Martin’s on vacation, so Frank and Zach talk about ST3, the Seattle Process, Pronto bike share, and what it’s like reporting for STB.

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28 Replies to “Podcast #14: Sausage Making”

  1. So, talking i-5, what does everyone think the most likely outcome is?

    I’d love it if the feds and WashDOT and SDOT decided to bury it in a tunnel or cut and cover it. Just from an ‘urbanist’ perspective. I think the likliest outcome is the cheapest option though, and I think it coincides with the next economic downturn and the feds play politics with it and use it as a ‘job creator’. I’m a pessimist though.

    What do you want to see? and what do you expect to see?

    1. The north King County and south Snohomish County tangle really needs to be solved, no matter what route Link takes.

      Example: RapidRide and Swift interchange at 200th at a transit center. The nearest freeway express stop is at 145th. So; you have to find something else and transfer there. The best option suggested by the trip planners is an hour long trip on RapidRide if going to downtown Seattle.

      Transfers need to be well planned. The construction of many pedestrian bridges needs to be part of the plan so that it is possible to get across the exit ramps, or don’t build a station at a freeway exit in the first place.

      Stations need to be placed directly above the road, not off to one side so that transfers severely suck going one direction. There needs to be good connections to the bus routes going both directions.

      Scheduling needs to be carefully planned. Buses should be timed to meet trains with enough time to spare to make the connection, but not so much spare time that you can read Moby Dick during the layover.

      A visit to MAX green line and attempting to make a few transfers at a few stations would demonstrate how not to do it. 82nd Avenue and Powell Blvd are two that are especially bad.

      1. “Stations need to be placed directly above the road, not off to one side so that transfers severely suck going one direction. There needs to be good connections to the bus routes going both directions.”

        This seems so self-evident to me that I often wonder if any of the people involved with design have ever actually had experience with what a bus-rail transfer should be. Even preliminary designs for 145th/I-5 show the platform completely and some distance to the north of the bridge, meaning eastbound bus riders would have to cross the street and ALL bus riders on NE 145th would have to walk through a plaza to reach the nearest end of the platform. This is being done to allow direct access from a parking garage, telling you very plainly that ST has learned absolutely nothing about integrated transit and done nothing more than bowed once again to its car-driving suburban overlords and the 750 or so people who will be fortunate enough to get a spot in the 500-stall garage.

        One of the most egregious existing examples of this–and more so because the station ended up nowhere near the actual intersection it needed to be at–is Northgate. Why they didn’t build the rail station over Northgate Way instead of where they did is a head-shaker. The only reason the transit center was there in the first place is because of the quick peak-hour access to/from the express lanes, which is meaningless for the train and feeder buses. How many service hours will be lost sending bus after bus after bus completely around the mall just to access a station that should have just been a stop on the routes? TIBS is another location where the station could have been shifted over the highway; the guideway crosses it anyway, but clearly there parking was more important than bus transfers–perhaps reasonably so at that location (although I am not so sure long term).

        This kind of design is garbage if you’re trying to create a system. Just looking at the plans for 145th it is clear that any buses serving it will be taking a TIBS-like detour two blocks north of 145th through two signalized intersections just to reach the station–meaning there will be NO effective cross-town transit in this corridor! There isn’t even a bus pull-off indicated on 145th for eastbound passengers; in fact, there isn’t even a crosswalk there. They intend pedestrians on the south side of NE 145th to loop around UNDER the street overpass, climb back up to grade THEN up to the elevated platform–a path that will dissuade all but the most hardy of transit users from utilizing any sort of cross-town bus service. No wonder ST’s numbers suck at this station. (This information is from the Lynnwood Link FHWA Record of Decision dated July 2015.)

        Seattle: get the 130th station done. Fight to ensure that this sort of design bullshit does not occur there, because that corridor WILL become a major east-west transit corridor if the station is built and is designed correctly. Then all the folks in Lake City that will get screwed by the 522 avoiding it completely can laugh as they hop off their bus and head right up to the platform.

        ST: you have learned nothing in 15 years of design and planning. Crap like this gets one a failing grade in architecture school design studios. I see no reason to throw billions more at you this fall, and you have about run out of time to convince me.

    2. “I think it coincides with the next economic downturn and the feds play politics with it and use it as a ‘job creator’”

      They didn’t do that in the last recession because national debt and because raising taxes would discourage the real job creators and make them move jobs overseas. That won’t change until Congress has a change of heart or new members.

      “Example: RapidRide and Swift interchange at 200th at a transit center. The nearest freeway express stop is at 145th. So; you have to find something else and transfer there.”

      I haven’t considered that a problem because the nature of 99 is not to connect to I-5, and Swift and RapidRide never claimed to be expresses. The bigger issue is that there’s no express route from Snohomish County to Northgate, which makes it extremely to get to anywhere in 75-land or 45-land or Lake City without skipping the express entirely (which adds an hour or more to the trip) or going down to 45th and backtracking. (And many people don’t know or forget that the 512 and CT-UW buses serve 45th so they think that option isn’t avilable.) There are a lot of trips between Snohomish County and north Seattle, and it will be hugely better when Lynnwood Link serves Northgate and Roosevelt. I think the only reason that the 512 doesn’t stop at Northgate is the transit center is too far from the freeway exit and the traffic in between, because it’s a significant hole in the transit network.

      1. Sure, there’s a lot of trips in the 99 corridor. Except around 200th both RapidRide and Swift start to empty out because through connections aren’t great.

        Trying to connect to either to get to an express for a longer distance trip? Not a whole lot of options most of the day.

    3. I think the I5 outcome depends far more on the political messaging than it does for other projects. Things like sub area equity and the Seattle process lead to a certain predictable kind of sausage for projects like Link. Lidding I5 could bypass a lot of process by being WSDOT led, and could be dismissed out of hand like gondola proposals. Or if the idea gets in people’s minds, the people could get pretty attached to it, and make it very hard to do anything else.

      1. A lid from mercer to downtown is exactly the kind of amenity that Seattleites get excited about and don’t really look at the price tag. And everybody knows and uses that part of Seattle – interest is far more widespread than for a project in magnolia or Licton springs or white center.

      2. Environmental mitigation is required nowadays. That’s how areas get sound walls, and Mercer Island and MLK got their lid and park and bike trail, and the 520 western approach has that in the plan too. That doesn’t mean we’ll automatically get a lid or everything we want, but it provides leverage to ask for it and expect something.

        Also, the Convention Center expansion project is considering a lid in its area.

    4. What if the “spine” ended in Lynnwood by extending to 99 to pick up Swift riders as a sort of super collector?

      Couldn’t Snohomish county make much better use of the rest of its sub area money?

      Downtown connector LRT for multiple towns might even be possible.

      1. +1

        And 99 & 196th could be turned into a larger urban village extending to the college to make it a gateway destination.

    5. Sorry, I guess when I read “I-5….what would you like to see” I also extended that to include light rail along I-5 in the various corridors. After listening to the second and third 1/3 of the program it’s probably a reference to the downtown rebuild in particular.

      Still, the way transit access works around freeways needs to be reconsidered, considering how difficult even good surface routes have become around I-5 in downtown Seattle.

  2. Rebuilding I-5 through downtown is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build the second transit tunnel (including the 5th and Madison station) cut-and-cover style.

    1. We can’t depend on the I-5 rebuild which isn’t scheduled yet and may never happen or WSDOT may do it in a completely different way. One thing I noticed about the Snohomish legislators’ letter to Sound Transit to accelerate Everett even if it means dropping Ballard — they didn’t offer state help, or even to lift ST’s tax restrictions, which the legislature could certainly do. It’s “You do this with your limited budget.” Maybe the legislators just didn’t think about it, or they didn’t want to revisit the ST3 legislation so soon, or they knew the other legislators would be opposed to changing it in ST’s favor. But it would be nice if the legislators would at least say that giving ST a better legislative deal was important to them.

      1. This is a great (and largely overlooked) point, Mike. If the state representatives and senators from all the districts within ST’s boundaries got together to change the state’s continual roadblocking (pun intended) of regional transit, stuff would get done. Unfortunately they don’t, meaning we get local pols with their hands out screaming “More! More! More! Mine! Mine! Mine!” without actually finding a way to change the legislature’s viewpoint on transit funding.

        In large measure, of course, this is because their constituents don’t actually vote for any of these ST transit measures; they piggyback on large majorities in Seattle and then want “their share” first.

    2. Any thoughts about connecting the 520 buses to the South Lake Union Link station somehow? If we can’t get them to UW station this could be another option.

      1. I honestly don’t think truncating 520 buses to the UW Link Station is going to be that big a deal, once all the planned construction around 520/Montlake is over and done with. There will be a westbound HOV 3+ exit ramp from the left lane of 520 to Montlake Blvd, bypassing the line of cars that buses today have to sit in. That’s huge. Nor is the walk from the station to the bus stops on Pacific St. that big of a deal.

        That said, I think there is enough service hours to go around to have peak-only routes from the eastside to SLU (without stopping at Montlake at all), but, long-term, the all-day network should really just go to the UW Station with the savings of not having to run buses through downtown poured into increased frequency – a bus to connect with every Link train, for example, would be huge, and totally doable using existing service hours on the core routes.

      2. The 520 construction should be finished well before 2038. Probably more like 2021.

        Ultimately, the impending closure of Montlake freeway station is going to be the forcing factor. Consider the following math in calculating the time penalty of going from Eastside->U-district via downtown vs. going from Eastside->downtown via U-link:

        Total time to get the 520/Montlake to Montlake/Pacific =
        (today): 5 minutes (walking)
        (if forced to backtrack downtown):
        15 minutes (stay on bus to 5th/Pine, very optimistic)
        + 5 minutes (walk to Westlake Station)
        + 5 minutes (wait for train)
        + 8 minutes (ride train to UW)
        + 3 minutes (walk to surface)
        = 35 minutes.

        35 – 5 = 30 minutes (net increase in travel time)

        By contrast, let’s consider a rider headed downtown with a forced transfer to Link:
        5 minutes (travel time on bus from Montlake exit ramp to Montlake/Pacific)
        + 5 minutes (walk from bus stop to train platform)
        + 5 minutes (wait for train)
        + 8 minutes (ride train to Westlake)
        + 2 minutes (walk to surface)
        = 25 minutes
        25 minutes – 15 minutes = 10 minutes (time penalty for forced transfer)

        But, in practice, the time penalty for the formed transfer is often less than this. 15 minutes from Montlake to 5th/Pine assumes no congestion along I-5 or Stewart St. It also assumes that 5th/Pine is one’s ultimate destination. If you’re headed to the International District, Link will make up some of that time by getting from one end of downtown to the other faster than the bus. A forced transfer would also buy more frequency on the bus route, meaning less time waiting at the bus stop. Without the slog through downtown, the reliability of the bus would also improve substantially. Today, is is extremely common for northbound buses to leave 4th/Pine 5-10 minutes late, at all hours of the day. By contrast, buses headed to the eastside could layover at the Montlake Triangle, resulting in a very reliable schedule, where buses leave the stop exactly when they are supposed to.

  3. The podcast made a casual reference to some disclosure of Link daily ridership being 80K last Friday. Is this true? Why doesn’t ST reveal some data to the public, as opposed to casually mentioning it at a panel discussion?

    1. That would be great to know. Though we’ll get monthly reports, eventually.

      I’d be really curious about a daily break down, once the data is there – I bet cap hill on Friday nights generates ridership that isn’t seen on other weekdays.

    2. Rogoff said it at the forum. 36K before U-Link, 50K with U-Link, 80K on Mariners game day. ST releases ridership data monthly and it’s posted in STB. You can’t expect them to rush to do daily reports and press releases while it’s still stabilizing, because it’s not clear what’s a fluke or temporary or permanent, and they would look stupid if they fanfare a high number that immediately goes down the next day or the next event. Nevertheless the last article said STB will try to get daily stats for March.

      1. Does any information exist on the percentage of 3 car trains that being run? I’m curious about limiting factors for 3 car trains at this point, like if the number of bus routes left in the DSTT at peak matters or if there is enough capacity and ST is being conservative until the ridership numbers stabilize.

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