Tweet of the Week: Broken Escalators are Stairs

The only exception I can think of is SeaTac Airport Station, where most passengers are pulling wheeled luggage.

Addendum 1: All escalators at UW Station were working Friday, when they were desperately needed. Thank you, Sound Transit, for making sure they were all in working order, as well as for the staff assistance at several stations for first-time users of ORCA/Ticket Vending Machines, and for the deployment of nearly the entire LRV fleet to keep passengers moving!

Addendum 2: At Angle Lake Station, “The station escalators power down to a slow crawl to save energy when not in use; only the second installation of its kind in Washington and a new Sound Transit standard.”

Amazon’s New Shuttle is an Opportunity to Improve SLU Transit for Everyone

Amazon shuttle

Nat Levy, GeekWire:

Amazon plans to debut its own pilot commuter service Monday, joining the ranks of major tech companies that offer private shuttles as a perk to employees and a way to counteract the headaches caused by traffic congestion, GeekWire has learned.

“Amazon Ride” will run six times in the morning and six times in the evening at 20 minute intervals from the suburban communities of Bellevue, Issaquah and Redmond to Amazon’s South Lake Union campus and the new Doppler building in the Denny Triangle, according to a website for the service. The service initially will not go to other neighborhoods in the city of Seattle.

As the article notes, tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook already provide regional commuter shuttle service to its employees (full disclosure: I work for Microsoft and have been known to enjoy a ride on the Connector). Amazon has been running an intra-city shuttle (shown above) for some time.

Amazon’s new shuttles will join Facebook, Microsoft, and (soon, one assumes) Expedia in driving through South Lake Union on busy Mercer Street. Unlike Metro buses, the shuttles can make the traffic-snarling shuffle from SR 520 to the Mercer Street exit, providing direct 520 service to SLU. Once they get there, though, they’re stuck in the Mercer Mess with all the SOV traffic.

To make the shuttles more appealing to their employees, the tech giants ought to lobby the city to add an HOV lane on Mercer. There’s never been a vocal constituency for HOV/transit priority on Mercer, because neither Metro nor the City have prioritized it as a transit corridor. (Metro briefly flirted with the idea of a 520-Mercer route during their last Eastside restructure proposal).

Metro will likely come back to the table with a new Eastside proposal in the next year or two. When they do, they ought to present a united front to the city along with the tech companies to demand, at minimum, dedicated, peak-only HOV lanes on Mercer. If one were running a high-profile public-private partnership dedicated to solving Seattle’s transportation problems, this is exactly the kind of thing that might be worth focusing on.

Photo by SounderBruce on Flickr

News Roundup: Genuine

Metro Huskies shuttles on layover

This is an open thread.

Dow Releases a Bullish Budget for Metro

On Monday, County Executive Dow Constantine released his $11.3B biennial budget proposal for King County, and the Metro portion of the budget represents a positive and ambitious forecast for the next two years, and one that telegraphs the expected adoption of the Long Range Plan in the next few months. The proposal adds 300,000 total service hours over the 2017-2018 biennium, roughly as big as Seattle’s Prop 1 investments (270,000 hours). It invests primarily in suburban routes in South King County, East King County, and the Ballard and West Seattle corridors. The service improvements are yet to be fully detailed, and while some of them are suspect – such as Route 22, or Night Owl routes set to be replaced in an upcoming proposal – most of these routes can clearly support additional frequency or reliability improvements. In the spirit of the Prop 1 supplantation clause, the Metro-funded Seattle investments will allow the city to increasingly focus its purchased hours on its Move Seattle Rapid Ride corridors.

In addition to the more-visible service hours, there are a number of other exciting additions. First and foremost, Metro’s Capital Program is back from its recession-era slumber. The bulk of the added 2017 costs are for fleet improvement, including $209m for 181 40-foot hybrid coaches, $297m for 252 60-foot hybrid coaches, $21m for 13 60-foot trolleys for Madison BRT, and $9m for 8 additional battery-electric buses. By the end of the program, Metro’s fleet would be entirely new and 100% hybrid or trolley. So long Bredas and high-floor buses.


Additional items of interest include:

Continue reading “Dow Releases a Bullish Budget for Metro”

Different Shuttle Routes, Bus Re-Routes, Enhanced Light Rail for Friday Huskies Showdown

Huskies fans at UW Station
Huskies fans on September 17, UW Station to the left (SounderBruce)

Bruce Englehardt contributed to this post.

The shuttle service for Friday’s 6 pm game against the #7 Stanford Cardinal will be significantly different from the Metro-operated shuttles that serve Saturday Husky games. First, they won’t be operated by Metro, which is busy using its whole fleet and workforce covering its regular routes. Second, there will be only six places served by park & ride shuttles, which will be different from the locations served by the Saturday Metro game day shuttles. Third, you have to make a reservation for the shuttle by midnight Thursday.

Shuttles are available at:
East – Bellevue College – starting at 2pm
East – Overlake Christian Church, 9900 Willows Rd, Redmond – starting at 2pm
North – Northwest Outpatient Medical Center, 10330 Meridian Ave N, Seattle – starting at 2:30pm
North – Shoreline Community College – starting at 2:30pm
Southwest – Highline College – starting at 2pm
South – Christian Faith Center, 33645 20th Ave S, Federal Way – starting at 2pm

Post-game pick-up locations are different from drop-off locations.

Several Metro buses serving the UW campus will be re-routed from 2 pm on during game day. However, there will be a free shuttle circling between Campus Parkway and UW Station throughout the afternoon and evening, coming every 7-8 minutes. Check all Metro re-routes here.

The best way to ride in style to the game is Link Light Rail, which drops you off right in front of Husky Stadium. Capacity and service will be amped up Friday, and it will be the first Husky football game for which you can ride from Angle Lake Station. Taking 6 minutes from Westlake and 13 minutes from the International District, while coming every 6-10 minutes, light rail is both the most frequent and fastest way to get to Husky Stadium. Most trains will be three cars Friday. Board the third (rear) car for the most spacious ride.

A note on fares (excluding the privately-run shuttles): Metro paper transfers are not accepted on light rail, and light rail paper tickets are not accepted on Metro or ST Express buses. To get transfer credit, you have to get the ORCA card. (If you already have a Husky Card with a U-Pass on it, you are good to go.) The $5 ORCA card fee will be paid off within two transfers, so you may as well get one and start using it. ORCA vending machines are located at every light rail and Sounder train station, as well as at a number of grocery stores and transfer centers. Using the ORCA card will automatically get you the lowest fare for your trip, as long as you remember to tap on and tap off.

UW Transit 101: Best. Transit. Options. Ever.

Welcome to all the new and returning students at UW!

Husky CardAs students, you are the lucky recipients of the best transit deal in town — the U-Pass, embedded in your Husky Card — which covers unlimited rides on:

King County Metro buses
Sound Transit (Link Light Rail, ST Express buses, and Sounder commuter rail)
Snohomish County Community Transit buses
Everett Transit buses
Pierce County Transit buses
Kitsap County Transit buses and foot ferries
Seattle Streetcars
King County Water Taxis
UW Night Ride

The U-Pass does not cover rides on Washington State Ferries or the Seattle Center Monorail.

The U-Pass serves as a transit smart card, which you tap on an ORCA (“One Regional Card for All”) reader to be recorded as having paid the fare. Even though you are already pre-paid for unlimited rides on the above services, you still have to tap, as the various agencies use these taps to divvy up their share of the revenue from monthly passes.

Tap your Husky Card on ORCA readers to "pay" for the ride.
Tap your Husky Card on ORCA readers to “pay” for the ride.

Continue reading “UW Transit 101: Best. Transit. Options. Ever.”

Murray’s Budget Funds Center City Connector

[updated with additional budget details: 3:05pm]

Mayor Murray is delivering his budget address from 2-3pm today. The speech will be archived on the Seattle Channel, or you can read the remarks as prepared here. Though rightfully focused on housing, policing, and other major issues, several transportation line items were also called out.

The budget funds the Lander overpass, Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan implementation, Vision Zero initiatives, and the first hard commitment to fund the City Center Connector. The $45m city contribution will combine with an expected $75m grant to fund roughly 75% of the line’s capital cost, with $30m in additional funds coming from Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities for relocation work on 1st Avenue and Stewart Street. The city’s funding will primarily come from bonding against Commercial Parking Tax revenue. Total project costs are estimated at $166m.

The $45m in local funding would be spread over 4 years, with $4.7m this year, $16m in 2018, and $24m in the 2019-2020 biennium. The Council’s actions this fall would commit the city to spend the full $45m, but they would only be allocating the first $21m for this biennium.

The funding would set up the line for construction in 2018-2019, with a 2020 opening. The construction would bring welcome transit right-of-way to 1st Avenue, and make relative lemonade from the relative lemons of the South Lake Union and First Hill lines. From Pioneer Square to Pike Place Market, or Chinatown to Colman Dock, etc, the streetcar will be a more direct path than an out-of-direction walk to 3rd Avenue or the Link tunnel. The line would also forego the fatal mistake of the first two lines, that of running in mixed-traffic.

If the new funding is approved and the federal grant comes through as expected, construction would occur during the most intense period of disruption for downtown arterials, with simultaneous construction of Madison BRT, 2-way Columbia Street, Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition, the Waterfront overhaul, Convention Center expansion, conversion to a rail-only Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, East Link related closure of the I-90 transitway, and more. The confluence of these issues is the heart of the One Center City (formerly Center City Mobility Plan) that is off to a slow start, but will begin convening its Advisory Group this fall.

Prior City Councils were pronounced for their streetcar skepticism – especially former CM Nick Licata – with both good and bad reasons for opposition. It will be interesting to watch as this line item works its way through the budget process. There are fears that the city balking at this line may make the FTA more hesitant to fund future grants to Seattle DOT, for projects such as Madison BRT or other Rapid Ride conversions.

South Sounder Update

Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

Four months ago I told you about large, but deliberately vague, plans for South Sounder if ST3 passes. At the time, the DuPont extension and facilities for 10-car trains were quite specific. However, plans for station access were, as usual, left open pending extensive post-election consultation with communities. Most importantly, the number and timing of additional train trips was unknown. Indeed, Sound Transit officials couldn’t even speculate, given the delicate negotiations with BNSF.

Regrettably, those negotiations are still going on. Spokesman Geoff Patrick says “the work with BNSF will be too involved to complete or speculate about prior to November.” It’s not just debates around a table, but staff work and simulations to show that a given level of investments can support a given level of passenger service without unduly disrupting freight traffic.

Helpfully, he shared the language about Sounder improvements in the ST3 plan:

…depending on affordability and cost-effectiveness, track and signal upgrades and other related infrastructure will provide capacity for additional trips. Sound Transit will negotiate with BNSF Railway Company and affected organizations for additional trips to serve growing ridership along the Sounder south line, within available financial resources. Consistent with the financial policies, available financial resources remaining after funding cost-effective additional train trips will be reallocated to pay for other capital and/or service improvements that are deemed to best provide additional frequent and reliable high-capacity transit service in the same corridor or subareas.

So the intent is clear, if the details are not.

Angle Lake Station Opening Party Liveblog


Trains are now running in revenue service to and from Angle Lake Station. The party goes until 2:00 pm.

Enjoy the ride, come back check out the booths, and hear the world’s only (as far as I know) football club marching band, Sounders FC Sound Wave!

Check out Sound Transit’s webpage dedicated to the new station.

Link is running 3-car trains all day today and tomorrow, as per weekend tradition. Follow the advice of one of the ST Board members at the party, and board the third car, as it is often less full than the front two.

Thanks to Bruce, Dan, and Oran for tweeting from the event.

Why ST3 is Worth It, Part 2: Tacoma

Kaizer Rangwala (Flickr)
Kaizer Rangwala (Flickr)

Wandering around Downtown Tacoma is a strange and almost eerie experience. Stately and graceful buildings adorn an intact, human scaled street grid built to serve the golden age of railways. On the east side of Pacific Avenue, the most beautiful train station in the northwest now lies in sterile use as a courthouse. Downtown is anchored on the south end by a beautifully renovated UW satellite campus, and on the north end by a derelict Italianate old city hall that is finally coming back to life. Large multifamily developments in the Stadium District speak to a more urban past, while tranquil neighborhoods such as Proctor are reminiscent of the nicest residential neighborhoods in Seattle. And its housing is the most affordable in the region.

But walking around, hardly a creature is stirring. Tacoma has roughly 1/3 the population of Seattle (200k vs 650k), but its urban core has only 5% as many jobs (14k vs 275k). Its Tacoma Link streetcar has been losing ridership steadily for a couple years now, despite being free. Pierce Transit’s service area voted against local transit service twice (in February 2011 and November 2012), leading to a contraction of the agency’s boundaries and a bloodbath of cuts that the agency is just beginning to crawl back from (Tacoma itself has repeatedly voted in favor). Its transit riders are the region’s poorest on average, and at 53%, their ORCA use is the lowest. And proving that you don’t need a War on Cars to have traffic woes, its residents suffer daily on I-5 from the Fife Curve to Joint Base Lewis McChord.screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-2-11-25-pmSo Tacoma is a scrawny city, with good bones and a solid core, just desperate to be fed. Unlike many of the more irredeemable intermediate suburbs, Tacoma is an excellent place to direct growth. You can’t really call Tacoma a suburb; it’s more like a shadow city. If it were geographically isolated like Spokane, it would stand on its own as a regional center of employment and commerce, but caught in Seattle’s gravitational pull it continuously loses by comparison. If Seattle is DC, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston, or Chicago, Tacoma is Baltimore, Oakland, Fort Worth, Providence, or Milwaukee.

So when it comes to its transit future, it’s at least understandable that it would look without rather than within.

Like Federal Way, light rail to Tacoma isn’t really about Seattle. Current traffic between Seattle and Tacoma is occasionally terrible, but nothing like the consistent misery of those in Snohomish County. Express bus travel times routinely beat an hour, and during peak hours Sounder makes the trip in a reliable 55 minutes as well. Link to Tacoma would clock in at a reliable 69 minutes from Tacoma to Westlake, slower than buses on all but the worst days, and certainly slower than Sounder. So why is it worth it? Here are 6 reasons. Continue reading “Why ST3 is Worth It, Part 2: Tacoma”

Rainier & Dearborn Queue Jump Slated for October

Image via SDOT
Image via SDOT

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about SDOT’s efforts to improve reliability for buses leaving the International District via southbound Rainier Avenue. The idea is to move buses to an exclusive center lane queue jump, thereby avoiding a couple of particularly congested blocks of traffic.

Well, it’s been over a year, and recently reader YZ wrote in to ask what the status was.  The red paint has been there for quite a while (it’s even on Google Maps!), but the buses haven’t moved.  In the  meantime, Metro has added even more service along that stretch of Rainier, as the re-routed 106 joins the 7 and 9.

I emailed Metro’s Jeff Switzer to see what the story is.  Switzer told me that trolley wire will be installed next month, October, along with a temporary bus shelter at Rainier & King to replace the decommissioned stop at Dearborn. A permanent bus shelter will follow some time after that.   Metro expects an average savings of 30 seconds, rising to 60-90 seconds during the PM peak.

With many more buses now trolling that corridor, the improvements are coming just in time.

News Roundup: Coming Down

This is an open thread.

Angle Lake Opens Saturday: Launch Day Details


Its safety certification now complete, Sound Transit will open Angle Lake Station this Saturday at 11:00am. The 1.6 mile extension is the last station to open for the next 4+ years, when UDistrict, Roosevelt, and Northgate make their big entrance. Media were treated to a brief preview ride this afternoon, with our Bruce E. in attendance.

The station festivities will be much smaller than that of ULink, both as a result of the relative importance of the stations in the overall network and due to relentless criticism of Sound Transit’s ULink Party expenditures by the likes of the Seattle Times and KUOW. A dedication ceremony and the usual speeches will begin at 9:30am, and the first trains will begin revenue service at 11:00am. Alaska Airlines, the City of SeaTac, and a few other sponsors will host a party on the plaza from 11am-2pm.

It will be a relatively quiet day for weekend service, with the Huskies, Mariners, and Sounders all out of town, but expect the 1,600 stall parking garage to begin filling up on Sunday for the Seahawks home game against division rivals San Francisco.

Sound Transit to Test “Inverted Peak” Trains Wednesday: More 3 Car Trains

In preparation for ‘mega-event’ service expected to be needed on Friday, September 30th – when both UW football and Mariner baseball converge on a weekday afternoon peak  – tomorrow (Wednesday) Sound Transit will test ‘inverted peak’ service for the first time. With Friday typically being the highest ridership day of the week and Angle Lake newly open to suburban sports fans, September 30th could be a record-breaking day for Link.

A typical weekday sees a base of 2-car trains supplemented during peak by 3-car trains. Wednesday’s service level will invert that, with a base of 3-car trains supplemented during peak by 2-car trains. That’s an 8% boost in capacity for the same service frequency. Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray said that an additional two trains will be held in reserve to clear crowds if necessary.

Tomorrow is a good test run because a Wednesday Mariners matinee against Toronto will end around the beginning of the evening commute (with lots of Canadians making the trek down boosting attendance further). It’s also a good test for mid-day Sounder, with the new 10:18-11:31am train available for Mariners fans, with the regular choice of weekday evening trains home.

Enjoy the extra capacity tomorrow.

Why ST3 is Worth It, Part 1: Everett

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

To date, I’ve been pretty disappointed in the public discussion of Sound Transit 3. Instead of discussing the transportation merits, we’ve been lost in hang-wringing over Sound Transit’s advertising expenditures (so much for “run government like a business!”), overambitious responses to public records requests, or other political minutiae. There has been the “multitasking fallacy”, in which SeattlePI’s Joel Connelly suggested halting ST3 until a single SDOT repaving project is done. There has been the forced outrage at the generous corporate contributions to the Mass Transit Now campaign, when if these businesses weren’t contributing the reciprocal headline would write itself: “Local Businesses Balking at Sound Transit Plan, Campaign Contributions Show.” And of course, there’s the always reliable process argument that if only we were slower and more deliberate, things would be better.

So what are we getting in Sound Transit 3? In what ways is it superior or inferior to existing options? And how does what’s proposed fit into the range of plausible political options? Let’s start with Everett. Continue reading “Why ST3 is Worth It, Part 1: Everett”

Action Alert: Support the UDistrict Rezone Tuesday Morning

The City Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) committee meets Tuesday morning at 9:30 am. Towards the end of the agenda will be the first committee briefing on the big UDistrict Rezone announced last week after more than 5 years of planning. With the Comprehensive Plan entering its final stages, the meeting being held on a mid-week morning, and the neighborhood in question being home to the Seattle Displacement Coalition, it’s safe to say that public comment is likely to be highly oppositional to new housing and development in the UDistrict.

But this proposal deserves support from anyone who supports more housing near transit. The proposed plan isn’t just about height, but even more about urban form. It permits tall and skinny residential towers up to 320′ while capping office uses at 160′, a sensible framework for a neighborhood long on jobs (20,000+ at UW) and short on housing. The rezone design includes generous pedestrian amenities and bike lanes, 3 parks, preserves much of the Ave, incentivizes community retail uses such as daycare, breaks up long facades, requires ground-level parking to be “fully wrapped in other uses”, places stricter limits on commercial parking, and supports Vision Zero with raised crossings and other traffic calming measures. As an opening volley before the Council, this is pretty good work.

The PLUZ Committee is composed of Chair Rob Johnson (who also represents the UDistrict via District 4), Mike O’Brien, and Lisa Herbold. The latter two have already signaled their intent to push for additional regulations on development “because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated” and to require one-to-one replacement of any affordable units at risk of demolition. It should be noted that existing zoning doesn’t protect any of these units currently, and adding additional restrictions immediately after passing the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation could be seen as a bait-and-switch for HALA-supportive developers. The most important thing is for the additional units to be constructed, and for that to happen the projects have to pencil out. Even if the units are built but the developer passes the costs of mandatory subsidy onto the market-rate units, this would only exacerbate economic inequality. But we’ll have to see the substance of these amendments before making a final judgment.

But a common refrain in opposing development is that we shouldn’t grow until we build the infrastructure to support it. Well, a high-capacity subway station to serve our state’s largest institution is just the ticket, isn’t it? If you have the privilege of taking a Tuesday morning off, please attend the meeting and speak in support of housing near transit. If not, please email Councilmembers Johnson, Herbold, O’Brien, and (alternate) Gonzalez with your thoughts.

Whatever Its Merits, “Peanut Butter” Doesn’t Save Any Money

Although it hasn’t gained any support at all among regional decisionmakers, a longtime favorite in the STB commentariat has been the “peanut butter” plan. It would build rail and bus tunnels where surface buses are hopeless, namely the Ballard/UW corridor and in downtown Seattle, and try to address the worst bus bottlenecks on Elliott Avenue and West Seattle, where Sound Transit 3 will build light rail. It’s a great plan for which I wouldn’t hesitate to vote.

This plan would undoubtedly serve more areas of Seattle than the existing ST3 proposal, although it would do so with buses somewhat less reliable than light rail. Whether that tradeoff is worth it is comprehensively addressed in dueling articles by Ross Bleakney and me, and readers can read those and draw their own conclusions.

Though the ST3 decision process is over, peanut-butter advocates might comfort themselves with the idea that ST3 failure might result in a smaller retry, where a cheaper BRT-heavy option is the only alternative. Unfortunately, the latest cost estimates suggest that the peanut-butter plan is actually more expensive than the existing ST3 plan, unless Sound Transit strips out the features that give it the advantage of geographic breadth.

Throughout this article, I will use high-end cost estimates, as is my custom, and 2014 dollars because all corridor studies use them.

Continue reading “Whatever Its Merits, “Peanut Butter” Doesn’t Save Any Money”