A Christmas Present for Route 8 Riders: A Denny Bus Lane

SounderBruce (Flickr)

In an early Christmas gift for beleaguered Queen Anne-SLU-Capitol Hill commuters. Metro and SDOT have announced a slew of improvements for the notoriously unreliable Route 8. The plan would do a number of exciting things:

  • First and foremost, the city will add an eastbound bus lane on Denny between Fairview and Stewart by reducing westbound Denny (rarely congested) to one lane.
  • In Capitol Hill, much of the remaining street parking will be removed between I-5 and Broadway and on John Street from 12th-16th.
  • 2 queue jumps will be added on Denny at Queen Anne Avenue and at Fairview.
  • 3 new left-turn restrictions will be added (Denny at 8th, Terry, and Boren).
  • Retime 4 signals (Denny/ 5th, Denny/Aurora, Olive/Bellevue, and 12th/John)

Route 8 Flyer

Final design will finish up in early 2017, with the improvements slated to be implemented in phases through early 2018.

Long known as a bottomless pit for service hours, the Denny corridor has had structural problems ever since Arthur Denny and Carson Boren built a 49° grid in the Denny Regrade while Doc Maynard prevailed with a cardinal grid elsewhere else. In the 1960s, an era of concrete foolishness, we built I-5 through the heart of the city, reducing Capitol Hill-SLU pathways by two thirds. In 2011, STB had a post consisting of nothing more than a YouTube video of Route 8 not moving for 12 minutes.

Yet most of Route 8’s struggles are due to the short Yale Street on-ramp to southbound I-5. It is the only southbound ramp between the equally congested Mercer and Spring St ramps, and traffic has nowhere to go but to back up onto Denny, blocking Route 8’s bus stops at Westlake, Fairview, and Stewart. Prior improvements have tinkered around the edges but have avoided anything resembling structural change. Metro broke Route 8 in half in March 2016, and Metro and SDOT have repeatedly invested service hours in schedule padding.

Think about that: your transit tax dollars have not been used for new or better service in the corridor, but to eat the costs of the inefficiencies that solo drivers inflict on it. The end result has been universally unsatisfying: everyone pays more in their money and time, no one gets where they’re going, and the resulting misery exacerbates the problem by creating a perverse incentive to avoid transit.

So three cheers to SDOT and Metro for offering some real hope. This is the kind of thinking we’ve needed all along.

Sounders Victory Parade Downtown Mid-Day Tuesday

Sound Wave, Sounders FC’s marching band, video by padge6108

In what is becoming a fun but disruptive tradition, Seattle will be holding a victory parade for another sportsball champion, the Seattle Sounders, who will take over a swath of north downtown mid-day Tuesday.

Link Light Rail will be running 3-car trains all day, and a mix of 2- and 3-car trains during AM and PM peak, so spread out along the platform and help keep the trains moving briskly.

We’ve heard that the march/parade route will begin at Westlake Park at 11 a.m. and proceed up 4th Avenue for a rally at Seattle Center. Transit re-route details will be linked here as plans are published.

Congratulations, Sounders!

Continue reading “Sounders Victory Parade Downtown Mid-Day Tuesday”

Vancouver Welcomes the Evergreen Extension to the Millennium Line

On December 2, British Columbia’s Lower Mainland welcomed the latest SkyTrain extension, the long-awaited Evergreen Extension to the Tri-Cities area (Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam) east of Simon Fraser University. The extension covers 6.8 miles in 15 minutes, roughly the same average speed as Link (27 mph). Most of the line is at-grade or elevated, but there is a short (and controversial) 1.3 mile tunnel in between Burquitlam and Port Moody Stations. The extension makes SkyTrain both the longest grade-separated transit system in Canada (edging Toronto), and the longest fully automated system in the world (edging Dubai).

From a network perspective, the extension operates as the Millennium Line, allowing TransLink to end the loop-de-loop that the line made from 2006-2016, doubling back on itself and serving Commercial/Broadway Station twice. Though the inefficiency of stopping just short of the Canada Line will continue, the Millennium Line will now make more sense as a linear line, operating from Lafarge Lake/Douglas to VCC/Clark. The extension will also offer the first two intermodal transfers to West Coast Express commuter rail outside of Downtown Vancouver, at Moody Centre and Coquitlam Central.

To cover the 2 stations between New Westminster (Braid and Sapperton) that would have otherwise lost service, TransLink has created a new branch of the Expo line. The traditional line from Waterfront to King George in Surrey is now complemented by trains from Waterfront to Production Way/University.

Selection from the new TransLink System Map

Much like the Canada Line, the new Millennium Line will use tiny 2-car trains but at very high frequencies, every 3-4 minutes during peak, 6 minutes off-peak, and 10 minutes at night. Meanwhile, the Expo Line will run every 2-3 minutes during peak on the shared segments between Waterfront and Columbia, with service roughly every 3-4 minutes to King George and every 6 minutes to Production Way/University. The new branch of the Expo line is every third train during peak, and every other train off-peak.

The new network also offers a strange but elegant platform layout where the lines converge at Lougheed Town Centre. Between Lougheed and Burquitlam, Millennium Line trains will crossover and run on the opposite tracks (see 12:35 in the video above). Outbound Millennium Line trains will stop at a new island platform (Platform 3), while the pre-existing centre platform will be shared by the outbound Expo Line (Platform 2), the inbound Millennium Line (Platform 2), and the inbound Expo Line (Platform 1). This is done to facilitate same-platform transfers between Coquitlam and New Westminster.

Diagram by the Author

Though SkyTrain is highly regarded for its frequency and reliability, it shares the suburban biases of most North American systems, underserving the City of Vancouver. But if you want to see a best-case scenario for TOD for Federal Way or Lynnwood, TransLink’s extension offer a hopeful glimpse of Towers in the Park(ing lot).

Snow Open Thread

JSeattle (Twitter)

With a couple of inches of dry, powdery snow in greater Seattle, our area has mostly avoided the icing disasters that are common to Seattle snow events. As of last night, only Routes 2 and 13 were rerouted in Seattle, avoiding Queen Anne Ave between Mercer and Galer. Late last night all South King County routes were on reroute, and North Seattle was spared completely. This morning the situation is reversed, with South King County in the clear and all North Seattle buses on reroute. Check the status of your route here.

Sound Transit Express routes are mostly operating normally, except in Snohomish County where routes 510/511 are operating only every other trip, Routes 522 and 535 are on reroute near UW-Bothell, and 542 is on reroute.

With rain in the forecast and temps projected in the mid-40s for Saturday, roads should clear in a day or two.

Our Suburban City

ULI's map of Seattle's suburbs
ULI’s map of Seattle’s suburbs

Seattle fancies itself a city of neighborhoods, but in many ways is a city of suburbs.  As has been well documented, the city’s first population boom coincided with the electric streetcar, leading to an urban form primarily composed of “streetcar suburbs” – planned communities such as Queen Anne and Capitol Hill where mass development of single-family homes (some might even say “cookie cutter”!) followed private streetcar lines.

A fascinating new report from the Urban Land Institute reveals just how suburban most of the city is.  The report seeks to subdivide suburbia, using census tracts, into five categories – Established high-end, stable middle-income, economically challenged, greenfield lifestyle, and greenfield value – to reflect the diversity of communities that are often lumped together as “the suburbs.”  The modern suburb, they argue, is a hodgepodge of very different housing and land-use types, a continuum that stretches from stately, tree-lined streetcar suburbs close to the center to the sprawling planned communities on the exurban fringe.

What’s interesting its that the report finds that there’s not much different between North Ballard and Bellevue: both are classified as “established, high-end” suburban communities.  Seattleites might chafe at the comparison, but there’s something to it.

The only parts of Seattle that are classified as urban are downtown and the neighborhoods immediately adjacent (roughly the Seven Hills + parts of the North end). These urban neighborhoods count for less than half a percent of all the land in the metro area, while housing 9% of the population (and, perusing the methodology, it may be that even these neighborhoods qualified as urban not solely because of their density, which isn’t very high, but simply because of their proximity to the city center).

The rest of the map’s classifications seem more-or-less on point from my experience, though defining nearly all of South King as “economically challenged” may be a bit of a stretch. We’d expect more blue in there somewhere.

As City Observatory notes, this report has been sold in the media under the banner of suburban triumphalism.  That seems simplistic, considering that housing prices in many urban neighborhoods are at record highs: clearly more people want to live in urban areas than can afford to.  But the report itself is worth reading, or at least clicking around the interactive map.

News Roundup: Lucky

Bellevue Transit Center in the Blue Hour...

This is an open thread.

October 2016 Link Ridership Report – Whole New World

Welcome everyone to the return of Link Ridership posts. I took a bit of break and what do you know, ST went and opened up a couple new stations.

Turns out they are quite popular and not only are running at 2018 projections for ridership, but they appear to have broken the previous pattern. We’re in a whole new world here. Aside from its first few months of operations, Link ridership has always experienced significant seasonal variation, with summer peaks and winter lulls, but U-Link is reducing it sharply. For the first time since 2009, October ridership was higher than September. It’s obviously very early and we won’t see an solid patterns until a couple years of Year-over-Year (YOY) data, but it’s certainly interesting.

Average daily ridership for Link in October was:

  • Weekday: 68,387 (+84.3%)
  • Saturday: 42,440 (+90.4%)
  • Sunday: 35,769 (+48.6%)

Other modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder,  +3.2%
  • Sounder North, -3.4%
  • Sounder South, +3.9%
  • Tacoma Link, -0.3%
  • ST Express, -0.3%
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +25.4% Weekday, +23% Total Boardings

The complete October Ridership Summary is here. Another milestone reached was that for the first quarter ever Link Weekday ridership surpassed ST Express in Q3.

Charts below the break.

Continue reading “October 2016 Link Ridership Report – Whole New World”

3 Cheers for Brenda

TBM Cutterhead Lift 120516 30s from Sound Transit Video on Vimeo.

Though Sound Transit’s Tunnel Boring Maching #1 (formerly ‘Brenda’) reached UW station in September, Sound Transit only retrieved the cutter head yesterday (because football). TBM #1 has been a true workhorse for Sound Transit, completing 6 of the 10 tunnel segments for University Link and Northgate Link on its own. It also picked up the slack when TBM #2 (‘Pamela’) broke down, finishing an extra segment from UDistrict Station to UW.

Aside from a short 0.5 mile conventionally mined tunnel under construction in Downtown Bellevue for East Link, Brenda’s repose marks a ceremonial end to transit tunneling for the next decade or so. Most remaining ST2 track miles (Northgate to Lynnwood, and International District to Overlake) are at-grade or elevated, as is the bulk of the recently passed Sound Transit 3. In a country that frequently builds at-grade rail on the cheap, it’s worth reiterating how fortunate we will have been to build an 8.5 mile subway from scratch.

The next tunnels? Possibly a short tunnel from The Triangle into West Seattle Junction, and of course the mammoth undertaking of boring a new subway from Queen Anne to the International District for the Ballard-Tacoma line. If we’re lucky judicious and efficient, we’ll be christening new TBMs by the early-2020s.

A Snow Route Refresher

Photo by Oran

It hasn’t really snowed around here since Seattle won its only Super Bowl nearly 3 years ago. When it snows and sticks, our region has a deserved reputation for basically falling apart, like the multi-day Snowmageddon of November 2010. Paltry amounts of snow bring us to a standstill, and there are many plausible reasons: the rarity of storms, icing due to multiple freeze/melt cycles, a dearth of snow tires, a street grid built for rain (steep and straight instead of switchbacks), lots of poorly-suited articulated buses, and a generally fragile road network full of chokepoints.

With snow in the forecast for Monday and (especially) Wednesday, it’s a good time to refresh your knowledge of transit snow operations in Seattle. The first thing you should do is sign up for alerts. Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and WSDOT all provide thorough information on road closures and reroutes. Being a Twitter user often gives you a leg up too; follow @seattledot@kcmetrobus@SoundTransit, @MyCommTrans@PierceTransit, and @wsdot_traffic.

Route 62 Snow Route
Route 62 Snow Route

In major Seattle snow events, there are a few basic reroute principles:

  • First Hill: no service west of Broadway. Trolley routes such as #2/3/4/12 detour all the way down to the International District.
  • Queen Anne: No routes travel up the Counterbalance, with routes 2/13 getting a tour of Kinnear/10th Ave W along the way instead.
  • Capitol Hill/Central District: Route 8 is basically an entirely different route, using 8th, 9th, Pine, and Union between South Lake Union and the Central District. Route 11 skips the steepest part of Madison east of 23rd. Routes 10, 48, and 49 operate normally.
  • SE Seattle: Link usually hums along normally, and Route 7 runs normally except skipping the Prentice Loop. Routes 106 and 107 skip Skyway, staying along Lake Washington between Renton and Rainier Beach.
  • NE Seattle: No service on NE 65th street east of 35th Ave NE. There is a convoluted shuttle system for Wedgwood and Ravenna, and new routes such as Route 62 detour all the way to UW Station.
  • West Seattle: All routes skip the Viaduct and the high bridge, using 1st/4th and the Spokane Street Bridge instead.
  • NW Seattle: The least disrupted area in Seattle, most routes operate normally. Exceptions include Route 5 (no Fremont Ave) and Route 26 (no NE 40th St).

In 2010’s Snowmageddon, Link was the only mode that didn’t fail, With the ULink extension, Capitol Hill and UW riders can now join the ranks of the snow-immunized.

In all likelihood this potential storm will fizzle out as others have, either skipping Seattle by retreating north to the Convergence Zone, or yielding a meager snowfall that immediately melts on warm roads or  is washed away by rain. But once in a while things actually get messy, and with some prior planning you can be ready when it does.

Sunday Open Thread: Victoria Line Story

The story of building London’s Victoria Line in the 1960s. It featured new construction techniques, like tunnel boring machines and freezing the ground to stabilize it. There were challenges like retrofitting existing stations for interchange with the new line, including diverting trains into new tunnels by constructing a new underground track junction around an operating tunnel.  The line also introduced new automatic train operation systems and fare collection.

Feds Clear the Way for Euro-style Trains in the US

Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin
Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin. Flikr user Paul Kimo McGregor.

New regulations from the Federal Railroad Administration could open up exciting new options for passenger rail in the Northwest.   These updates have been in the pipeline for some time now and are finally ready for public review.

The first of the new rules creates a new “Tier III” for high-speed passenger rail. Tier I covers speeds up to 125mph (i.e. Amtrak Cascades, Sounder), Tier II goes up to 160mph, and the new Tier III (220mph) relates to true high-speed trains such as we might some day see in California.

The second and more interesting rule change provides an alternative crash safety standard for Tier I (and only Tier I) trains, for tracks that are shared between passenger and freight rail.  Streetsblog has a good summary:

The FRA expects the new rules will enable railroads to use trains that are safer, more energy efficient, and cheaper to operate. The rules will allow American passenger train operators to purchase rolling stock designed to European safety standards (but not Japanese standards), without going through an expensive waiver process.

“It was an obstacle for all foreign railway manufacturers to bring any state-of-the-art trains into the country,” said Alois Starlinger, a board member for the Swiss train maker Stadler Rail.

Building trains to unusual U.S. safety standards for the small American passenger rail market made rolling stock purchases needlessly expensive. Opening the door to standardized European train specifications will significantly lower prices.

Running cheaper, lighter Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains on existing freight rail tracks could open up some more options for passenger rail.  As our own Bruce Nourish explained when the regs were first announced:

To get a sense of the economic and environmental cost of America’s overbuilt trains, let’s look at a simple number, the weight of the trains, taking Sounder North as an example. To a first order approximation, the environmental and economic cost of building and operating a vehicle (of a certain type of fuel) is proportional to the amount of metal that goes into it. A three-car Sounder North train weighs about 240 metric tons (50 t carriages, 120 t locomotive), while the Stadler 2/8 weighs 79 metric tons. So, roughly speaking, we could comfortably move Sounder North’s passenger load with a third of the fuel and materials we use today. This would do much to bring down Sounder North’s painfully high cost per boarding; to boot, a DMU train would almost certainly accelerate faster, ride more smoothly, and be quieter to the neighbors. DMUs on this line could be a huge win.

A win indeed.  Where else in the Northwest might we see DMUs playing a bigger role? Discuss in the comments.

News Roundup: Victory Lap

Angle Lake Station

This is an open thread.