Mid-Day Sounder Starts September 12th

Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

The long-awaited mid-day Sounder round-trip will begin a week from Monday, on September 12. Perhaps more accurately described as “shoulder peak” than mid-day, the new trip will leave Lakewood at 10:18am for a 11:31 Seattle arrival, with a 3-hour layover before departing Seattle at 2:32pm for a 3:45 arrival in Lakewood. The service will utilize North Sounder-sized trainsets at first, beginning with just 2 traincars for a few months before new cars arrive in early 2017, after which it will run the full 7-car South Sounder consist.

The new service will open up a host of new opportunities. Non-traditional or part-time shifts will work better with a mid-day option, the trip will facilitate Sounder-Amtrak connections (imagine catching the train in Kent at 11:04 to catch a Portland-bound train from Tukwila at 11:29), etc etc. But the biggest thing it will do is make Lakewood and South Tacoma stations far more useful. 

Currently, the Lakewood trips leave too early and return too late for most riders with an 8-hour workday. Those taking the earliest trains from Lakewood (4 trains arrive before 7:30am) today either have to wait until the first Lakewood train at 4:12pm, take an earlier train to Puyallup and transfer to Route 580, or fight traffic on Route 592. The 2:32pm trip will do much to accommodate those who work early morning shifts.

The new trip also facilitates use for mid-day meetings. Seattleites could take reverse Sounder to Tacoma, arriving at 8am, with 2.5 hours to conduct business before returning. Similarly, I expect to see Sound Transit Boardmembers MacArthy, Strickland, Moss, and Enslow using the new option to get to their 1:30 board meetings. ;)

Two more trips will be added a year from now in September 2017 to provide 15-minute peak service, and that will be the last of new Sounder service without a successful ST3 vote. ST3 proposes an unspecified amount of additional trains (to be negotiated with BNSF), as well as expansion to 10-car platforms.

Yes on Sound Transit 3


This November we have a generational opportunity to build on Sound Transit’s recent successes, and extend a regional rapid transit network that is able to scale with a growing region. To understand why a yes vote is important, we’ll start from the beginning.

Why Transit?

Ped, Bus, Bike, Car
Ped, Bus, Bike, Car

The reasons to favor transit investment over cars are numerous. The immediate environmental benefits are well understood: well-used rail uses less energy per passenger than driving, and that energy comes from sources cleaner than gasoline. The public health benefit of reduced car volumes and the exercise inherent in walking to transit is less familiar. People unable to drive deserve a good way to get around, not just a lifeline. A city with good transit service can devote less land to parking and more land to worthwhile things.

But most importantly, transit scales with growth far better than autos, for the simple fact that each person takes up less space on a transit vehicle than in a personal vehicle. No breakthrough in electric or self-driving cars is going to change this fact of geometry. There is no plausible car-first future. The world’s great cities are dense, and they all realize that high-capacity, traffic-separated transit is the only thing that can work at those scales. Seattle has a chance to be one of those cities, if it doesn’t tie itself to the auto. The alternatives are stagnation, or strangulation by traffic. Even the most car-friendly Western cities — L.A. and Phoenix — have realized that cars don’t scale and are furiously racing to add rail capacity.

Why Rail?

There are significant bus investments in the Sound Transit 3 package, and these are important. Rail will never go everywhere, especially in the short term, and many needs are urgent. At the same time, ST3 is fundamentally a rail package, and it’s important to understand the rationale for that.

There are a few attributes of light rail that really are superior to buses, all else being equal, in particular the number of passengers per multi-car train. But the core of high-quality transit, frequency and reliability, can come on steel wheels or rubber tires. That said, in practice our region implements light rail with the understanding that it will never operate in mixed traffic, there will never be on-board payment, and with few exceptions the trains operate on elevated or underground guideways with no traffic interactions whatsoever. Even our finest new bus-rapid-transit lines are entirely at-grade, and there are zero plans to change this. More importantly, buses’ flexibility is often a bug not a feature, as citizens and governments can much more easily dilute their quality, saying, “do we really need to have a dedicated lane here?” The path to true reliability is always to take the right-of-way, or even better to create it. In our current political climate, that means light rail.

Rail detractors will say that buses are much cheaper than rail, and can be just as good. Both are true, but they are mutually exclusive. Rail is expensive because it has its own guideways, and buses with their own guideways would be similarly expensive.

There is one exception where bus guideways already exist: our freeway system. Unfortunately, these are mostly controlled by our state legislature, which has shown no interest in holding even one freeway lane open for transit. And thus our freeway “express” buses are mired in mixed traffic just as bad as some arterials, and getting worse. Furthermore, transit tied to freeways, while valuable for some applications, can neither serve nor induce the truly dense and walkable neighborhoods the region needs, without significant investment in station areas that is inconsistent with low-cost BRT.

Why this package?

st3mapEven if we need transit, and need rail transit, is this the right set of projects? The “right” project is, of course, subjective. But with a few exceptions, we believe the Sounder and light rail lines planned serve their respective cities, corridors, and neighborhoods as well as a rapid transit line can. Most of all, a new downtown tunnel serving Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, the downtown core, and possibly First Hill, is needed today, and any unnecessary delay is unacceptable.

Other segments — notably the stretch from Lynnwood to Everett — are not as well-executed, but they are also not doomed to be failures. The pull of rapid transit is strong, and if cities get out of the way and allow development, in most cases it will come. STB will keep busy for years fighting for good station implementations that allow this to happen as much as possible, even when freeways and parking garages constrict what can be done.

Moreover, although we most value projects that maximize ridership and support growth, there are many other valid interests. Projects that don’t maximize ridership aren’t there because of agency ignorance, but because they serve other goals, whether they avoid construction impacts, spread benefits around the region, or avoid hostile neighborhoods. We don’t have to fully support each of those goals to understand why they are there, and we acknowledge that their inclusion helps consolidate support for the must-haves.

Vote Yes

The package reflects the desires of the 3-county electorate and its representatives. Sound Transit critics are fond of fixating on 1996-2001, which were indeed so  troubled that the agency barely survived. But after a period of intense reform, ST consistently meets its schedule commitments. This includes election-year promises made in 2008’s ST2.

Clearly burned by its initial experience, if anything ST is being too conservative, and leaving votes on the table by under-promising. The timelines are long, but worthwhile infrastructure projects take a long time. Voting no will simply make delivery slower. Voting no will likely kill the second Downtown tunnel, as a second try at ST3 would undoubtedly be less ambitious and offer lower-quality projects.

If you’re young, vote yes for a carbon-neutral future in which you can live oblivious to traffic. If you’re old, vote yes to leave behind a better region for the next generation. But vote yes.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Zach Shaner, Dan Ryan, and Erica C. Barnett.

Sound Transit to Boost “Mega-Event” Link Capacity

Avgeek Joe
Avgeek Joe

With the confluence of Mariner and Husky season looming, Mike Lindblom reports that Sound Transit is looking to beef up “mega event” service beyond it’s already-boosted weekend standard of 3 cars every 10 minutes. Sound Transit would do this by running weekday peak frequency but inverting the baseline, with twelve 3-car trains joining seven 2-car trains. During regular peak service today, twelve 2-car trains are the baseline, supplemented during peak by seven 3-car trains.

Much has been made of Link’s railcar shortage and ability to run longer trains for events. Though the opening of Angle Lake Station on September 24th will not change schedules or frequency for existing stations, it will add one new trainset to the rotation, reducing Sound Transit’s flexibility further. Prior to the delivery of next  generation railcars in 2018-2019, Link has only 62 railcars, and Sound Transit is wisely being conservative about lifecycle maintenance. A Board report last month showed that while Link is sometimes uncomfortably crowded, the current service provision is running well within capacity limits.

In a fleet of 62 cars, our current peak service uses roughly 77% of our railcar capacity (48/62), weekends use 58% (36/62), and weekday off-peak uses 39% (24/62). Sound Transit’s “mega-event” proposal would stretch utilization to its furthest yet, or 84% (52/62). And this is just my calculation based on active service needs. Allowing for layover, padding, and operator breaks further reduces flexibility.

What’s the most Sound Transit could possibly do? Before the 2018-2019 delivery of new rail cars, Link’s maximum capacity would likely be 3-car trains every 6 minutes for 97% utilization (60/62). So at 84% utilization, it’s clear that with this weekend ‘mega-event’ proposal, Sound Transit is taking the issue seriously and will stretch its fleet within reasonable maintenance limitations.

Link Railcar Capacity

When these big event days are on weekends, Sound Transit has more flexibility due to the availability of bus-rail tunnel slots in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Were a massive convergence of events to happen on a weekday, when tunnel bus commuters still need reliable service, I’d suggest that Sound Transit look into a different “tunnel maximizing” level of service. Because every Link train takes up one tunnel slot – buses and trains are prohibited from sharing a platform – maximizing weekday tunnel capacity would involve running longer trains at lower frequencies. 4-car trains running  every 10 minutes would provide the same capacity as our current peak service, while using 33% fewer tunnel slots. 

What do you think? When large events occur on a weekday, would you rather have higher frequency, even if it meant more tunnel delays? Or would you rather have more reliability, but a longer wait?

“148th Street Station” and Bus Transfers

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.21.39 PM

In the discussions of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at Shoreline’s future 145th Street Station, Charles Bond at The Urbanist broke the news that Sound Transit, Metro, and WSDOT have agreed to move the station north by roughly 400′, to the vicinity of NE 148th Street. As we discussed last week, the station already has much going against it in terms of access: the walkshed is bifurcated by I-5 and the accompanying interchange, the adjacent Jackson Park golf course is the epitome of transit-hostile land use, and little commercial development currently exists. If all that weren’t enough, a massive parking garage is planned. The station’s saving grace at this point is a progressive Shoreline government that is trying very hard (and may succeed) at making TOD lemonade from the lemon Sound Transit chose when it passed over superior options at 130th and/or 155th. So from this low baseline, will a move to 148th help or hurt? Well, it depends.

First, the positives. A move to the north does make the station a bit more central in any TOD plans, rather than primarily being TOD’s southwestern flank. The non-arterial grid, such as it exists, can be better prioritized for non-motorized access at 148th (especially if it meant a a new pedestrian bridge over I-5). And the three agencies seem to have agreed that the move will make the interchange rebuild easier and eliminate or reduce the complications over changes to a state drainage facility.

But the primary impetus seems to be facilitating bus-rail transfers, and here the benefits are more debatable. On one hand, if agencies are basically giving up on a people-friendly arterial on 145th, then a more separated facility with direct bus transfers may be preferable to in-line stops on NE 145th ST and 5th Ave NE.  The familiar result would be a loop-de-loop transit center similar to Mt Baker or Tukwila International Boulevard, in which all through-routed buses would incur a permanent 2-3 minute time penalty on every run.

According to Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso in a statement to STB, the agency believes that increased bus volumes as outlined in Sound Transit 3 and Metro’s (soon to be adopted) Long Range Plan (LRP) necessitate the move:

Continue reading ““148th Street Station” and Bus Transfers”

News Roundup: Filling Up

The BRTs of Aurora Vill

This is an open thread.

Angle Lake Will Open September 24th: 6 Reasons to Use Link’s Newest Station

Photo by the author
Photo by the author

At a press conference this morning, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff and Sound Transit Board Chair/King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that Angle Lake Station will open on Saturday, September 24th. Alaska Airlines is sponsoring the opening ceremonies to the tune of $25,000, with total costs for Opening Day expected to be just north of $50,000, more than an order of magnitude cheaper than ULink’s festivities.

At the risk of stating the obvious, no one would claim that the area around S. 200th Street in SeaTac is a booming regional destination. It is surrounded by highly regulated/inaccessible uses such as prisons and airport operations facilities, on the west by a wooded ravine, and on the east by the sort of mid-century sprawl so familiar to SR 99. Its inclusion in the transit network is minor enough that it didn’t merit any restructures or bus deviations to the station, and transfer activity there will be minimal. Those coming from the south on RapidRide A may want to switch to Link at Angle Lake instead of SeaTac for the guarantee of a seat, but access will mean crossing two signalized intersections rather than the direct access to SeaTac/Airport at 176th.

But with Angle Lake Station set to be Link’s southern terminus for the next 7-8 years, what is there to do there? Who are those likeliest to use the station? Here are 6 reasons to use the new station.

Continue reading “Angle Lake Will Open September 24th: 6 Reasons to Use Link’s Newest Station”

Transit Report Card: Glacier National Park

Mt Piegan from the Siyeh Pass Trail

I’ve just returned from a weeklong vacation in Glacier National Park, and though I didn’t intend to think much about transit while there, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the park’s bike, bus, and rail options. Glacier draws 2.3m visitors per year despite its remoteness – the nearest large cities (Calgary and Spokane) being 175 miles away – a feat that makes its carfree options all the more impressive. For reference, despite being a full hour closer to its nearest major city, Glacier draws nearly twice as many people as Mt Rainier.

Unlike Rainier or Olympic, which are primarily wilderness parks with few roads or services, Glacier stands out for a more European Alps feel: staffed backcountry chalets, multiple ferry services, 3 intercity rail stations, and a major road (Going to the Sun) bisecting the park from west to east. In the spirit of our Transit Report Card series, here are a few of my anecdotal observations.

Segments ridden

  • Horizon Air outbound to Kalispell, Amtrak inbound to Seattle
  • National Park Shuttle between Apgar Transit Center, Lake MacDonald Lodge, Avalanche Creek, The Loop, Logan Pass, and Siyeh Bend
  • Cycling from West Glacier all the way to Logan Pass via Going to the Sun Road
System Map
System Map

Fare Structure: A+

Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Glacier National Park”

Tunnel Cell Service (Sort of) Starts Tuesday

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

If you commute on Link between Westlake and UW, you may notice something a little different beginning this afternoon: cell service. Sound Transit has announced that the long-awaited addition begins today and will be rolled out over the coming months in (many) phases. For various administrative reasons and because each carrier has to sign a license agreement with the contractor (Mobilitie), the service will roll out carrier by carrier and tunnel segment by tunnel segment. The vendor also has an option to extend service from UW to the Maple Leaf Portal in 2021.

T-Mobile customers are the lucky ones, as they now have service between Westlake-UW. Verizon is expected to be added in a couple weeks, and then AT&T. (As of press time Sprint has not yet signed a contract.) Later this fall, the 3 carriers will be added to the Metro-owned segment from Westlake-International District, and finally Beacon Hill will get service sometime in 2017. For now, riders between Westlake-IDS will need to continue using WiFi on the ends of each platform to send and receive data.

Though a new etiquette campaign will surely be needed to dissuade loud phone talkers from spoiling commutes, cell service has been needed for a long time, and it’s good to see it finally happening. Enduring service disruptions and planning bus transfers depends on data, and underground will no longer be the worst place to be when trying to plan your day. Yay!

Sound Transit’s full press release below the jump… Continue reading “Tunnel Cell Service (Sort of) Starts Tuesday”

I-405 Tolls Fund More Highway Capacity

I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce
I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce

While they remain controversial politically, the HOT lanes on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood are increasingly popular with transit users and the drivers who use the lanes. Higher than forecast driver demand has led to higher toll revenues, and those revenues are being put to work to benefit drivers in the corridor. The first improvement is a 1.8 mile shoulder lane for general purpose traffic between Canyon Park and I-5. The improvements may also benefit transit users.

Shoulder lanes will be added in 2017 between SR 527 and I-5. Map: WSDoT
Shoulder lanes will be added in 2017 between SR 527 and I-5. Map: WSDOT

As demand has grown, average peak time toll rates have crept up from $1.75 in late 2015, to $2.40 in the first quarter, to $2.72 in the second. In June, the HOT lanes served 1.2 million vehicle trips, over 800,000 of those tolled. With higher prices and HOT lane volumes, WSDOT now anticipates revenues will exceed earlier forecasts by about $20 million per biennium.

The lanes have worked well for transit too, with Metro seeing 8.2% more riders. Average travel savings are 2.1 minutes in the AM and 5.8 minutes in the PM. Community Transit’s peak ridership is up 3% with improved travel times for most routes.

Initially, express lanes were tolled at all hours. In a concession to tolling opponents in the Legislature, that was pared back earlier this year so tolls now apply only between 5am and 7pm weekdays. The lanes are open to all drivers at other times, although center HOV ramps in Bellevue and Totem Lake are HOV/transit only when tolled access is not available.

Travel times for drivers in the general purpose lanes are generally better than before, particularly southbound. In the northbound direction, traffic flows more freely through Bellevue and Kirkland. But this has exacerbated a bottleneck at SR 522 in Bothell, where five lanes (2 HOT + 3 GP) converge into three (1 HOT + 2 GP). The highway remains congested until near I-5. Nearly 1,000 vehicles an hour merge onto I-405 at Canyon Park in the PM peak, adding to delays.

Continue reading “I-405 Tolls Fund More Highway Capacity”

Two Bad Metrics for a Housing Shortage


At this point it’s a cliche to say that we have an affordability crisis, although it’s more accurately described as a housing shortage. There are many powerful anecdotes that support this thesis, but unfortunately policymakers lack the metrics to indicate if their housing strategy is working.

In the news media, we see two data series that don’t do the job. One is the median single-family home price in Seattle. This metric accurately measures the misery of someone shopping exclusively, for whatever reason, in the detached home market. It also measures the pleasure of anyone selling out of Seattle. However, it’s also an expression of the inevitable: due to geometry, there will be essentially no new detached homes built in Seattle. Barring destruction of jobs, more crime, worse schools, or a long speculative bubble, the long-term price trend will be upwards.

At the other end of the market, a simple thought experiment shows the problem with median rent. Imagine a city with two rental buildings: 100 units at $750 per month and 75 units at $1500. Then, a dreaded luxury developer comes in and turns a parking lot into 75 more units at $2000 each. Even if no one’s rent increases, the median rent doubles to $1500. The mean goes up as well. Not only does a rent crisis emerge where none actually exists, but the luxury developer superficially appears to make things worse!

[Zillow Research, which makes a scientifically serious attempt at meaningful statistics, says that “the impact of new high-end units will be minimal when taking the median over all Zillow rent estimates.”]

What cities like Seattle really need is a professionalized rental index. Much like formal inflation indices, it would measure the change in the rent of the same units over time, with adjustment for the demolition of existing housing. To understand how this would work, let’s return to my fictional city:

Continue reading “Two Bad Metrics for a Housing Shortage”

Sunday Open Thread: Inside the TBM

Sound Transit released a pair of videos showing Northgate Link’s progress.  First up, if you’ve ever wanted to see a tunnel boring machine (TBM) up close, here’s your chance:

Next, a rubber-tire vehicle makes its way from Roosevelt to U-District station, showing the completed tube, sans tracks:

This is an open thread.

The Giant Pool of Money Finds Seattle

U District House

Whether or not the current run-up in housing prices constitutes a “new bubble” is an open question, but it can’t be denied that the U.S. housing market is awash in investor capital, seeking outsize returns in a world where there aren’t many to be had.   Case in point: Goldman Sachs bringing back the bubble-inflating CDO.

The Giant Pool of Money is back, and it’s hunting for houses.

Re-inflating the housing bubble is problematic for plenty of urbanist reasons (and for other reasons as well, but let’s stick to the urbanist ones). It makes affordable housing construction more expensive, exacerbates NIMBYism, and, most importantly, reduces diversity through displacement.

From a political perspective, however, re-inflating the bubble is a winner.  Homeowners vote in disproportionate numbers, and bubble re-inflation is an easy way to put people back in the black.  Consider that the number of voters who are underwater on their houses has been cut in half since 2010:

Unwilling to make critical investments in public infrastructure or education, or force the banks to take a haircut after the 2008 crisis, our austerity-obsessed government has inadvertently deployed the giant pool of money in service of private infrastructure – granite countertops and roof decks. At least we’ll get the units.

Cities, meanwhile, lacking adequate representation in Congress, have been left for us to sort out the problems of expensive housing for ourselves. (Not just housing, but a host of issues, from housing to transit to guns.  It’s a national version of Ford-to-City.)

Charles Mudede and Cary Moon have a series of articles – 1, 2, 3, 4 – in The Stranger channeling this line of thought in the context of Seattle’s housing crisis and, importantly, offering some solutions.   If you can set aside the repeated swipes at neoliberalism (a frustratingly vague term), the articles are useful for widening the scope of our housing debate away from a provincial battle with NIMBYs to the challenge of a world awash in cheap capital.

It’s hard to endorse all of Mudede and Moon’s solutions, since many of them are vague toss-offs, often in the form of a question.  Requiring all homes to be owner occupied, for example, is probably a bad idea (although Vancouver’s tax on foreign buyers seems to be having an effect).   But at the core is a sound set of policies: expand public housing, allow more development, get creative about new forms of collective ownership (including land trusts, which I’ve written about previously).  A good chunk of these ideas could be described as HALA on steroids.  Notably, the phrase “rent control” appears zero times.

Two points that I would add to the debate, which may or may not make me a neoliberal squish: first, today’s market-rate housing is tomorrow’s affordable housing.  Once the original owners have paid off the construction costs, a house or apartment becomes much more affordable and can remain so for 100 years or more.  Much of the “naturally occurring affordable housing” Moon and Mudede laud was originally built for wealthy people.

Secondly, we do need to upzone, an idea that goes mostly unmentioned in the article. Backyard cottages aren’t gonna cut it.  Especially in the urban villages but really across the city. And not only within Seattle but across the region as well.  Housing reform can’t stop at the edge of Lake Washington.  Fortunately at least some upzoning is on its way.

Community Transit to Purchase More Buses, Adding More Routes

Community Transit 16804 in U District
New buses, like this one, are coming to Community Transit (photo by author)

Community Transit announced Friday that the agency’s board of directors has approved the purchase of at least 57 buses to be delivered beginning next year. The buses ordered were part of three contracts awarded to three different manufacturers: Alexander Dennis for 17 double-decker (“Double Tall”) buses, Gillig for 26 40-foot buses to be used on expanded local service, and New Flyer for 14 60-foot articulated buses that will replace older commuter buses.

The order for double-deckers came as part of a joint procurement with Sound Transit and Kitsap Transit, which the former approved last month. The additional double-deckers would bring the fleet to 62 vehicles, cementing CT’s place as the operator of the second-largest double-decker fleet in the United States, after Las Vegas.

(Community Transit's 2016-2021 Transit Development Plan)
(Community Transit’s 2016-2021 Transit Development Plan)

These bus replacements and additions are in line with Community Transit’s 5-year plan, which lays out a need to continually replace articulated buses with new models and Double Talls through 2021. The 40-foot buses used for local service are estimated to need a large replacement order in 2019 and 2020. Community Transit will also need to hire at least 115 new coach operators for these new buses and trips, during a time where other agencies are facing shortages.

The choice of Gillig for this order of 40-foot buses comes as a surprise, as they beat out New Flyer, who has been building most of CT’s buses for the last 20 years. Community Transit does, however, operate a fleet of 30-foot Gillig buses for their rural and lower-frequency services that have been running for three years.

An additional order of 15 articulated buses for the Swift Green Line will also be considered in the next few months, as Community Transit nears the line’s 2019 launch date. Delivery of those buses, which will be inter-operable with the existing Blue Line, is expected in late 2018.

Routes 109 (purple) and 209 (orange) begin service September 11.
Routes 109 (purple) and 209 (orange) begin service September 11.

In addition to the fleet changes, the previously discussed service changes will take effect on Saturday, September 11. Two new routes, 109 and 209, will create a loop around Everett using Highway 9, serving Ash Way, Mill Creek, Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Marysville every 30 minutes during weekday peaks. To accommodate the new route 209, route 222 in Marysville will be given a new route that restores service to the city’s library and serves the Getchell High Schoool and city’s new Walmart. Additional trips on commuter routes to Downtown Seattle and UW will be used to boost schedule reliability and keep up with rising congestion on I-5. Route 417 from Mukilteo will no longer serve the Lynnwood Transit Center, shaving a few minutes off the commute through the area.

Next March, Community Transit is planning to adjust local routes with additional morning and evening trips and frequency boosts at midday. In total, the changes in September and next March will eat up about 38,000 new bus hours funded by Proposition 1 in 2015. Details of the March changes will come in the next few months.

News Roundup: Reflections

Northgate TC from above

Photo: Northgate TC from above by SounderBruce

This is an open thread

Transit Report Card: Washington, D.C.

WMATA 7000 series interior
The 7000-series cars: sleek, modern, filled with screens, and with clean floors.

It’s high time for a resurrection of this blog’s classic Transit Report Card series, in which STB writers wildly generalize another city’s transit system based on limited experiences.

I’m here to report from two separate car-free trips to Washington, D.C., home to the (in)famous Metrorail system. Over the course of two cumulative weeks in October and June, I managed to ride the entire 117-mile system, on a car of each of the seven fleet series, the near-infamous streetcar, a few Metrobus and DC Circulator routes, and Capital Bikeshare for good measure; unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough time to fit any commuter rail service into my trip. The second trip also coincided with the first month of “SafeTrack“, a massive maintenance and repair program that is systematically shutting down and reducing service on a new segment every 2 weeks, give or take, until March (or longer).

Enjoy this ride-by review of the other Washington’s transit system, complete with a gallery at the end.

Segments ridden

  • All six Metrorail lines, all segments during normal service patterns
  • Metrobus: X2 (Downtown to Minnesota Ave), T18 (Rhode Island to Mount Rainier), 2A (East Falls Church to Ballston-MU)
  • Other Systems: DC Streetcar, Metroway, DC Calculator, Fairfax Connector routes 90 and 983, Capital Bikeshare

Scope: B+

The Metrorail system is the 2nd busiest rapid transit system in the country, and one of the oldest in the post-war class that nearly included Seattle. Since 1976, the network has expanded into 6 lines that sprawl across the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, with stop spacing and park-and-rides in garages that make it a suitable commuter rail system. It covers most of the region’s major destinations, some of which developed around the system, and was a part of just about every trip I needed/wanted to make. A handful of popular places like Georgetown are excluded from Metrorail, but are not completely inaccessible if you know to use Metrobus and could be on the cards for a future expansion.

Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Washington, D.C.”

Support TOD at 145th Street Station: Public Hearing Thursday

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.57.02 PM

Thursday evening at 7pm, the Shoreline Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on two ordinances (750, 751) that will formally adopt the the 145th Street Station Subarea Plan (145mb PDF). If you live in Lake City, Bitter Lake, Shoreline, or other nearby areas, the meeting could use urbanist support for the currently preferred Alternative 4.

Set to open in 2023, the 145th Street station is located in an awful place for transit access, far inferior to nearby station options such as 130th (delayed) or 155th (foregone). The station area is currently surrounded by a freeway on its west, a golf course to the south, single-family homes in all directions, and a soon-to-be-built 500-stall parking garage. Shoreline only has jurisdiction of the northern half of the station walkshed, but they have done an impressive and comprehensive look at the station’s TOD potential.

The current Alternative 4 is called “Compact Community Hybrid”, and will likely be selected over Alternative 1 (no build), Alternative 2 (“Connecting Corridors”, a broader but shallower upzone), and Alternative 3 (“Compact Community”, a narrower but taller upzone). The hybrid option rezones immediately adjacent parcels to 70′, and slowly steps down to 45′, 35′, and then back to single-family. Though the concepts surely could have been more aggressive, the preferred Alternative 4 is the best politically possible outcome, and it deserves urbanist support.

There will be an amendment presented at the meeting to retain single-family zoning as a buffer around natural areas such Twin Ponds Park and Paramount Open space. While the area affected would be small, it would reduce the number of units available to be built in both the 70′ and 35′ zones. If you want a walkable station area and believe that multi-family housing and natural areas can coexist, we encourage you to speak up at the hearing in support of Alternative 4 and in opposition to the amendment.

Meeting Details:  Thursday, August 18, 7:00 PM, Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Ave N

Upstart STB Endorsees Advance to November

On primary election night, there were two nail-biter races for who would take the second spot on the November 8 general election ballot, involving candidates endorsed by this blog. The nail-biting is over, and the two upstarts endorsed by STB have advanced.

Brady WalkinshawIn the wide-open race to replace longtime Congressman Jim McDermott to represent the 7th Congressional District, STB-endorsed former State Representative Brady Walkinshaw has opened up a wide lead over third-place finisher County Councilmember Joe McDermott. Councilmember McDermott conceded on August 5. Shortly thereafter, McDermott endorsed Walkinshaw in the general election. Walkinshaw faces State Senator Pramila Jayapal in the finale.

Guy PalumboIn another shocker, Snohomish County Fire Commissioner and STB endorsee Guy Palumbo has beaten out 3-term State Representative Luis Moscoso to advance in the senate race from the 1st Legislative District. Moscoso had come out against all tolling on I-405 in his Voters’ Guide statement. The two Democrats were fighting over second place in the primary election, as the other candidate is a Republican, and the 1st is a historically tight swing district. Moscoso conceded last Tuesday.

Other STB endorsees who have advanced to the November 8 general election include:

  • Jay Inslee, running for re-election as governor
  • Patty Murray, running for re-election to the US Senate
  • Dan Shih, running for the open position 1 seat in the 43rd Legislative District
  • Derek Stanford, running for re-election to position 1 in the 1st Legislative District
  • Shelley Kloba, running for the open position 2 in the 1st Legislative District
  • Rick Talbert, running for Pierce County Executive
  • Linda Farmer, running for Pierce County Commissioner, District 6
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    If you aren’t registered to vote at your current address, you can do so from the convenience of your home right now, online.

    Community Transit Unveils Colors for its Swift Lines

    Swift bus at Everett Station

    During a press conference Friday morning with U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene (1st district) and Rick Larsen (2nd district), Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath introduced details about the upcoming second Swift bus rapid transit line, including the all-important line colors.

    As speculated during the planning process, the first line, which opened in 2009 and runs along Highway 99 from Everett to Aurora Village, will become the Blue Line; and the second line, set to open in 2019 and run from Paine Field through Mill Creek to Canyon Park in Bothell, will become the Green Line. The two lines intersect at Airport Road in southern Everett, forming an X-shaped network in southwestern Snohomish County. Both colors coincide with those of the Seahawks, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this month.

    While Community Transit’s 5-year plan published in May anticipated a September 2018 opening for the Green Line, Community Transit spokesperson Martin Munguia stated that hitting 60 percent design on the project brought a “more realistic picture of both cost and schedule.” Other hold-ups include construction on the 128th Street overpass crossing Interstate 5, where WSDOT is restricting construction to one side of a time to minimize traffic disruptions and thus will be split between the summers of 2017 and 2018 along with station construction. The early 2019 launch will fall a few months shy of the Blue Line’s 10th anniversary in November, and come only four years before the possible launch of a third line to feed Lynnwood Link at Lynnwood Transit Center.

    15 new articulated buses will also be ordered and delivered in late 2018, and are planned to be inter-operable with the Blue Line, sharing the same branding and similar features.

    Sound Transit’s decision last year to name its lines after colors poses some potential confusion with Swift’s new lines, but Munguia says that the two agencies came together and felt that the two modes were distinct enough to not be easily confused. For the time being, Community Transit will append the Swift brand to every mention of the project.

    The $73 million cost of construction will be funded mostly by a $50 million FTA Small Starts grant that is part of the 2017 budget. $17 million from the state will help build the line’s northern terminus at Seaway Transit Center, adjacent to Boeing’s massive Everett factory. Operations will be funded in part by a portion of the 0.3 sales tax approved by voters last November as well as a $5 million FTA Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality grant for the first two years, allowing for the voter-approved increase to fund other services.

    The line ends at Canyon Park P&R to the south, a few miles short of downtown Bothell, where an extension has been considered and put on the back-burner until the completion of a major road project by the city; as the line would fall into King County like routes 105 and 106 do today, Community Transit has held discussions with King County Metro about the extension.

    The “Blue Line” moniker will begin appearing in schedules, on bus headsigns and at stations near you this fall. When the Green Line begins service in 2019, it will operate at 12-minute headways on weekdays and 20 minutes at night and on weekends, and is expected to attract 3,300 riders in its first year. Additional lines are also planned on major corridors, stretching as far north as Arlington and as far east as Highway 9 near Silver Firs.