29 Replies to “Podcast #34: Not a Conspiracy”

  1. The idea of south end truncations at Rainier Beach seems to rest heavily on an assumption that most people using them can seamless swap a leg of their trip for Link one-for-one. It’s a substantial risk that could forcibly introduce a second transfer penalty to a good portion of their ridership, to adverse affect.
    This may be why the One Center City concept left them out.

    Empirical evidence (http://www.vtpi.org/traveltime.pdf — a recently published report by the Victoria [BC] Transport Policy Institute. Flip to page 24, near the bottom.) suggests that riders are willing to accept (within reasonable limits) a longer zero-transfer ride than a shorter one-transfer ride, especially if the transfer ‘quality’ is low. From the report, the transfer penalty “reflects the physical and mental effort
    involved, plus the relative discomfort, insecurity and uncertainty that transit riders experience at
    typical transit stops and stations,”.

    This finding can be reasonably extrapolated to say that riders will accept a longer one-transfer ride than a two-transfer ride, again especially if transfer quality is poor, though I contend that the additional transfer has a multiplied negative effect (rather than additive), meaning that the negative affects of a second transfer are greatly amplified in comparison to a single transfer. This means for the south-end-Rainier-Beach-truncation idea that bus-to-Link transfers have to be absolutely gold-standard for any riders using Link as the middle leg of what becomes at best a time-competitive three-segment trip, bus-Link-bus. Still, the entire concept also means that a potentially non-trivial percentage of ridership that is forced into an additional transfer to Link will abandon transit entirely.

    (Aside: this report has a number of other interesting findings upon which further meditating can be done, such as local amenity quality both perceived and actual have a dramatic effect on perceived service quality.)

    Full disclosure: such a proposal affects me. It would force my trip from one-transfer to two-transfers, and I anecdotally agree with the report’s suggestions above.

    1. Although One Center City may propose it, I don’t think anything at STB proposes forced transfers without frequency upgrades and quality transfer experiences.

      Aleksandra Culver’s proposal for restructuring Southeast King County service is aimed at two things (1) Improving transfer quality, primarily by moving the transfer from Renton to Rainier Beach Station; (2) Improving frequency for a whole lot of the southeast King County grid.

      In the current OCC situation, a third goal is to find the least painful truncations, and enact those over the horrible proposals to just empty out passengers from routes 41 and 550 at Westlake and International District Stations, with no analysis of where there will be capacity to get them across downtown.

      Of course, making 3rd Ave bus-only (except for cross traffic) 24/7 and painting it red is a better approach still, hopefully yielding more capacity to move buses. But it might not be enough to avoid the need for some truncations outside of downtown.

      1. Third Avenue as “bus-only” can be improved and made “worthwhile” by building island platforms, like Market Street in San Francisco. “Skip-stop” services are better than every bus at every stop, but they have horrid performance problems because of the “weave”.

        If the street is made “transit only” the current parking lanes can become the outer bus lanes and the space devoted to them the platforms for the inner lanes.

        Run the trolley’s in the inner pair because they’re the routes which turn on and off the street. Put the “through” diesels in the outside lanes and allow passing for the diesels in the blocks which don’t have trolley stops using the “platform” space between the bus lanes.

      2. @Richard – I like it. And if it’s a temporary solution, SDOT can do the center bus island on the cheap to fit it into the capital budget.

    2. Link doesn’t just add transfers, it also subtracts them or moves them. If you’re going to UW, Capitol Hill, or Rainier Valley, you’re better off transferring to Link at Rainier Beach and avoiding the downtown traffic. Later when Link is extended through north Seattle and to Bellevue the advantage will become even greater. As Link gets more built out this advantage will become greater. However, I do appreciate that a lot of people go downtown and transferring at Rainier Beach would slow them down.

      But let’s not make too much of it, it’s only three routes, the 101, 102, and 150. That’s at most eight eight buses per hour. For the 101 and 102 Rainier Beach is almost on the way. But for the 150 it’s a longer detour, and people are already frustrated that it takes 45-60 minutes to get from Kent to Seattle.

      1. The peak-hour combined trips of the four truncated routes (add route 143) is 15 in the peak direction and 7 in the off-peak direction.

        The 101/102/143 portion (11 peak-direction and 3 reverse-peak trips) could be separated from the 150 portion (4 and 4 trips).

        IMHO, these truncations should not be attempted until either (1) the Link fleet is large enough to handle all 4-car trains for the peak period; or (2) the SR 520 truncations have already happened, and there is clearly enough room on the southern portion of Link trips to absorb the transfer ridership that could reasonably be projected from a Rainier Beach restructure.

    3. It’s already two rides from Kent or Fairwood to Seattle. If you want to go somewhere else that’s at least one possibly two more. 101 and 150 must continue going downtown.

      1. But what about Aleks’ plan which would extend the Kent East Hill and Fairwood buses to Rainier Beach directly? That way, downtown Seattle would stay a two-seat ride away from just about everywhere in the south county.

      2. “Two buses from Kent” could only be from East Hill or the rest of the area beyond Kent Station. Which is where most Kentians live. From my perspective I’m usually going to Kent Station or north Kent, and even that takes frustratingly forever on the 150. But the problem there is all the turns in Tukwila. If it just stayed in Interurban Ave, that runs directly into the West Valley Highway. And “something” could be done for Southcenter. Tukwila claims the urban village on Baker Blvd will be a “10 minute walk” from the Sounder station via a new pedestrian bridge. Well, build that bridge now, and figure out what else the city can do to mitigate the gap between Andover Park West and WVH.

        Aleks’ point is very important: moving a transfer point to a train station is not the same as adding an additional transfer. It makes eminent sense for long one-seat rides from the corers of the county to a train station, even if they’re possibly a bit redundant between the suburban center (downtown Kent and Renton) and the station. But they aren’t redundant from the suburban center: the overlapping routes add the missing all-day frequency. More suburbanites would ride transit if it ran every 10-15 minutes in the main corridors all day and evening.

        Metro itself is even moving toward this in its LRP, although not in the same way as Aleks. And Metro thinks a Renton-Seattle express will still be needed long-term, which is doubtless why it’s reluctant to truncate the 101.

      3. The issue has to do with onward or inbound transfers. There’s little to complain about in Aleks’ plan, except for the fact that its benefits are concentrated on trips that start or end on the Link line. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not guaranteed to be net-positive for everyone either. (Such is life — no service restructure I know has ever produced a 100% happy customer rate.) That network concept was also introduced 3 years (and one day, exactly!) ago, and I think we have learned a lot about what to expect from Link’s continuing success and ever-growing importance since then, as well as 3 more years of information about increasing road travel times.

        Let’s take an example trip from the Central District, say 23rd and Jackson, to Southcenter Mall. Right now, you have two options if you leave at 10am on a weekday:
        – 8 to Mt Baker, Link to Tukwila, F to the mall. Metro Trip Planner time: 58 minutes, two transfers.
        – 14 to International District, 150 to the mall. Planned time: 46 minutes, one transfer — this is the target.

        Assuming the 150 is truncated to Rainier Beach, we can use Martin’s original math (I’ve averaged his transfer penalty to 6 minutes):
        – 8 to Mt Baker = 9 mins
        – Transfer to Link = 6 mins
        – Link to Rainier Beach = 10 min
        – Transfer to 150 = 6 min
        – 150 (or Aleks’ brilliant 164+180 combo) from Rainier Beach to the mall = (Current 150 run time from Sodo/Lander St to the Mall – 8 minutes) = (19 – 8) = 11 min.

        Total time: 46 minutes — the exact time of the trip it replaces, except now with an extra transfer, an extra set of transfer condition assumptions, and the potential for an extra headache.

        It’s also still up against the original trip of 8-Link-F, which then becomes a question of user preferences and transfer quality to stay on the line and choose a relatively short ride on the F from Tukwila (which increases the Link fare from $2.50 to $2.75) or transfer at Rainier Beach and deal with the 150’s route to the mall along Interurban Ave. If you’re heading further down the route to your job somewhere on West Valley Highway, only favorable transfer scenarios provide a benefit: using the above methodology, the current trip from the CD to 212th St is 60 minutes against a new trip time of 58 minutes. That’s the finding of the paper I cited above — that the 60 minute trip with one transfer is probably preferred by ridership to the 58 minute trip with two.

        These are nitpicks to be sure, but it begs the important question: why bother? The net loss is that 1-transfer riders now become 2-transfer riders, no matter what. The benefit of taking those reclaimed hours and converting them into increased frequency is a non-trivial upgrade, but I believe the additional transfer offsets any potential positive benefit for those riders.

      4. I’m more concerned about people in East Hill and Auburn that have a minimum 2-seat ride to get anywhere beyond their dinky downtown, than I am about somebody at 23rd & Jackson who has many more choices. That person at 23rd & Jackson has frequent buses in three directions to many more destinations within a mile or two. That wealth of local choices makes longer-distance trips less necessary or everyday.

        The benefit of one-seat rides vs frequency is a perennial controversy, and different people have different values. But the number one thing that frustrates passengers overall and makes them less likely to use transit in the future is their personal travel time. The second-most frustrating thing is waiting at the stop, especially the longer the wait. The third-most frustrating thing is not having a countdown timer (“7 minutes, 6 minutes…”) The timer both limits how long you’ll wait and it psychologically makes the time go faster and less boring. So to me and most people, frequency is very important. Doubling frequency is a major, major improvement. Other people don’t care how frequent it is or how long the trip is; they just want a one-seat ride. But they’re much fewer. And that one-seat pattern misses the riders who will come when the transit is more frequent and has more destinations even if it adds a transfer.

        There is a limit to transfers. As one of the podcasters said, transferring for the last half mile is unreasonable. And my rule is, two transfers within two miles is completely unacceptable. That’s the problem with the SLU streetcar: it can’t replace the 7, 9, 14 or 60 or allow them to be truncated because it doesn’t go far enough in one direction. For somebody coming from Rainier Valley or Beacon Hill, transferring at 12th & Jackson and again at Dennn y & Broadway is completely unacceptable. It’s better to just extend the bus routes a mile or two to a regional transfer point. That’s what Aleks’ plan does at a larger scale.

      5. And my commute now, I have a choice between:

        1) An 60-minute bus ride plus an optional 2nd bus or 20-minute walk.

        2) Link plus one bus and two optional second buses (one at each end), with a minimum 5 minutes of walking or maximum 25 minutes, and a minimum of 0 minutes for transfers on a good day or a maximum 40 minutes of transfers on a bad day.

        At best the second option gets down to 50 minutes, but at worst it gets up to 75 minutes, and all that uncertainty on top of the additional walking and transfers just drives me up the wall, so that has pushed me toward the 60-minute milk run in the morning even though I’m a train fan. In the afternoon I take the train because I’m not as concerned how long it will take, the walking is downhill, and I often do errands along the way. So I am a one-seat rider sometimes, but this is an extreme case that will resolve itself in ST2. And sometimes elsewhere I take a one-seat milk run because I’m tired or carrying heavy bags. But that doesn’t mean we should design our network around these routes.

        It does, however, mean that long through routes like the 106 that serve secondary areas in the middle and eventually reach downtown are a good backup measure, and they allow die-hard one-seat riders and the ultra-tired to have something. But it must serve a secondary area that the main corridors miss (like the 48 compared to Link), not just be redundant and half-hourly (like the 42 after Link and the 8 appeared, given that the frequent 7 covers the gap between Mt Baker and Jackson Street).

  2. High Speed Rail could not use I-5 ROW and perform at anything resembling “high speed”. The vision here appears to be a service operating comparable to — or better than — the Acela service in the NE Corridor between DC and New York, which routinely runs 125-150 mph. The existing I-5 right of way has far too many curves and grade changes to accommodate that level of operation. The proximity to vehicular traffic would pose significant safety issues. Nor could it use the existing BNSF ROW, for the same reasons plus conflicts with freight traffic.

    No. To really work, such a system would need a new, fully separate right of way that is substantially straight, level, and free from grade crossings. This would almost certainly have to be east of the I-5 corridor between the population centers and the Cascade foothills, and include a substantial amount of tunneling and bridge structures to deal with the topography and water crossings.

    The big challenge, therefore, is not in the cost of the civil infrastructure, which is fairly uncomplicated to estimate based on time and material quantities. Rather, the real challenge would be assembling the needed property rights, No private interest could economically do this. Only a government — federal or state — would have the power and authority to make something on that scale happen.

    1. Isn’t that the point of using the I5 ROW? The cost of acquiring that much ROW seems way more expensive than whatever bridges & tunnels needed to even out the grade changes of I5.

      Regardless – the only politically possible solution involves stations in Everett and Seattle. I don’t see how you do that without using I5, or building an entirely new ROW simillar to Link. The later would cost +$10B – I don’t see how that’s worth trimming, what, 15 minutes off the Seattle-Everett leg?

      North of Everett, I5 is pretty darn straight & level in Snohomish and Sakigit until the Chuckanut mountains, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t use I5 there?

      1. Highways, even I-5 in Skagit County, tend to meander ever so slightly. Just compare the parallel rail line to I-5; the rail line is much straighter. That may be fine in a rubber-tired car but is terrible for trains with steel wheels on steel rails. A good example of this is Link following 599 and I-5 in Tukwila. It’s not the smoothest ride because of the curves and the resulting hunting oscillation.

      2. Even the TGV has a fair amount of very broad curves. You could do some pretty interesting stuff directly above I-5 because the road is wide enough that the railroad could slide from one side to the other to soften the curves.

        Hunting may be caused by a number of issues, but it shouldn’t be happening on Link. It used to be an issue on some parts of the MAX lines, but it is mostly gone now. It can happen on straight sections too.

    2. The Seattle-Vancouver HSR proposal is not going anywhere. It’s not the 1990s anymore when people imagined a seamless Cascadia and plenty of infrastructure money and cooperative national governments. (Remember, Clinton handed Bush a near-zero budget deficit that was heading toward a surplus.) Since then there’s been 9/11 with increased border friction, Trump who wants to severely limit immigration, the worst depression since the 1930s, initiative 601 and others which hinder the state’s and cities’ ability to do anything big, and federal politicians who are scared to death of deficits except when it’s defense spending or tax cuts for the 1%.

      Let’s first focus HSR on Seattle-Portland which is a seamless region, has proven growing ridership and congestion, and points toward California which has sixty million people and its own HSR plans. Even Seattle-Portland HSR is not going anywhere anytime soon so it’s not worth focusing on. More worthwhile would be to prod the state to buy the BNSF tracks and accelerate its incremental upgrades to 90 mph and 110 mph. Look at hourly Cascades with some runs to Bellingham to Eugene, and keep the existing runs to Vancouver. And also get on with a Seattle – Ellensburg – Pasco – Spokane line.

      These lines don’t have to be 150 mph or 250 mph. 110 mph is good enough for a lot of people’s trips. Each level higher is more expensive, like the height of buildings. HSR is not something you can commute on every day; tickets for a Bellingham-Seattle trip would be in the $40 range. It can’t replace Link for Everett-Seattle commuters.It would be crazy to have extra “HSR trains” for the hundreds of commuters every morning. That’s what commuter rail is for, or Caltrain’s “baby bullet”. California HSR will not be HS in the Caltrain corridor; it will just be electric. The high-speed part is from the periphery of the LA metro to Gilroy (south of San Jose). Then it will run at a perhaps faster-than-now conventional speed to downtown SF and LA. People within the Caltrain corridor won’t be using the HSR line for everyday short-distance trips; they’ll be using expanded Caltrain service. For some reason electrification is supposed to allow higher frequency and average speed.

      1. Remember, Clinton handed Bush a near-zero budget deficit that was heading toward a surplus.

        No, it was an actual surplus. FY 2000 was year four of the surplus era.

  3. Adam, in order for any part of upcoming major change to work, we’re going to need a fare system as simple as possible. Minimum should be Day pass. Week for visitors. Monthly encouraged. And re: Inspection, Pass Possession means Fare Paid. Period.

    But about Convention Center adding to major blockage on surface, I think we can get arrangement to keep Joint Ops long as we need them- avoiding the fight it’ll be worth to keep them.

    Trying to keep discussion on transit and not inter-entity politics. So let’s go budgetary. Jammed traffic will many times more than change in Covention Center improvement schedule change. Chamber of Commerce, you’ve got accountants,creditors,and a marketing department Ask them.

    However as transit’s strongest joint operations advocate (aw, come on, at least “B” for effort) since before 9/15/1990, one condition. With whatever train headways necessary, neither buses nor trains ever stop each other from entering a station.

    Meaning major operations improvement to finally make the system work. With only two routes in there- really do think it’s also worth expense to make south-end LINK transfers work- should be no excuse.

    Both relevant agencies agree to run the Tunnel as a single system, just with two wheel-coverings. Dispatch, signals, communications- close as possible to one control console.

    Drivers train together. Intensively. Every possible arrangement for team members to meet with each other. Whole DSTT Division commits for given joint shake-up. Considering importance and passenger loads, premium pay for all DSTT work.

    “Station agents” on platform for information and assistance. And maybe most important of all, wheelchairs get world’s fastest wheelchair securements possible. If we have to invent it in our own shops. Assist team Olympic-trained and drilled.

    From experience, worst obstacle won’t be money. Wheelchair securements probably main capital expense. But full court press ins’t worth it because situation is only temporary. Like time ’til the Sun explodes.

    Mark Dublin

  4. “My name is Martin H Duke and I’m doing a great job that more and more people are acknowledging.”

    That sounds a lot like Sam. Is the real conspiracy that Sam has replaced Martin and the STB board is hushing it up? Is that why Sam has gone quiet? Is Martin assassinated or captive in a cabin in the sticks somewhere? Inquiring minds want to know.

    1. “I’m Zach Shaner, standing in for Martin Duke, who has fled the country.” The clues are out there.

  5. Thanks guys for stating that the WSCC timing should not have been set when it was from a transit standpoint. Seattle leaders generally don’t pay enough attention to program scheduling issues when it comes to the combined effects of multiple projects. Theoretically, this is a good reason to have transit boards not be directly elected because then board members focused solely on transit would not have knowledge of the transit impacts from other things.

    I think the One Center City timing problem should have been realized at least two years ago. There is a level of incompetence at the board and possibly senior management level for not identifying and working on the issue earlier. To put it another way, I don’t think the solution is a directly elected board; the solution is choosing new elected officials and senior management who are better aware of how important their oversight.

    Has anyone seen an apology from any of our local elected leaders on this massive screw-up that has led to the One Center City mad rush to a solution? We deserve one. I even think we should no longer support any elected official who doesn’t own up to this massive timing mistake. It’s not about transit versus autos; it’s simply about not paying attention and creating a timing problem.

    1. It was realized two years ago. It just takes a long time for a study and to decide what to do, convince enough people, find the money, and do it. We’re in the middle of that process now, after the study. Yes, ideally the city should have started earlier and the county-state deal shouldn’t have put us in this position in the first place. But things take time to process and do. What was Seattle doing two and five years ago? Oh, being distracted by the dubious Deep Bore Tunnel and its delays, and having unrealistic expectations about five streetcar lines, and Metro without a Long-Range Plan to guide things or at least be a starting point for planning the network.

      While we’re talking about ideals, Sound Transit in the early 1990s should have started with a comprehensive regional+local transit plan, bringing in the transit agencies and cities to give their ideas, and setting up specific phases and timelines for Link expansion. Then we could vote on “Phase 1”, “Phase 2”, etc and know where we’re going after that, and cities would have more certainty when HCT would arrive, and people would know where they can live if they want long-term frequent transit and where it will go each direction (both regional and local).

      But this is far beyond what we can expect in the current political environment, due to structural issues, suburban expectations, minimum state and federal support, inviolate single-family zones, etc. What we can realistically expect and demand from our politicians is something a bit better than the status quo; i.e., incremental improvements.

  6. Re 405 widening. Only one of the toll lanes is new, the other one was converted from a GP lane. So converting it back is not “widening” the highway, it’s just restoring the status quo ante. That’s a sore point among some Eastsiders, who feel that the 405 improvement was not an improvement: they spent all this money and gave us less than what we already had! They further blame this for congestion in the GP lanes, and are angry that they now have to pay for a lane that used to be free. That’s where the movement to take tolls off 405 or at least that one lane are coming from.

    I don’t see why it would be such a bad thing to make one lane HOV 3+ without tolls and convert the second lane to GP. Buses only need one lane, and toll-payers slow down the buses. The second HOT lane is insignificant as far as transit is concerned.

    1. No GP lane was converted to toll lane on 405. The existing HOV lane along with the newly constructed lane were designated as toll lanes(south of 522). In some sections the ‘exit only’ lanes were converted to GP lanes but no full lanes were taken.

      As someone who commutes daily on 405, the HOV lanes south of Bellevue are completely congested atleast 6 hours a day moving only slightly faster than GP lanes. Using a single lane, even with HOV 3+ for 405 BRT will severely affect the reliability of buses. The buses currently move freely where there are 2 toll lanes but south of Bellevue 566/567 routinely get caught in the congestion.

      The 405 travel times are better than before, south of 522 (even for GP lanes) as data and anecdotal evidence both show. The main issues are the reduction from 5 lanes to 3 lanes after Brickyard and lack of direct access ramps from/to 520 and north of 128th (both of which need fixing)

  7. In terms of local track requirements on high speed lines: it depends on what the frequency is. Some of the Japanese lines have locals and expresses on the same lines running several minutes apart, but they do it with expensive stations and every train runs the same speeed.

    The thing is, if you could move customs away from the border and do it at stations, an 80 mph average makes the trip in less than two hours. Is it worth pushing for 130 mph average?

    Sure, places in Europe have nice high speed rail, but those few lines represent only a tiny number of places. Much of the service is humdrum but well run 80 to 125 mph service that runs fast enough to be very popular for the need.

    For the cost of 180 mph service, you get a lot more 119 mph track.

    So, at what point does the expense produce diminishing returns?

    1. Also, Germany has three or four speeds of trains going to the same places. There’s a base fare per kilometer, and a percent surcharge for each higher speed, and a short-distance surcharge for trips under 5 km. Not everybody takes the high-speed trains. People make tradeoffs whether the time or cost is worth it, or whether they have to be there quickly, or which train leaves soonest.

      In any case, comparing just the region between Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, and Spokane — with the expectation that nothing will ever cross the Eugene-Sacramento or Spokane-Minneapolis gaps for a very long time — is not really a fair comparison to all European regional, national, and international trains collectively. Cascades and Washington HSR is a regional network and doesn’t claim to be anything more. It doesn’t claim to whisk you to California in six hours. It just claims to take you to Portland or Vancouver in an hour or two or three, or Spokane in four or six hours, and that’s enough for most people traveling within the region, or making longer trips but they have a little more time; they don’t have to transfer in Seattle and get to Bellingham in thirty minutes.

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