It’s been well over two months since our last listener mailbag. If there’s a question you’d like Frank and me to answer, put it in the comments and we’ll get to as many as we can.

The podcast should air sometime next week.

59 Replies to “Podcast Listener Mailbag #2”

  1. Based on the ST3 survey, Seattle has an appetite for more light rail faster than ST3 will provide it. What are the political and legal barriers to funding an additional subway line (metro 8, Ballard-uw) via a Seattle-only levy?


    1. No way Seattle will vote for ST3 and another levy to be taxed even more.

      1. But Seattle could vote for ST3 and then another levy in a few years (say 2020 or 2024, when ST2 ends)

  2. I find “one bus away” to be somewhat unreliable. There are a lot of alternative transit apps available. Are there any that you might recommend? I am mostly interested in arrival times at selected stops.

    1. +1

      I normally find One Bus Away reliable only 60-70% of the time. With that low confidence level, you have to pad your schedule instead of relying on real-time info, especially on Eastside where a missed bus means a 30 min wait.

      Do other apps use different data than ‘One bus away’ or is the difference only in terms of features?

    2. What is “unreliable”, the schedules or the predictions? If it’s the predictions, you’re stuck with it. Metro only gives away their realtime arrival info via OBA, and other apps use the OBA API since it’s the only place to get the info.

  3. 1. Seattle Subway has said both here and on their facebook page that if Ballard to downtown is not completely grade separated, they will be against ST3. Where do you guys stand on this?

    2. Why do you think Ballard to UW never caught on (vs. Ballard to downtown) with SDOT and ST? (e.g., traffic in SLU, the city wanting to appease Amazon, etc.)?

    1. Martin, and everybody else, I keep repeating this because in discussions around Seattle there’s a critical element very expensively left out of transit discussions:

      What really has to happen- meaning what somebody has to do- under, above, and on the ground to build a specific public transit system? A huge amount of which involves the working machinery of the planet many times more than of politics.

      The part of Maryland traversed by DC Metro is the roots of a mountain range that hundreds of millions of years have eroded and wind-blown down to rolling hills. Where a residential sewer usually requires blasting. Making the whole system easier to fund by being a bomb shelter for our capital.

      Happens in neutral Sweden and Finland too. Helsinki got bombed by Vladimir Putin’s 1939 predecessor And both of these countries have a touchy history with Russia going back to Hamlet’s time. Justifying whatever civilian blasting and other measures are necessary.

      The TBM’s digging the Channel Tunnel had to be kept in a stratum of chalk so thin that a mistake of a degree or two up or down could drown a whole crew. While occasionally encountering ancient fractures filled with the Channel with some additional dirt.

      Politics and process are the means by which people agree to organize themselves to build the project. Dictatorships have them too- except involving quarrels and maneuvering among fewer people, where overruled and killed are same thing, and PR means killing anybody who reports a screw-up.

      Around Seattle, relatively clean government, an educated population, and a comfortable amount of money render process a powerful tool in the hands of an electorate who knows how to handle the controls. Exactly like a tunnel boring machine itself.

      So for both metal and procedural machinery, I think what STB’s generally excellent postings, podcasts, and comments need most is the view from Bertha’s cab. Which consists of accurate discussion and information on life and death considerations that the driver can’t see.

      Mark Dublin

    2. “Seattle Subway has said both here and on their facebook page that if Ballard to downtown is not completely grade separated, they will be against ST3.”

      Is this true? Has Seattle Subway definitively and unambiguously said that grade-separated Ballard is a condition of their supporting ST3? I’ve heard this from one or two non-SS sources, but the closest I’ve heard from SS is that they have significant concerns about grade crossings on 15th/Elliott and bridge sailboats. I find it a bit hard to believe that SS would reverse itself completely over that so I’d like some confirmation from SS.

  4. My spouses parents live in Taiwan, Taipei, where they seem to decide to do a public works project, and then do it. The light rail there is called MRT and it’s great. When mom-in-law visited she remarked on how bad traffic has gotten in the one year since her last visit. I tried to explain the growth in the region and the Seattle Process to her. I ended asking her if she had to vote on the big highway expansion or the pretty much doubling of the MRT. She just scoffed and said that when something needs to get done they do it.

    You guys have talked around it a bit, I feel like, but what’s your view on the Process? I’m not a fan personally, but I don’t see it changing. So I guess I’m also wondering if there is anyway to make the Process take less time processing time?

    And this isn’t to crap all over Seattle, I think it’s good that stakeholders all get a chance to talk about their personal and professional stakes in every facet of the building of our city. Taipei is a much busier place and if they hadn’t built MRT as fast as they could they’d be choked in pollution. I guess I would just like to see more things done more efficiently.


    1. Ask her about the MRT to Taoyuan Airport. That should end any discussion about how great Taiwan is about building public transit projects. They started building it 10 years ago. Still not done.

      1. My question is more about The Process than about MRT to the airport. But yeah I can’t wait for that line to finally be done. I’ll be able to go straight to my in-laws house without taking a car. The rest of the MRT that has opened is great, they extended a line while I was there two years ago and I got to ride it to Taipei 101 on opening day.

        Anyway, like I said, I didn’t intend to crap all over Seattle and how it does things. We need more transit faster though, and I feel like The Process is a big part of why the ST3 time frame is so long.

  5. I look forward to listening to this as I have enjoyed all of your previous podcasts.

    What might be involved in getting Sound Transit to run busses even an hour later in the evening? I’m continually finding great things to do in the evening but having to skip them because there is no transit option to get home. While Bellevue and the Eastside is quiet in the evening the last bus across the lake in either direction is 12:20. Most other routes stop much earlier. Considering the large population involved couldn’t we support some later or even 24 hour service across the lake?

    May I also put on in a suggestion that you consider interviewing or even bringing in as a guest for the whole podcast each time as available one of the frequent posters or commenters here at STB? I think a different guest each time sharing their story of how they use transit and hopes for the future would be very productive. This isn’t a criticism of Frank and Martin as I think they are great but I do feel there are resources here that would make the cast even better. Or leave more time for the two of you to enjoy your preferred podcasting adult beverage. I assume those sponsorship deals availablem

    Jeff Taylor

    1. And I can’t get back from events in Everett, Edmonds CC, or Tacoma Dome because the last buses leave at 10:20pm so I’d have to leave in the middle of the event.

  6. can you comment on the poor quality audio voice announcements on the First Hill Streetcar? The speech is garbled and with distorted pronunciations of words like “requested: and “button”. None of the other mass transit voice systems have this low of quality, and who is the responsible party that can fix this?


  7. West Seattle Blog ran a piece about a city council resolution preferring a tunnel in West Seattle in ST3 if possible. Seems reasonable to me from a pure reliability/quality of service perspective, but could this make sense financially and for the ST3 delivery timeline? Expandability to points south towards Burien and White Center? Even if it takes longer and adds complexity and cost, is a tunnel a smart choice for West Seattle?

    1. Additional color & context:

      1. Virtually no one has said a thing negative about elevated rail in West Seattle except in context of the West Seattle Junction and Fauntleroy, because of some displacement concerns of residences and businesses because of the footprint requirements of elevated rail and a large elevated station, combined with the somewhat narrower streets in the immediate Junction area.

      2. Some people had aesthetic/streetscape concerns, as they’re fairly huge concrete columns.

      3. Some other people had concerns about equity: if places like Roosevelt and Ballard get the more expensive deluxe “Cadillac” tunnel option under their principle urban core, why shouldn’t we?

      1. Ballard isn’t getting a tunnel. SLU is. Ballard gets a new bridge.

        Roosevelt gets a tunnel due to the line coming to the surface from the ship canal tunnel. North of there it is on the surface.

        If you want a tunnel, be prepared for it to be a shorter line than proposed due to the cost increase.

      2. The original North Link proposal surfaced at 63rd Street and had an elevated station at the freeway. The Roosevelt neighborhood begged for an underground station at their village center and got it. Link was then going to surface just north of Roosevelt, but engineering studies found it was cheaper to stay underground until 95th rather than going up and down and around the freeway overpasses and supports..

  8. What can the city legally do today — bypassing Olympia AND any public ballot measures — to generate additional funding to measurably speed up the process of all Sound Transit projects for rail within City of Seattle borders?

    1. Good start would be a technically-knowledgeable electorate with a clear and realistic idea of what they want to do. And a lack of current officialdom’s aversion to the smell of its own sweat. You’re in a position of power, Martin. Use if for good and not evil.


    2. MAX red line was mostly funded by a private development group.

      MAX yellow line was partly funded by a local improvement district.

      The city of Mileaukie kicked in a share for the Orange line.

      Get the entities that will benefit the most to pay a higher portion than the standard tax rate will provide.

      1. This practice goes back away, Glenn. Many suburbs, and also amusement parks, were built by streetcar companies, all private, to draw passengers.


    3. Sound Transit and non-Sound Transit light rail projects. (To exclude streetcars.)

  9. If you had full control of a Sound Transit consisting of all transit agencies in Snohomish, Pierce, King, and Thurston Countries, funded by all the taxes these agencies get combined, starting in 1996, what would you do?

      1. Bob’s talking “if” here, Glenn. I’ll say “when. Anybody know when the Amtrak project will finish the track improvement that’ll divert trains from the Point Defiance By-pass? Because only real obstacle to ST service to Olympia will go away the last time a hammer hits a spike.

        From the river to just south of Lakewood, a coveted view out the train window will be the carpet of slow- or not-moving tail lights on I-5. Which I think, like a thermometer, registers the extent of Sound Transit’s real territory.

        If present trends continue, north end of the Yellow Line could be the site of a Golden-Spike inspired meeting of railroads. Except that neither Siemens, Bombardier, nor Kinki-Sharyo put smokestacks on their LRV’s. Though maybe we could say it’s one more experimental hybrid still using fossil fuels.


  10. This may be a moot point by the time of the podcast, but, last two weekends, the route 62 east of 35th Ave NE has featured the Wedgwood Weekend Shuttle

    This is kind of a cool service from park loving Wedgwoodian point of view (and I understand it has to be free $ because of transferrees from eastbound 62) but the fact that the 62 eastern turnaround is now four different places seems like a case where your great minds might help Metro sort it out ?

    The four turnarounds are NOAA weekdays, Magnuson Hangar 30 weekends and nights; but event weekends it’s a combo of NE 86th St and NE 64th St (Radford Ct)

    1. What’s the event? The eastern reaches of 65th seem like an odd street to close for an event! And then the reroute and shuttle go all the way up to 85th? What’s up with that!?! Are 70th and 75th too steep?

      1. The events that trigger route 62 truncation and the Wedgwood Shuttle do not close streets; they simply bring 500+ people to Magnuson Hangar 30 (last weekend it ran from Friday night through Sunday night )

        The shuttle isn’t on behalf of the events as it terminates at NE 65th and Radford, nine blocks south of Hangar 30 (NE 74th)

        There is also a service change for the route 62 involving closed stops at night on NE 70th lasting through September

        If you have route 62 service alerts turned on you see this about the shuttle ( or find out when 62 fails to travel past 35th Ave NE

    2. That’s what the woman was talking about today. We were on a deadheading 62 and she thought it was turning like the regular route but it wasn’t so she got off to wait for a regular 62 and said something about “Some of the buses will start going up in the hills evenings” and pointed to View Ridge/ I thought she was talking about the regular evening service and I said it already does that, and that she should check the evening route in the schedule because it might not stop at the place she intended to wait. But the driver said the evening route did stop at that stop so that was OK. But she must have been talking about the shuttle.

      So what will happen to the regular 62? Will it just terminate at 65th & 35th?

      I don’t understand how a big event at one of the hangers can necessitate rerouting buses, but FWIW there was another reroute for that reason a few weeks ago. Is the problem traffic? Wouldn’t that bottleneck the 75 then?

      1. Yeah, this all looks really weird without context. My best guess is:

        – Traffic around events at Hangar 30 make the usual turnaround/layover areas inaccessible
        – There isn’t any alternative nearby that fits in the schedule where they can run a full-sized bus (NOAA is closed, Magnuson’s roads are not that well connected, nearby residential areas would throw fits).
        – Torching the schedule and running less frequently is a bad option — other parts of the route are pretty important! Allocating more buses to extend the 62’s (presumably low-ridership) eastern tail to some more distant turnaround doesn’t pencil out, either.

        So they truncate the 62 and run a shuttle (smaller vehicle) with no posted schedule (less frequent) out east to 64th/Radford, where a smaller vehicle can turn around. They go up to 85th because there’s an established turn-around/layover point up there for the 71.

        This is all a pretty wild guess built on a foundation of wild guesses; it’s probably all wrong.

      2. To reframe the question to Martin and Frank:

        Given that the planners of route 62 knew all that we do about Hangar 30 weekends etc etc, is there a better workaround than the Wedgwood Shuttle? Does this illustrate lack of transit infrastructure in the eastern part of NE Seattle that will always use UWLink Station ?

        At noon today: the eastbound route 62 heading northbound on 35th Ave NE; at NE 80th, approaching turnaround at NE 85th St

  11. It’s looking like a real possibility that each subarea will be contributing to the new downtown tunnel and not just North King and Pierce (and even then it was mostly North King at 80%). This has the potential to free up significant capacity for other projects in North King. Do you have any back-of-the-envelope numbers on how much money North King might be able to divert to other projects through the new funding plan? If so, what projects are feasible with that number and should we prioritize faster delivery of projects currently on the table (Ballard and West Seattle) or a whole new project (Ballard-UW)?

  12. Podcaster Marc Maron branched out into television. Any chance we’ll be seeing STB on IFC anytime soon? I see it as The Big Bang Theory, but with transit nerds.

  13. On subject of what voters in Seattle can do without anybody else’s permission, good example is to get line-haul public transit back on the Waterfront.

    It doesn’t have to be streetcars, though I do think these are the best machines for the job. The new trolleybuses can drop poles, cross the BN tracks and climb Broad Street to where they can re-wire.

    But I’d hate to be on the receiving end of the balance sheet for eliminating the fully-reserved right of way between Pike Place Market and the gravel across Broad from the Sculpture garden. Which by rights should include the lost value for the years after 2005 before Viaduct removal had even started.

    However, best thing for me and the rest of STB comment-readership and podcast audience would be to lose the well-fought election on this whole subject that could blow away the bad smell with which a vital public utility has been, decision by quiet decision by nobody identifiable, sneaked away as “already decided.”

    Thereby giving these shy and modest people the chance to get credit for all their hard work.

    Mark Dublin

  14. When (if?) will the Sound Transit Regional Transit Map Book for 2016 come out? Last edition was 2014, and they included Metro information in the past, so it is now really out of date.

    I like it and find it useful – no battery or data plan needed.

  15. University Link is simultaneously revolutionary and so much less than it could have been. What is the technical and logistical feasibility of adding stations in-line in the future?

    1. Depends on what needs to be dug out, or left in place while you dig the station under it. But also on a trade-off. Deceleration, dwell, and acceleration all ad running time to every trip.


  16. Are there enhancement strategies afoot for the blog, like a thumbs up button for comments, video comments or a live chat session experience with some transit board members or managers?

  17. Can you go through the different bus models in Metro and/ or other agencies and explain why different ones ply different routes as well as what determines which streets get trolley wires?

    1. Different makes of diesel buses, I’m not sure. But trolleybuses are machines of choice for extremely heavily traveled routes like the 7 and the 43. And even more, for heavy passenger loads on very steep hills, like the 3 and 4 uphill from and the 1,2, and 13 using Queen Anne Counterbalance.

      An electric motor does not have to be “downshifted” like a diesel for the torque necessary to push something heavy up something steep from a complete stop. During massive re-build of the whole electric system, a fleet or excellent GM diesel buses wore itself out on trolley routes.

      San Francisco is probably one of the world’s best cities to see trolleybuses doing what they do best. Would be “close” to say that when the cable cars wear out, get trolleybuses. Every transit system should pay trolley-drivers extra, for the number of passengers they carry, but more for the knowledge and skill it takes to drive them.

      It would be worth the companies’ money to stay on trolleys until they master the equipment, which generally takes about a year full-time. Otherwise, as too often happens, drivers are forced onto trolleys by their very low seniority, and get off of them as soon as that changes.

      Luckier for the system than it deserves, some of us either believed in electric transit when we joined, or started to find diesels boring. Like logging, mining, and some other a lot more dangerous ways to make a living, trolley driving becomes an sport akin to rally racing.

      A trolley driver has to know, or be able to scope out, the whole wire map of a route, knowing where the wire has to be “dead”. Those “suitcase handles” on every switch or crossing are called “bridges” because they carry current over the other wire. If both had power, substation would blow out. You’ll also notice a lurch if a driver goes into dead wire with their foot on the power pedal.

      Avoided by knowing how to coast to where the power comes on again. Also for being able to use the slope of the road to help stop and start smoothly. I would really love to see international trolley-driving competitions. Bet MUNI 24 Divisadero skill can beat most of the rubber-tired electric world.

      But meantime, Metro should be able to contract with MUNI to train every new class at Atlantic Base. Would definitely lower amount of switches wrecked and wire torn down.

      Mark Dublin

  18. I have been reading this blog for several years and have accepted most of the STB religion, however diverse it may be, and I have some free time and would like to help further the cause of the transit/ urbanist/ bicycle riding utopia. Besides campaigning for a ST3 initiative, that I only support because it is all I got, how can I help the “cause”?

      1. Maybe a better topic would be to explain to me “Mark Dublin”. Frank and Martin can you do an expose’ on the most “interesting” STB commentor. :>)

  19. Martin, Frank;

    Two questions:

    1) What is your brutally honest – and I mean brutally honest as I respect and admire you guys – opinion about ST3 Alternative N-02cmod + BRT which is light rail up to Everett via I-5 and BRT for Paine Field instead of all the problems even this aviation geek or avgeek recognizes?

    2) Will you guys PLEASE start selling t-shirts, stickers and the like?

    Thank you. Sorry I didn’t write until 1948 Hours, I had a long day in photography.

  20. Thoughts on the zoning issue (3rd paragraph)? Namely, that there seems to be a lack of public consensus on what zoning is and what it’s for, and that’s making it harder to get things done or even debate the issue in a straightforward matter, because urbanists and nimbys disagree on why zoning exists and what their rights are.

  21. I know Kirkland has come up several times previously, but do you think there is any chance for Kirkland to get any significant transit investment any time soon? And what happens to Kirkland if not?

    As someone who needs to be on the eastside a lot, Bellevue (kind of surprisingly, really) is starting to look like a more interesting place. It seems to be doing a lot of things right with bike lanes, transit investment/upzoning for link, and the grand connection plans look pretty good too. Is that the right interpretation, or does it all look better than it actually will be?

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