable. The opportunity costs are significant, but the new route would provide a simple, direct, and frequent connection for cash payers, those using paper transfers, or those for whom a second or third transfer is prohibitive.

Want Free Transfers Between Link & Buses? Get the ORCA Card, All Week at UW & Capitol Hill Stations

Tap ORCA here

There is only one fare medium that allows you to get free transfers between Link Light Rail and buses: the One Regional Card for All (ORCA).

ORCA is a “smart card”, which you use by holding it flat against the reception area of an ORCA reader, until you hear a single beep. I keep my ORCA card in my wallet, and hold the wallet flat for a second on the ORCA reader, and it works just as if I took the card out.

The card allows 2-hour transfers, when using e-purse you loaded on your card, charging only the fare of the most expensive ride during that window, among trips on Link Light Rail, Metro buses, Seattle Streetcars, Sound Transit Express buses, Sounder trains, Community Transit buses, Everett Transit buses, Pierce Transit buses, Kitsap transit buses and water taxis, and King County Water Taxis. The day passes and monthly passes cover their face value for trips on all these services. For trips with fare higher than your pass’s face value, the difference is deducted from your e-purse.

Monthly passes generally cost $9 for each 25 cents of ride face value covered. Note that the ORCA card is not accepted on the Seattle Center Monorail, and passes are not accepted on Washington State Ferries, unless you buy a pass that is only for Washington State Ferries.

Regular ORCA cards are found pretty ubiquitously: Continue reading “Want Free Transfers Between Link & Buses? Get the ORCA Card, All Week at UW & Capitol Hill Stations”

Check Out This 1975 Documentary on Seattle Transit

Still from KOMO's 1975 documentary on the future of Seattle transportation.
Still from KOMO’s 1975 documentary on the future of Seattle transportation.

If waiting until 2038 for a Ballard line has got you down, watch this 25-minute 1975 KOMO documentary on urban growth and transportation plans for Seattle. It surveys the current options for growth, what agencies might play a leading role, and ends with the emerging consensus for building the DSTT and the I-90 HOV lanes, both of which were still 15 years away.

The doc speaks glowingly of the planned community of Reston, VA, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.  San Francisco’s subruban-oriented BART, which was brand new at the time, is presented as a cautionary tale, with high operating costs and reliability issues (which have only gotten worse, it appears) wooshing people into the city from the suburbs without meaningfully addressing sprawl.

Seattle can’t get away from comparing itself to San Francisco, it seems.  While we’re in the wayback machine, check out this 1992 New York Times piece by Timothy Egan on urban villages (via @bruteforceblog):

With its high real estate prices and low percentage of families with children, San Francisco is a city that has largely closed the door to middle-income residents, the Mayor said. “The worst thing that could happen to Seattle would be to become like San Francisco,” Mayor Rice said in an interview last week. By creating urban villages with schools and parks, and not just new apartments or condominiums, the Mayor said he hoped to attract families rather than single adults.”

While the Eastside has grown in the intervening 24 years, attitudes haven’t changed as much:

Still, even with the water threat, the plan has been well received east of Seattle, where the combined population of cities like Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah will soon surpass that of Seattle, which has 516,000 people.

“This is the first time that a Seattle mayor has ever had the guts to stand up and accept the fact that the city has to accept its share of growth,” said Mayor Cary Bozeman of Bellevue, the largest of the cities surrounding Seattle. “Politically, it is very difficult to buck the no-growth, not-in-my-backyard neighborhood groups.”

One such group in North Seattle has attacked the Mayor’s plan as a blueprint for more crime and congestion. “I don’t buy that we have to accept all the growth,” said Cat Newsheller, a neighborhood leader, at a public hearing on the plan last week.

As of 2015, Seattle has an estimated 662,400 residents.

We’re Losing Character in Single Family Zones

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One idea of how corner stores could fit into a residential zone. 

An integral part of Seattle neighborhood history and appeal is quickly being lost. Corner stores were once a staple of neighborhood life in Seattle, and remain so in many of the most vibrant cities around the world. They speak of a time when community was tightly knit, people knew the names of their neighbors and local businessmen, and children were free to explore their streets. While there are fewer and fewer remaining examples, those that survive provide insight into the characteristics that make these buildings successful and how potential new uses could enliven community life.

History

The Wallingford neighborhood inventory from the late 1970’s states that “There are many street corner grocery stores scattered throughout the community, serving as neighborhood meeting places.”  The historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps confirm this distribution, as these buildings are easily identifiable due to their lack of setback. In describing neighborhood stores, the Wallingford inventory says, “unpretentious owner operated corner groceries of various architectural styles add color and serve as foci for neighborhood identity.” Since that time, pressure from larger chain stores has overwhelmed small businesses and zoning restrictions have prevented the replacement of these buildings, within single-family zones.

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One of two non-conforming corner store buildings in Wallingford’s Single Family Zone, 53rd and Woodlawn Ave.

Imagine if you could walk to work, or to the store to pick up groceries? Ride your bike with your children to their daycare, or pick up locally made holiday gifts from the boutique right around the corner? What if just doing the errands meant you’d run into a neighbor or friend who was happy to see you? Continue reading “We’re Losing Character in Single Family Zones”

ULink Bus Restructure Begins Saturday: More Service, More Transfers, Faster Trips


Last weekend’s long-awaited ULink opening has been a smashing success, with UW and Capitol Hill boosting Link ridership by nearly 50% in a matter of days ($). More impressively, this is being done both prior to the big Metro restructure tomorrow and prior to UW students returning from Spring Break on Monday. With many reports of train overcrowding already, it’s a relief that Sound Transit will begin mixing in much-needed 3-car trains. But Monday in particular brings a new era for Seattle transit riders.

Amidst the deserved joy of ULink’s opening and the intense feelings around ST3’s draft rollout, let’s not lose the sheer magnitude of Metro’s bus restructure, the largest in decades and one that will change tens of thousands of daily trips, mostly for the better. We’ve already covered the restructure exhaustively, and Metro has come out with a slew of helpful videos for riders (two of which are shown above), along with route-by-route transfer animations for riders connecting in the Montlake Triangle.

The basic theme of the restructure, especially in NE Seattle, is higher frequency service paid for with a reliance on ULink and increased transfers. The ease and reliability of these transfers is an open question, and their success or failure will largely determine the public’s view of this restructure over time. Even prior to the restructure, this week I’ve taken a few trips between Capitol Hill and The Ave via Link, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the ease of the trips (pro-tip: use the UW Station elevators, they’re lightning fast and go all the way to the pedestrian overpass). On my first trip, I emerged from Link and waited 3 minutes for a Route 271 on Pacific St, and after boarding I was at 43rd & University just 4 minutes later, for a total trip time of 14 minutes. My Route 49 bus is scheduled for 18 minutes to travel the same distance. When Saturday’s restructure exponentially boosts service to the Montlake Triangle, riders will become accustomed to very short waits for buses in all but the worst traffic conditions.

Let us know in the comments how your Saturday experience goes, and especially any new commutes you try out on Monday! We’ll be covering the ridership and travel time changes extensively as data rolls in over the next few months.

And let’s also say a thank you and requiem for the buses that will no longer be with us after today, including:

  • Historic milk-run Route 16, which will graduate into a full-time, frequent Route 62 serving far more neighborhoods.
  • Lightly-ridden Route 25, which will mostly not be replaced except for a tiny Laurelhurst loop on new Route 78.
  • A shadow of its former Sand Point-Seattle Center self, Route 30 will finally give up the ghost.
  • Route 66, which will go into cryogenic stasis until SDOT reanimates it as high capacity bus rapid transit in a few years’ time.
  • Route 68, which will be taken over by more adaptive species (Routes 67 and 372), which are both able to come twice as often and exist without taking Sundays off
  • Route 242, the last remaining Metro service from NE Seattle across 520 to Redmond. From now on those are solely Sound Transit Routes (combinations of 540, 541, 542, 555, and 556)
  • And of course, the often crushloaded, decades-long workhorses of Routes 71, 72, and 73 Express.

Sound Transit 3: Meet Your 25-Year Transit Expansion Package

Angle Lake Construction in 2014 (Atomic Taco – Flickr)
Graphic by the Author (click to enlarge)

This afternoon Sound Transit released its long-awaited Sound Transit 3 (ST3) Draft System Plan, the first complete draft of what will be on your ballot this fall. We’ll have much more in the coming days and weeks, but here’s the gist.

Responding both to enormous demand for better transit and public appetite for a large package amidst a healthy local economy, Sound Transit has chosen to go big: ST3 will be a 25-year, $50 billion transit package. It would build light rail to Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, Issaquah, Ballard, and West Seattle in 5 distinct phases, alongside other projects such as I-405 BRT, SR 522 BRT, and Sounder Improvements.

When preparing yourself for the long phasing of these projects, it’s probably helpful to think of ST3 being an extension of ST2, with the agency in constant and concurrent construction between 2008-2041. Here’s what the Draft Plan offers you:

Early Wins

In an effort to show early value despite the long timelines for rail projects, ST3 would offer a number of small projects early in the life of the package. They include:

  • Implementing shoulder-running for express buses
  • Providing unspecified capital improvements to RapidRide C and D
  • Providing a capital contribution to improving Pierce Transit’s Route 1 on Pacific Avenue
  • Providing better connections to Sumner Station, including new Sounder Connectors, presumably from East Pierce County cities such as Orting
  • Parking, parking, parking. The plan would also construct new parking early in the package in Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, Bothell, Kingsgate, and along North and South Sounder. It would also construct Renton’s requested new Park & Ride at I-405 and SR 167.

2024: I-405 and SR 522 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Continue reading “Sound Transit 3: Meet Your 25-Year Transit Expansion Package”

News Roundup: Selling Out

Chrome Train Panorama at University of Washington Station

This is an open thread.

3-Car Trains Coming Next Week

Last evening, Sound Transit announced that this Monday they would start running “a mix of two and three-car trains during the morning and evening rush hours.” Ridership has been robust early on, and there’s been a minor twitter uprising to push for more capacity.

Moreover, Metro hasn’t even adjusted service to feed UW Station, UW is on spring break, and Seattle Central is coming out of exams. So it’s prudent to lay on a little extra capacity to avoid leaving new customers on the platform.

The preliminary ridership count for Saturday’s operations was 67,000, just short of the Super Bowl parade’s 71,000. Preliminary boarding counts for Monday and Tuesday were 47,000 and 57,000, respectively, well ahead of the 35,000 per weekday Link saw in January.

Community Transit Adds New Trips to Existing Routes Next Week

A standing room-only run of route 415 seen in January.
A standing room-only run of route 415 seen in January.

As previously reported, Community Transit is moving ahead with a minor increase in service brought on by the successful passage of Proposition 1 last November. Beginning Sunday, March 27, 15 new trips and six extended trips will be put in place on seven local routes (including Swift) and nine commuter routes; other routes will receive schedule adjustments to reflect actual trip times or to facilitate transfers. The service change is made possible by reserve funds that Community Transit is able to use ahead of April 1, when the collection of an additional 0.3% of sales tax approved in Proposition 1 begins.

The full list of changes from Community Transit’s website includes reasoning behind some of the changes, such as ridership demand on some commuter routes.

  • Swift: Two new early morning trips are added at 4:40 a.m., one northbound and one southbound.
  • Route 112: Seven new trips are added in the middle of the day, providing 30-minute service until evening. This creates a more frequent all-day connection between Ash Way P&R and Swamp Creek P&R, and also more frequent service for Mountlake Terrace.
  • Route 113: Minor schedule adjustments.
  • Route 120: First two morning eastbound trips on Route 120 will leave 3 minutes earlier to improve connections with Route 435 at Canyon Park.
  • Route 240: One new eastbound trip is added at 8:25 p.m., providing later evening service from Stanwood.
  • Route 271: One new westbound trip is added at 8:55 p.m., providing later evening service from Gold Bar.
  • Route 280: Weekday trip adjustments of 5 or more minutes, including two afternoon trips leaving the Boeing Plant shifted 5 minutes earlier.
  • Route 410: All southbound trips will serve Ash Way, similar to how northbound trips operate. A bay change at Mariner P&R is also included in the changes.
  • Route 413: One new morning southbound trip is added at 6:25 a.m. to accommodate ridership demand.
  • Route 415: One new afternoon northbound trip is added at 3:15 p.m. to accommodate ridership demand. The first northbound trip to Lynnwood will leave 4th & Jackson 5 minutes earlier.
  • Route 421: One new morning southbound trip is added at 5:51 a.m. to accommodate ridership demand.
  • Route 424: The two morning southbound trips starting at the same time as currently scheduled, but the travel times are adjusted to better match actual travel time, providing more schedule reliability.
  • Route 435: One new afternoon northbound trip is added at 3:55 p.m. to accommodate ridership demand. The northbound trip leaving Stewart & 9th Ave at 4:05 p.m. will leave 10 minutes later at 4:15 p.m.
  • Route 810: The first two northbound trips leaving Stevens & Memorial Way will leave 15 minutes later at 6:15 and 6:45 p.m.
  • Route 860: All southbound trips will serve Ash Way, similar to how northbound trips operate.
  • Route 880: All trips will be extended to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal.

A much larger service expansion, funded directly by new sales tax revenue approved by Proposition 1, is planned for this September. Community Transit presented its first proposal for the service change during a board meeting this month and is taking public comment until April 8.

Community Transit is also adjusting its University District service to serve the new University of Washington Link station, by adding a stop on Stevens Way NE at Rainier Vista. 84 trips every weekday run between the U District and Snohomish County and will stop within walking distance of the station, but will otherwise remain unchanged.

Please Move to the Center. Keep Moving. Yes, Keep Going Until You Can’t Move Any Further.

Photo by AVGeekJoe from U-Link Opening Ride
Photo by AVGeekJoe from U-Link Opening Ride

I rode back and forth on Link Light Rail trains a couple times Tuesday afternoon, just to see how the new Capitol Hill Station and University of Washington Station ridership would impact PM peak Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel Operations, during the interim week before several northeast Seattle routes start terminating near UW Station.

The time trial from Stadium Station to Westlake Station took 10:20, at the height of peak-of-peak. That compares quite well to some of my 20-minute time trials for that segment in years past. The time from Stadium Station to UW Station was 18:10. Yes, you can get to UW from the SODO faster during the peak hour than you used to be able to get to Westlake, on the same trains. This was with a 45-second delay before University Street Station and another 45-second delay before Westlake Station. An earlier off-peak time trial took 16:20 from Stadium Station to UW. Both trips had more standees than open seats, but the trains were not crowded.

The southbound time trial, at the tail end of peak-of-peak, took 18:35 from UW to Stadium Station, and 11:20 from Westlake to Stadium Station. This is slightly on the slow side, but most of the delay was simply dwell time getting everyone off and on the train. Westlake alone took 55 seconds to get everyone off and on. The train was crushloaded by the time it arrived at Pioneer Square Station. Some riders had to wait for the next train. But there was more room on the train, at the center articulation zone.

I was the only one who moved into the center standing area. I called out in vain for people standing by the bike/luggage areas to move to the center and make more room. Shrugs.

And so, I must offer a David-Lawson-style chastisement to the passengers who blocked the open space. You were fully capable of standing in the center area. Other people were waiting to board. You made them wait six-ish more minutes for the next train. Not cool. (I don’t know how long it really was, as the real-time-arrival signs were not meshing with real arrivals or departures.)

The southbound trains are likely to be much more packed next week, not just because of all the bus routes that will connect to UW Station starting Saturday, but also because UW will be back in session. Honestly, I could shout for everyone near bike/luggage areas on the trains to move to the center and fill up that space until I turn blue in the face, but even if a dozen more riders could be pushed onto each train, a southbound capacity challenge is brewing next week.

That said, more people are alighting than boarding at International District / Chinatown Station during PM peak. That bump in alightings appears to be from the new passengers boarding at UW and Capitol Hill. So folks, move to the center, and keep moving until all the space is filled. Take a deep breath, hold it for 2-4 minutes, and let it out when the train suddenly gets less crowded at ID/C Station.

BTW, Mark Dublin, I still owe you lunch at the Beacon Hill taco truck.

Update: Mike Lindblom at the Times ($) broke the news that 3-car trains will be deployed starting next Monday, alternating with 2-car trains during peak. Thanks to commenter Al S. for catching that.

Seattle Pacific Trolley Extension Coming in March 2017

@TransLinkKid (Instagram)
@TransLinkKid (Instagram)

Walking by Seattle Pacific University early last week, I noticed that the trolley wire extension project appeared to have been complete, yet service has not yet been proposed for extension. We’ve been covering this issue since 2012, and earlier estimates had Metro hoping to complete the project in 2014.

The passing trolley wire at SPU allows Routes 3 and 4 to extend from Queen Anne to Seattle Pacific, eliminating their vestigial residential loops atop Queen Anne. It provides legible and frequent trunk service between SPU, Queen Anne, and Downtown, and it also atones for the 2012 loss of Route 17, previously SPU’s primary downtown access. Two years ago this week we reported that Metro had funds for design and construction, and it appears to be complete. But in an email, Metro’s Jeff Switzer tells STB that the routes will not be extended to SPU until March 2017:

Metro is planning to extend the routes 3 and 4 to SPU in March 2017 and will propose this as part of its 2017-18 budget. This extension creates a more robust connection between SPU and Queen Anne and it will provide better access to comfort stations for our Operators.  Metro’s challenge has been finding the operational resources to fund this extension which roughly adds more than another full-time bus to the schedule.

Waiting another year for this minor change is mildly frustrating, but it’s good to know it’s being officially proposed. My own estimate of the operational costs for this are approximately 3,000 service hours, or roughly $500k per year. That’s a small but non-negligible outlay, and it is definitely eligible for a Prop 1-funded boost in future service changes. Let’s hope this stays on the docket for next year.

Route 550 Staying in Tunnel for Now

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Atomic Taco (Flickr)

Last week we reported that, in a bid to improve tunnel operations and ULink reliability, Route 550 would be surfaced to 4th Avenue westbound each weekday afternoon. Confirming the change, OneBusAway showed trips departing Bellevue from 2:35-5:25pm as running on the surface.

But in an email update, Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray says the agency is backing off the idea for now:

Wanted to drop you a quick note about the 550. Those inbound trips in the afternoon will not be coming out of the tunnel initially. We’re going to keep that in our pocket as an option to roll out quickly if needed to keep things running smoothly after the big [Metro] service change on the 26th

ULink’s Real-Time Arrival Signs Are Anything But

IMG_1736

After three days of riding ULink, my experience has been one of nearly unqualified satisfaction, frequently bordering on jubilation. Sound Transit expertly managed the project’s construction and put together a fantastic opening weekend, and it’s not a stretch to say that the service will revolutionize my life. But one thing has already consistently disappointed, and that’s the supposed real-time arrival signage that Sound Transit is “piloting” at Capitol Hill and UW.

I’ve been watching the signs closely, and it has been immediately clear that the signs are not estimating train arrivals in real-time. There’s a bit of awkwardness inherent in trying to depict real-time arrivals, especially when travel times are dynamic due to bus/rail interaction and because ST has chosen to publish a static 8 minute schedule from Westlake to UW even though the most common duration is 6-7 minutes. Northbound trains are consistently arriving at Capitol Hill 2 minutes early due to the padding in the schedule, yet the signs always say “2 minutes” when the train is in fact already sitting on the platform. In addition, the signs nearly always display even headways of 6 or 10 minutes, betraying that they are either reflecting scheduled information or using a cruder method of real-time arrival estimation.

One possibility is that the data is being fed directly from the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to the information signs, producing a number that estimates an arrival based upon which line segment that scheduled train currently occupies. For instance, if a train is departing Westlake, a Capitol Hill platform sign would say “4 minutes” even though the train will usually only take 2 to get there. But in cases where a train scheduled to arrive is not yet active in the system – for instance just pulling out of the OMF facility – the signs would show a gap in the schedule because the train is not yet traveling the line (see photo above).

I have an email in to Sound Transit about this issue, and will update the post with comment. But let’s hope that Sound Transit will be able to display data that riders can trust, especially now when first impressions are so crucial. Having no information (or having a 2-minute warning like the rest of the line) would likely be better than having visual data that’s often wrong.