Since University Link opened, many more of you have occasion to use light rail in the course of your daily lives. Moreover, lots of stuff happens on Capitol Hill, and for most people, Link is part of the best transit path to get there.
Nevertheless, if you’re not of those lucky rail riders, tomorrow will see the Beacon Hill Block Party right by the station, from 12pm-8pm. There will be artists, vendors, food, and lots of people right by the station. Come down (up?) and enjoy yourself.
The September service changes will be nowhere near as systematic as the recent ULink restructure, but they will bring a number of substantive changes nonetheless. Angle Lake Station’s September-ish opening will surely be the headliner, and Sounder’s new off-peak round trip will also be a big splash. The big SE Seattle restructure will also take effect, the Yesler closure will continue, and South Bellevue P&R begins its 5-year closure (a bit later, likely November). Finally, Metro will continue tinkering with the ULink restructure. Route-by-route highlights below the jump. Continue reading “September 2016 Service Change Details”
At an open house last night at the TOPS School in Eastlake, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) presented updated ‘concept designs’ for the Northgate-to-Downtown High Capacity Transit Project. Like Madison BRT before it, the concept design will be refined and completed over the summer, after the which the project will seek funding. As a RapidRide+ corridor under the Move Seattle levy, the public will surely have an expectation that they have already funded most of the work, though they are likely to be disappointed in that regard.
When we last left the project, SDOT was analyzing three levels of investment, RapidRide (basically nothing), Targeted Investments (“Rapid Ride+”), and full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Mobility outcomes between the three options varied widely. The “Targeted Investments” alternative – clearly being telegraphed as the most likely – would yield 28% faster travel times, improving from 6.5mph to 8.3mph. The Full BRT option would yield nearly nearly light rail speeds, improving to a 21.5 mph corridor average.
As expected, SDOT has chosen to advance the Targeted Investment option, largely foregoing dedicated bus lanes in favor of a patchwork of Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes, queue jumps, and small intersection improvements. In short, though the investments in frequency and electrification are fantastic, there is very little in the plan that could plausibly be called High Capacity Transit or Bus Rapid Transit, and the project will have far less in terms of transit priority than Madison BRT.
The green shirts of Save Our Trail have been a prominent fixture in the Sound Transit Boardroom over the past several months. They have spoken early and often against “any type of transit, ever” on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, a 5.75 mile segment of the 15.9 mile Eastside Rail Corridor that stretches from Woodinville to Renton.
Save Our Trail has had disproportionate success, deftly exploiting a wedge between more technocratic Kirkland officials (who went all in on BRT on valid technical grounds) and Sound Transit boardmembers (who were Rail or Bust on valid electoral grounds). In the absence of organized pro-transit voices in the debate, Save Our Trail emerged as the only stakeholder group making noise. The updated ST3 System Plan, set to be adopted next week, includes a short rail spur to South Kirkland and a “corridor study” of extensions further north. If adopted as written, the South Kirkland station would open in 2041 and any extension further north likely in the 2050s, too far in the future to be relevant to many of today’s homeowners.
But this multi-generational deferral isn’t good enough for Save Our Trail. They want the South Kirkland station cancelled, even though it lies entirely within Bellevue. They want a guarantee that the corridor will not even be studied for rail use. They want Sound Transit’s easement rights on the corridor to be given to the City of Kirkland. Most of all, they want to permanently prevent Downtown Kirkland, Google, and Totem Lake from ever enjoying the benefits of dedicated right-of-way.
King County Metro has a couple northeast Seattle bus routes, 65/67 and 78, that serve both the inner University of Washington campus and UW Station, by having a couplet in which the westbound route runs on Stevens Way and the eastbound route runs on NE Pacific St, NE Pacific Way, and then Montlake Blvd NE, serving UW Station Bay 3, about a block north of the station entrance.
A couple other routes that travel on Stevens Way both ways and serve neighborhoods northeast of campus could conceivably be switched to the Stevens / Pacific couplet. Route 75, which through-routes with routes 31 and 32 is one. The other is route 372, with no through-route.
Looking forward to 2021, when Northgate Link opens, this couplet may continue to make sense for some of these routes. Staying on NE 45th St instead of going into campus may make sense for others.
Metro could administratively move these routes at the time of a service change. The next one will be in September.
So I would like to throw the question open. For those of you who ride the bus routes that pass by UW Station, including on Stevens Way, which paths would you prefer to see your bus route(s) take, both in the immediate future and after 2021?
Four years after initially proposed, Metro is finally seeking public comment through June 24 on the Queen Anne trolley restructure it hopes to implement in March 2017. The passing wire at Seattle Pacific has been complete for some time, but Metro needed to budget the small increase in service hours and propose the change as part of the 2017-2018 budget process. Please comment and let Metro know how you use Queen Anne routes.
As a refresher, the 5 historic trolley routes on Queen Anne (1, 2, 3, 4, 13) have all had distinct neighborhood terminals for decades, and this restructure seeks to consolidate Routes 3, 4, and 13 into a single terminal at Seattle Pacific University, ending service to the “North Queen Anne” and “East Queen Anne” terminal loops.
The change would:
Triple service between the Queen Anne Business District and Seattle Pacific University (SPU), from 2 buses per hour to 6.
Give SPU students, staff, and faculty more housing choices by providing a direct connection to the large amount of multifamily housing on 5th Ave N/Taylor Ave N
Provide a frequent transfer at SPU between Queen Anne, Magnolia, Fremont, and UW
Maintain identical frequency on each individual line
Provide operators with 24-hour restroom access, something they currently lack.
Atone for the 2012-era loss of Route 17 between Nickerson/SPU and Downtown, restoring frequent combined service to Downtown on Route 3, 4, and 13.
End the strange service pattern on Queen Anne Avenue where Downtown service left from opposite sides of the street, with the west side of having Route 13 inbound and Route 4 outbound, and on the east side of the street Route 13 outbound and Route 4 inbound.
Respond to noise and operational complaints from Queen Anne residents living near the current terminal loops
Require approximately 1% of current riders on the affected routes to walk 2-6 blocks for service, or an estimated 120 riders per day. For instance, the Nob Hill terminus of Route 4 serves just 40 boardings per day.
Comment by June 24 as follows:
Metro is accepting comments on these changes until June 24, 2016. For questions or to comment, contact Metro’s Supervisor of Service Planning Katie Chalmers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 477-5869. Come talk with us in the community. We’re on the agenda of the following groups:
June 16, 11:15 – 1 pm, Queen Anne Chamber of Commerce Luncheon, Best Western Executive Inn, 200 Taylor Avenue North (Please note: there is a fee for this event, check the chamber’s website for details.)
The debate leading up to the adoption of the ST3 draft system plan on March 24 was politically fraught on the Eastside. After Sound Transit and the City of Kirkland failed to reach agreement on use of the Eastside Rail Corridor, the Board elected to build neither rail nor BRT on the corridor in Kirkland. Since then, however, Kirkland has worked with Board Members on a rail extension from Bellevue to South Kirkland. The ST3 program also includes a study of future high-capacity transit through Kirkland, leading to a record of decision.
Rail to South Kirkland has changed the calculus around future transit in Kirkland. The environmental study is, strictly speaking, flexible with respect to both mode and alignment. But the starting point of a rail station at South Kirkland makes it almost inevitable that ST4 will include a rail extension into Kirkland and onward to Totem Lake.
With light rail to Kirkland more inevitable than ever, why stop short in ST3? A mere two-mile extension would bring rail to 6th St, serving the fast-growing Google campus which is expected to grow to several thousand employees. It would be within walking distance of other fast-growing employers in downtown Kirkland.
Sound Transit must add a provisional project on the Eastside to extend the rail line into Kirkland.
Some have pointed out, accurately, that the ST3 package includes significant investments in Kirkland. Nevertheless, transit users are understandably unenthusiastic. South Kirkland falls short of the major centers in Kirkland where most riders access transit.
Won’t Save-our-Trail challenge a rail extension? Save-our-Trail is opposed to the South Kirkland station and any environmental study of transit on the corridor. So their opposition is inevitable either way. Meanwhile, the narrowness of their support has become obvious. Public comment on the draft plan from Kirkland was overwhelmingly pro-rail, and Save-our-Trail were unable to solicit more than a dozen opposing comments despite an intensivecampaign.
Neighbors and users of the trail are not well-served by political uncertainty or delays in extending transit. The earliest possible design work on compatible transit will deliver certainty, allowing the trail to be developed without the risk of later relocation or disruption.
Kirkland has a successful urban core that is the envy of many growth centers that will see transit investments in ST3. Had the political process played out more agreeably, Kirkland would have been connected to the high-capacity transit network in ST3.
Please let the Sound Transit Board and your Council members know they must finish the rail line to Kirkland.
Though the location of UW Station has drawn understandable ire over the years, the massive capacity benefits it provides for Husky Stadium events is undisputed. With a long tradition of parking perks for connected alumni, unofficial neighborhood parking Jenga in Montlake, and heavy use of Metro shuttles, Husky Football traffic will be improved dramatically beginning this September 3 when Rutgers comes to town.
But UW Station will face its first major test tomorrow for UW Commencement, with tens of thousands descending on the stadium for the 1:30-4:30pm ceremony. Though Link will still run Saturday’s standard 10-minute headways, Sound Transit says it will run 3-car trains on 5 of its 11 trainsets, and will also hold two extra trains in reserve in the Sodo yard to be dispatched when needed.
Though buses on Pacific Street will be largely unaffected, Metro buses that use Stevens Way will be re-routed. Routes 31, 32, 67, and 75 will instead use the 45th Street viaduct and 15th Ave NE to reach Campus Parkway. Route 67 will only be rerouted in the northbound direction, and from Metro’s alert page it seems like Route 65 will run normally. (However, Route 65 riders coming from Wedgwood into the UDistrict will see the reroute over the 45th Street viaduct, but the route’s headsign will have changed to Route 67 by that point.) Route 372 will use a different pathway to reach 25th Ave NE via NE 50th St, 20th Ave NE, and Ravenna Blvd. Route 48 will also terminate at a temporary layover near Campus Parkway and won’t serve its stops on 15th Ave NE north of Campus Parkway.
No Sound Transit bus service will be affected, because sadly there is no service to the UDistrict from Kirkland or Redmond on weekends. Since Route 271 doesn’t serve Evergreen Point, Kirkland/Redmond riders cannot transfer there either. All such trips require either walking from the Montlake Flyer Stop or backtracking via Westlake.
After Sound Transit released the draft system plan in March, some Eastside cities were unhappy it included a smaller investment in I-405 BRT than they had sought. Bellevue and Renton pushed for something closer to the “intensive capital” BRT with more parking and more stations using express toll lanes.
Some Eastside cities penned a joint letter, describing the proposal as comparable to ST Express service with improved headways, and demanding a much larger investment with more inline stops to create a BRT that is “the equivalent of light rail on rubber tires”. The attempt to forge a coalition of the I-405 corridor cities fell flat. Several East and South King cities did not sign. Some who signed were small cities that do not border I-405. None of the Snohomish County cities participated.
The amended system plan made some concessions. Sound Transit had agreed in March to relocate Renton’s downtown transit center to a more freeway-accessible location with 700 parking stalls. Renton pushed to expand the new South Renton transit center to accommodate 2,000 cars, and to add a second BRT stop at NE 44th St with parking for another 700. While the Board agreed only to 200 parking stalls in a surface lot at NE 44th St, the added center-line direct access facility adds $170 million to the cost of the BRT. An even more remote station with expanded parking at SE 112th in Bellevue was not included. Kirkland, taking a different approach, negotiated for more TOD in Kingsgate, reducing by 200 the planned parking expansion there.
I-405 BRT had lots of institutional momentum. The master plan for I-405, approved in 2002, envisions a BRT line with inline stations along I-405. To this end, Sound Transit has built transit centers and center ramps to the HOV lanes. WSDoT has created the express toll lanes north of Bellevue where buses could move reliably. With WSDoT now funded to extend the express lanes to the south, many observers expected a large investment in BRT on the corridor in ST3.
The plan ran up against uncomfortably low ridership numbers. Modelling suggests only 12,000 riders in 2040, and that the ridership isn’t increased at higher investment levels. A pared-down BRT, much of which runs in general traffic lanes, attracts as many riders as the ‘Cadillac’ version.
Recognizing that the proposal for higher investment levels didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, the Sound Transit Board in March advanced a draft system plan with just $735 million in capital investments, less than any of the options considered in the 2014 corridor studies. The low capital plan leveraged existing highway infrastructure with better and more frequent buses. Where center stations already exist, the BRT would run in the ETL lanes. Elsewhere, buses would run in general purpose lanes (or on the shoulder in a few locations north of Bothell).
With Sound Transit about to break ground on a station at 145th St as part of ST2 and planning for BRT from SR 522 to 145th as part of ST3, the City of Shoreline has taken the lead on an extensive re-design of the 145th Street corridor, with an eye to improving bus, bicycle and pedestrian access. As noted in a recent news roundup, the redesign has arrived at a final design concept. It adds BAT lanes and widens sidewalks, while moving bicycle access to parallel streets.
Today, 145th is a relatively narrow 4-lane right of way, with narrow (or nonexistent) sidewalks and no bus or bicycle lanes. It carries 31,000 cars per day in its busiest sections. With that traffic level, a road diet was rejected, so the plan is to widen the road to accommodate more ped/bus/bike access.
The approved design assumes BAT lanes with queue jumps between SR 522 and I-5, consistent with the length of the ST BRT corridor. West of I-5, buses would move in mixed traffic. A new pedestrian bridge across I-5 would provide access to and from the train station. Bikes would have exclusive lanes only on the Western end of the road, with parallel infrastructure in other places.
For riders coming in from the Lake City side, the bus lanes are a clear win. If you’re connecting to Link from the West, however, your bus might have a harder time slogging through traffic (Metro sees 145th as a frequent corridor in their 2040 vision). Thanks to advocates in North Seattle, you’ll also have the option of connecting to Link on the less-congested NE 130th as well.
Carpooling in America has been is on the decline since the 1970s, but a new service from Uber could bring it back.
Hiring an Uber to take you to work every day would normally be prohibitively expensive. But what if the driver didn’t need to make much money at all? What if the driver was willing to pick you up for next to nothing? What if they were on their way to work as well?
That’s one possible use case for Uber’s latest offering, Destinations. It’s pitched at existing Uber drivers who want to earn a bit more by picking up another passenger en route. But it has the potential to greatly expand the carpooling market by enlisting everyday solo commuters as very-part-time Uber drivers. Here’s The Verge describing the feature last fall:
Starting soon, Uber drivers looking to earn some extra money on their commutes to and from home — especially those who drive part-time — will be able to with the ride-hailing app’s new “destinations” feature. Drivers heading in a specific direction can input their destination into the app, and Uber’s algorithm will send them ride requests that appear along the way. Requests that would force them to deviate from their route would be filtered out.
The feature is billed as a way to heighten driver flexibility, but it could have much more far-reaching consequences. Uber loves to talk about how many of its drivers are only part time; 61 percent of drivers in the US have full- or part-time jobs outside Uber, the company says. If you never have to deviate from your route, suddenly anyone has the potential to be an Uber driver, regardless of employment status.
Let’s say you drive from Seattle to the Eastside every day. Turn on the app, and pick up a couple of commuters who are headed your way. Even if they only pay you a couple of bucks, it more than pays for your gas and gets you access to the HOV lanes. Two passengers a day each paying a dollar each way gets you halfway to the monthly lease payment on a new Nissan Leaf. You get a new car on the cheap, and your passengers get a one-seat ride to the office that’s cheaper than the bus.
This kind of ad-hoc carpooling simply wasn’t possible in the pre-Uber era. Substantial transaction costs prevent the necessary critical mass of drivers and riders from emerging. While iCarpool and RideShareOnline already exist, Uber could leapfrog them both. The company would enter the market with a huge install base of users who are in the habit of opening the app frequently and have already uploaded their credit cards. Being on-demand also means you don’t have to commit to a car pooling buddy who will be ready to leave at exactly the same time you are every day. The timing is good, too, as the proliferation of HOV-3 and HOT lanes incentivize 3-passenger carpools.
If Uber’s serious about this – and to be fair, it’s not clear they are – they’ll need to make it super easy for a SOV driver to become an Uber driver. The barriers to becoming a driver (background check, incorporating as an independent contractor, paying taxes) are probably still too high for the average 9-to-5 office worker to bother.
Imagine an alternate universe for a moment. In 2023 you come to the opening day of 145th Street Station in Jackson Park. You wait 15 minutes for a 2-car, rush-hour train. The train departs along 5th Avenue Northeast, going through 13 at-grade crossings just en route to its first stop at Northgate. 110 minutes, 33 miles, and more than 100 additional at-grade crossings later, you arrive in Federal Way, having traveled on the surface through Roosevelt Way, Eastlake, South Lake Union, Stewart St, 2nd Avenue, 4th Avenue South, East Marginal Way, and SR 99. That doesn’t sound very appealing? In a nutshell, I’ve just described Portland’s MAX Blue Line. The actual train we’re building will be twice as long, come 5 times as often, and get you to Federal Way a full 50 minutes faster.
We frequently wonder around here why our transit-building schemes are slow and expensive, and I’ve offered my best attempt at the process side of the equation already. But today I want to propose another reason: to put it bluntly, we’re building the good shit and nobody else is.
This is not intended to troll the commenters ready to erupt in apoplexy over legitimate microfights on urban stop spacing or the merits of suburban rail, so let me explain. The Portland example above is intended to show that our peer cities in the U.S. tend to cut corners we aren’t cutting, enabling them to quickly and cheaply build low capacity, infrequent, primarily at-grade systems. By contrast, only two regions (Seattle and L.A.) are building high-quality, frequent, grade-separated transit in the contemporary United States, and both have the price tags to prove it. ST2 and ST3 are grand experiments to determine if the public has the appetite and the open pocketbook to build yesterday’s quality at today’s prices.
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of riding in a friend’s new Tesla Model X. It parks itself effortlessly, and as my friend engaged the autopilot and let go of the wheel at 70mph, my trepidation quickly evolved into a sense of awe and wonder. For two hours from Mt. Vernon to Seattle we barely touched the wheel. It recognized speed limits and adjusted instantly, maintained safe following distance, and on neighborhood arterials even recognized the difference between cars, buses, and cyclists. It was incredible. There was a undeniable giddiness at the sheer elegance of it all.
As emotions go, wonder gets its hooks into us pretty easily. By exceeding the limits of our knowledge, opening up new paradigms, and projecting authority, wonder tends to provoke an almost religious response. Specifically, wonder generates trust and faith.
This trust and faith too easily becomes salvific. We pledge our allegiance to the hammer, and suddenly everything looks like a nail. The technology is so good at performing its tasks that we forget to ask if it’s performing the right tasks in the first place. We conform our lives to it, rather than using it judiciously for the tool it is.
There’s a temptation to think that solutions are really complicated, and that we need creativity and genius to solve them. There are things like civic hackathons and large-scale competitions such as Challenge Seattle that do really good work at optimizing what we have, but they also share the conceit that if we were only a little smarter we could figure this all out.
At its best this impulse drives genuine innovation that makes our lives richer and more connected. At its worst it is a hubris that causes us to overthink and overengineer the solutions to our problems. But as our mortality attests, we are still small bodies in a large world, with bodily geometries and needs no different than our ancestors. To me, the striking feature about our daily lives isn’t their complexity but their banality. Employing neural nets to get a loaf of bread is excessive complexity to say the least. Relying on them to systematize all of our travel seems crazier still.
This isn’t to be a Luddite, or to claim any sort of purity from eschewing or scoffing at technology. It’s simply to not ask those technologies to do unnecessary or wasteful things, or to seek from them miraculous relief from basic geometric facts.
I see driverless cars as a necessary but by no means sufficient transportation innovation. They will help us wring out more road capacity, provide good arguments against road expansion, possibly enable less urban parking, and they may yet revolutionize taxi or bus-based transit networks. But there will still be fundamental geometric limits to these improvements. Any reliance on them in urban settings will disappoint, bumping up against the familiar feeling of too many vehicles in too little space. And to the extent that they tempt us to divest from mass transit, walking, and biking, they will actually worsen the status quo.
But what if instead of attempting to fit more of the same sand into the same hourglass, we just shrunk the grains of sand? Like the classic GIF so tautologically suggests, when you strip away the requirement that humans be encased in metal (autonomous or otherwise), you suddenly see not a scarcity of space and a surplus of people, but instead a scarcity of people and a surplus of space.
The Occamite solution is perhaps the most elegant of all, and it thinks more like Venice than Silicon Valley. It doesn’t make the reflexive mistake of nostalgia for an earlier time, when air and water were dirtier and cities were often places of dense misery and disease. Instead, it enables us to integrate technology toward a healthier and richer human experience, but one that’s still human-scaled. People scoff at the the “19th century technology” of trains, but you never hear the same disdain for the cellular respiration that moves our feet or turns our bicycles’ cranks. It’s ok to be small.
The Tesla I rode in and drove was magical, but the following morning it wouldn’t start until it completed a software update.
A video explaining the advantages of a Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) system, which is being adopted by metro systems around the world. The case studies in their report their website is worth reading.
ULink is also trending roughly 30% above Sound Transit’s target, with 200 passengers per trip compared to the April 2016 target of 150.
Sounder continued its robust growth, with 600 passengers per trip and 5% year over year growth. Sounder carries 1/4 as many weekday riders as Link (15k vs 60k), a healthy figure for just a couple dozen daily trips.
But April also crossed another interesting threshold, as Link now carries more total riders than all 28 Sound Transit Express routes combined. To be fair, this is largely due to Link’s very high weekend frequency relative to ST Express, and ST Express still carries slightly more weekday passengers (65k versus 60k), but likely not for long as ULink growth continues and Angle Lake opens in late summer/early fall.