News Roundup: Indispensable

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March 2017 Sound Transit Ridership

All ST service was higher in March of 2017 than last year. With University Link opening in March of 16 this is the first month with partial U-Link numbers, which showed in Link’s Year over Year growth finally dropping down from the 80s and 90s.

Average daily ridership for Link in March was:

  • Weekday: 67,174 (+54.4%)
  • Saturday: 43,824 (+11.5%)
  • Sunday: 34,688 (+30.0%)

Other weekday modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder: 17,172 (3.8%)
  • Tacoma Link: 3,279 (3.5%)
  • ST Express: 64,080 (2.6%)
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +20.8% Weekday, +19.7% Total Boardings

My charts after the break. Continue reading “March 2017 Sound Transit Ridership”

Two-Way Transit Priority Opening on I-90

After about a decade of planning, legislative showdowns, and lawsuits, two-way HOV operations (R8A)* are to begin on Sunday, June 4th. WSDOT expects delays the first Monday, as people learn about the new configuration. A significant opening in its own right, two-way operations are an omen of even greater changes to commutes in the corridor, and to the way that transit advocates think about I-90.

For years, HOVs (and any vehicles from Mercer Island) have used the 2 express lanes in the peak direction between Seattle and Mercer Island. Only east of Mercer Island were there more traditional HOV left-lanes, allowing buses in either direction to bypass some traffic. This works great for the stream of morning express buses into downtown Seattle. But anyone trying to commute out of Seattle by bus or HOV** would spend time mired in general traffic. Worse, in the afternoon westbound there would be a difficult merge into general traffic on Mercer Island.

The reverse-peak commute is indisputably better beginning next week. With peak-direction HOV capacity dropping from two (express) lanes to one, the impact on those commutes depends on how well WSDOT manages demand by adjusting HOV thresholds and introducing tolls. Based on experience on other highways, the long-term prospects are not great.

For transit advocates, however, the long-term prospects are largely irrelevant: at the end of this project, Sound Transit has replaced the capacity it is claiming for light rail tracks, and East Link construction can begin in earnest. Bus traffic between Mercer Island and Seattle will one day be no more than a trickle, and WSDOT’s successes and failures will have little impact on transit commutes in the corridor.***

*The configuration opening on Sunday is named “R8A” for the option that represented it in alternatives analysis. In sufficiently wonky circles, the name stuck for reasons that are not entirely clear. However the blame may lay not a million miles from this website.

** I did this for five years, and fantasized about this day. In a way typical of long-lived transit projects, I have long since moved on from that work site and job.

*** Though if buses terminate on Mercer Island, HOV lane congestion will still matter.

President’s Budget Cuts Sound Transit Funding

TIBS Link Station, southbound platform.

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times [$]:

Sound Transit and its allies in Congress say they’ll fight a 2018 budget proposal by President Donald Trump that yanks $1.1 billion to build the Lynnwood-Northgate light-rail extension — half of that project’s entire funding.

The White House policy change would also remove an anticipated $500 million grant for the Angle Lake-Federal Way extension, scheduled to open in 2024, and 12 other projects still in development.

The White House policy change would also remove an anticipated $500 million grant for the Angle Lake-Federal Way extension, scheduled to open in 2024, and 12 other projects still in development.

Not a good development for Sound Transit.  The agency took an additional step to issue a joint statement with Los Angeles Metro:

“The administration’s assertion that our regions can deliver transit solutions for our citizens without federal partnership is uninformed, misguided, and unfair. The voters of our communities stepped up and voted to tax themselves to provide a path out of punishing congestion. For that bold action, they should be rewarded at the federal level, not punished.

It’s too soon to speculate what exactly Sound Transit would do if it lost all federal funding.  Presidential budgets are typically thrown in the recycling bin by congressional appropriations committees, but at the same time this one does represent the ideological commitments and priorities of a large faction of the Republican party, and the Republican party does have near-complete control of D.C. right now.

Earlier this month, Congress got together on a six-month spending bill that restored funding [$] for Lynnwood link and other local rail projects (such as the Center City Connector streetcar), so it’s possible something similar may happen when the budget process resumes.

Meanwhile here in the Other Washington Heidi Groover at The Stranger notes that HB 2201 passed the House in Olympia.  The bill would lower car tabs for ST3, costing Sound Transit as much as $2B.

Seattle Booms On

New housing on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue.

Seattle’s growth is still accelerating. Census estimates released yesterday show almost 21 thousand new residents in Seattle in the year ended July 2016. With 704 thousand residents, Seattle is once again the nation’s fastest growing city with 3.1% annual growth.

We’ve become accustomed to fast growth, averaging 15 thousand new residents in Seattle annually between 2010 and 2015. So it’s impressive how Seattle has stepped up its game to add even more residents. As Gene Balk observed yesterday, Seattle is only the second top 50 city to grow more than 3% in one year this decade (the other was Austin in 2012). 3% growth in a mature city is a big deal.

Demand for urban living is strong, as evidenced by high prices for homes in walkable neighborhoods all over the US. But most cities have a hard time delivering those homes. Curbs on urban growth push many involuntarily to the suburbs, and most metropolitan areas are still becoming more suburban. More so than any large American metropolitan area, Seattle has densified as it has grown.

Seattle accounted for a massive 58% of all King County growth in 2016. Seattle’s acceleration was matched by a slowing of growth in many King County suburban cities. Total growth in King County in 2016 was about the same as 2015. A few cities on the central Eastside performed well. Bellevue (+1.3%), Redmond (+3.2%), and Issaquah (+3.6%) all showed healthy growth rates. But the rest of King County had its weakest growth since the recession, and expanded just 0.8%. Continue reading “Seattle Booms On”

Link Station Interiors on Google Maps

Google map of Airport Link station displayed on an iPhone

Finding your way through Link stations just got a little bit easier if you have a smartphone in hand or a computer. A map of Link’s SeaTac/Airport Station is now available on Google Maps. Included on the map are the locations of station amenities and features such as entrances and exits, ticket vending machines, ORCA card readers, stairs, elevators, and escalators. When zoomed in, you can change levels to see what’s on the mezzanine and platform levels. And coming soon is the ability to take a virtual tour inside the station so you know exactly what to expect.

Indoor mapping has the potential to be a great navigational aid but there are obvious omissions in Sound Transit’s first try that would puzzle those unfamiliar with the station. Since SeaTac will be the model for the rest of the system, it is important to get it right.

animation showing the least effort required to show the terminal and station connection

Continue reading “Link Station Interiors on Google Maps”

The Mayoral Candidates on Transit and Housing

Crowd waiting on southbound Westlake Station platform
The Mayoral candidates line up for a photo-op. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

As of last Friday evening, it was official: no fewer than twenty-one candidates formally filed for the 2017 City of Seattle mayoral primary.  As usual, most of this unprecedented crop are unlikely, single-issue, or perennial candidates.  But Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual assault encouraged a bumper crop of serious and credible candidates to throw their hats in too.  In that category (in alphabetical order) we would place former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, former Mayor Mike McGinn, activist Cary Moon, and attorney/organizer Nikkita Oliver.

Our focus on transit is obvious from our name, but we are also deeply passionate about land use and housing issues, as they are key both to creating a successful transit system and to retaining longtime residents while welcoming newcomers.  This post is devoted to presenting the above six mayoral candidates’ positions on those two issues in their own public words, with only a bit of commentary.  The campaign is in its early stages, and we will surely be hearing much more (for better or for worse) and doing interviews of our own.  But even as of today the contrasts are informative.  Hear out the candidates, below the jump.

Continue reading “The Mayoral Candidates on Transit and Housing”

News Roundup: Gathering Comment

TIBS escalators, plaza to mezzanine.

This is an open thread.

Boise Puts “Cool Factor” ahead of Mobility

Suppose you were in charge of an Inland Northwest city of about 215,000, an island of vibrant urbanity frozen in a tax- and transit-hostile hinterland. Now suppose your city had a transit system about on a par with Wenatchee, Washington — population 35,000 — with buses running at best every 30 minutes to 10 PM on the weekday, minimal Saturday service, and exactly no service on Sundays. What kind of transit investments would you make? Well, if you’re the Mayor of Boise, you look to a $111 million, “T-shaped” streetcar alignment, with a projected 2040 daily ridership of 1,400 souls.

The only official information I can find from the city doesn’t include minor details such as headway, transit lanes, or signal priority. One independent writer, who obtained a trove of data via disclosure request, writing in December, suggested that transit lanes are yet to be decided, and headways are likely to be 15 minutes. It’s difficult to quantify distance and travel time advantage on a T- (really, J-)shaped alignment, but some eyeballing of the map suggests that the furthest-separated pair of stations are about two miles walk apart. For an able-bodied person, the circulator would be worth waiting for only between a handful of station pairs.

What makes this poignant is that Boise’s same size sibling up north is a canonical example of what they should be aiming for. The Spokane Transit Authority recently passed (albeit on a second attempt) STA Moving Forward, a major package of improvements in service quality and quantity, whose banner project is a high-frequency, six-mile, $72 million battery-bus corridor, that is not at all J-shaped. Moreover, Boise appears to be trying to do the right thing with a rapid bus treatment on State Street, one of its principal suburban arterial connections, so it’s clear that someone there actually knows what effective medium-size city transit service looks like.

If Boise actually builds this park-and-trundle service, they are liable to find what every other “placemaking” streetcar has found: dispite cherry-picking only the densest, most-walkable parts of the urban area, these services have a very low ceiling. In February, Portland’s much-vaunted streetcar system bragged of serving a record 16,300 daily riders. This might sound impressive, until you realize that the rest of the transit system moved 317,000 people per weekday in same month, with MAX light rail and boring, uncool bus service doing the heavy lifting at 123,400 and 188,300 riders respectively. Of those 16,300 rides, a considerable fraction are surely cannibalized from walking, bikeshare, or transit service on adjacent streets, rendering them at best a wash if you care about cost effectiveness, energy consumption, or the quality of the downtown urban experience.

With the benefit of 15 years’ hindsight, perhaps we can generalize a little and say that cannibalization has been the theme of the American mixed-traffic streetcar “revival”. Every mayor, every body politic, has a finite amount of attention to devote to the issues of the day. Time and effort spent building slow streetcars is spent solving a non-problem, while real problems fester. Most local dollars that could be raised for a streetcar could be raised for other, more effective uses in the common good; meanwhile, the federal transit funding outlook is grim. Perhaps we can take this as an opportunity to refocus on things that actually work.

Memorial Day Weekend 2017: Still No Monorail Transfers

Mostly empty Seattle Center Monorail interior
from Seattle Center Monorail website

Monday, May 29 is Memorial Day, and, by 46-year tradition, the final day of four days of the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Sadly, the monorail continues its 20+year tradition of not being a free transfer to get to the festival. Ironically, it wasn’t even listed as one of the top four options for getting to the festival, despite the Seattle Center having a vested financial interest in promoting monorail ridership.

Moreover, Pronto Bikeshare won’t be an option for transitting that last mile this year.

On the plus side, Kitsap Transit will have some limited service on Memorial Day, breaking its tradition of shutting down for the day.

There will also be special Sounder service to the Sounders’ high-noon match Saturday against the Portland Timbers.

The full list of Sunday and Memorial Day service levels for transit agencies around the region is below the fold. Continue reading “Memorial Day Weekend 2017: Still No Monorail Transfers”

Unintended Consequences in the Central District

The 27 at its proper stop, back in the day when David used to drive it. Photo by Steve Morgan.

You’re standing at 3rd and Union. You want to go to 23rd and Jackson, the commercial heart of the Central District. Or you want to go home, in the dense housing near Washington Middle School. What’s the quickest way to get there?

The answer is “Who knows?” And this common trip between major destinations may be Metro’s best example of bad network execution.

You might walk to the Benaroya Hall bus stop, to catch route 14 or 4. Both will get you there. But the 14 runs every 20 minutes, the 4 runs every half hour, and their schedules aren’t coordinated. So it’s reasonably likely that you will have to wait 20 minutes for a bus. Or you might walk to the IGA bus stop, where route 27 stops — but only every half hour, so your wait could be even longer.

When you want to go back downtown, the situation is even worse. Now you have three different bus stops you might want to use: westbound on Jackson for the 14, northbound on 23rd for the 4, or westbound on Yesler for the 27. You may have to wait 20-30 minutes at any of these bus stops, even though there are seven buses per hour between them.  If you have a smartphone, and OneBusAway happens to be working, you can use it for help. But taking the bus shouldn’t require knowing three different routing options, having a smartphone, and being ready to run between stops a block or two from each other. .

This situation got worse with the recent Southeast Seattle restructure, as an unintended consequence of the very welcome frequency increase on route 124 to Georgetown and Tukwila. The explanation of how that happened is a bit wonky, but the consequences aren’t: route 27, which previously picked up at the same 3rd Avenue stops as route 14 and 4, moved to different stops, even though it serves many of the same places.

For routing consistency, Metro through-routed the newly frequent 124 with routes 24 and 33 to Magnolia, which share a common route all the way to the Magnolia Bridge, at most times of day. But during peak hour on weekdays, routes 24 and 33 together run much more often than route 124. So at peak hour only, Metro kept route 33 on its old through-route, with route 27.

But this created something Metro saw as a problem: route 33 trips would have dropped people off at different stops downtown, depending on whether they were continuing as route 27 or route 124. Metro’s Scott Gutierrez confirmed to me by email that Metro saw the potential confusion to both riders and drivers if route 33 trips had inconsistent drop-off stops as a worse problem than having route 27 pick up at different stops from routes 4 and 14. Metro didn’t address other through-route possibilities, such as through-routing peak-hour 33 trips with route 125, or returning to the former service pattern of partially through-routing peak-hour 33 trips with route 37.

I think Metro’s judgment about this was wrong. East Magnolia riders could adapt to one-block differences in their dropoff location. That is a less severe consequence than making the already confusing bus trip between downtown and the Central District even more obtuse.

In the long term, this is a prime opportunity for Metro to restructure service in a way that makes it obviously better, without many negative consequences. Metro’s proposed Metro Connects network gets most of the way there, deleting the S-shaped route 4, which is sparsely ridden south of Garfield High School, and putting the service hours into much more frequent and predictable service on better-used routes 3 and 14.  For trips between the area around 23rd and Jackson and downtown, route 14 would become the obvious choice. For coverage reasons, Metro proposes to leave route 27 running infrequently on Yesler, although it would stop going downtown and serve First Hill and South Lake Union instead. Riders in the south Central District will also have a frequent and very fast trip to downtown available on Link light rail starting in 2023, by walking or taking route 48 to the new Judkins Park station a half-mile to the south.

In the meantime, though, Central District riders deserve better.  Metro should restore route 27 to the same stops served by routes 14 and 4.

Sunday Open Thread: Eastside Transportation Forum

Eastside leaders gathered in Bellevue on May 5 to review transit and other transportation projects coming on the Eastside.

0:00 Claudia Balducci, King County Council Member for District 6
5:57 John Howell (Moderator), Founding Partner, Cedar River Group
7:25 Ariel Taylor, King County Council Staff
18:10 Roger Millar, Secretary of Transportation, WSDOT
40:15 Peter Rogoff, CEO, Sound Transit
45:15 Ric Ilgenfritz, Executive Director, Planning, Environment, and Project Development, Sound Transit
1:03:35 Rob Gannon, General Manager, Metro Transit
1:08:50 Victor Obeso, Deputy General Manager, Metro Transit

See the New Cascades Locomotives Tomorrow

New Amtrak Cascades locomotive
WSDOT photo

Here’s your chance to get up close to Amtrak Cascades newest locomotives and learn about WSDOT’s ongoing improvements to Cascades rail service. The new Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotive will debut at King Street Station tomorrow from 11 am to 3 pm. Photo opportunities and a commemorative souvenir will be available.

The Charger emits less pollution, accelerates faster, is more reliable, and is safer than the locomotives it replaces. They are built in Siemens’s factory in Sacramento as part of a multi-state order for passenger locomotives, including the states of California, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. The new locomotives along with track and signal upgrades will enable two new round trips between Seattle and Portland to be added later this year.

A Few Ways to Calculate Seattle’s Population Density

How dense is Seattle? It depends on what geographic area is meant by “Seattle” and also temporal factors like day of the week and hour of the day. For instance, the Downtown Seattle Association’s 2014 economic report estimates nearly 60,000 residents in the “greater” downtown area (roughly, Mercer to SODO and Elliott Bay to Broadway) with a weekday population exceeding 230,000. That implies a pretty impressive density. And downtown Seattle isn’t alone. Redmond, per the census, has one of the largest increases in weekday population in the country. It’s interesting to see what effect this daytime concentration has on the distribution of people in the region and on overall measures of density.

Let’s look at downtown Seattle first. Using the Census Bureau’s 2014 LODES data on primary employment locations, I count about 225,000 jobs in greater downtown. The geographic distribution of these jobs by census block group is shown below. GIS files defining census boundaries came from the PSRC’s public data.

The area adjacent to Westlake Park dominates the map with nearly 40,000 jobs in its block group alone. And of course, most of those workers don’t live downtown; they had to come from somewhere else. The LODES data set comes in handy here because it estimates the home locations, as well as the employment locations, for all workers in the state. After the jump, I’ve mapped the percentage of the population that has a job downtown for every census block group in the metro area based on the 2014 LODES data.

Continue reading “A Few Ways to Calculate Seattle’s Population Density”

Upcoming SDOT Transit Spot Improvements

Sounder Bruce (via Wikimedia)

It’s been a while since we checked in with SDOT’s Transit Spot Improvements program. This is a small pot of money for SDOT engineers to make minor improvements to transit operations and rider amenities, which would not otherwise be funded as part of a RapidRide corridor project, an arterial repaving project, or a larger state or federal grant. Some improvements are fully SDOT funded, and some are cost-shared with Metro.

Here’s what SDOT has on the docket for 2017. I’ve omitted a few projects that are purely maintenance of existing facilities, important though that is.

Location Schedule Description
Olive Way & Boren Q2 Install EB queue jump (saving 87 sec/trip).
Broadway & Yesler Q2 Upgrade signals to improve streetcar turning movements (saving 130 sec/trip).
Olive Way, Terry to Minor Q2 Install EB peak period transit lane.
Aurora Ave, 115th to 145th Q3 Refresh transit lane markings.
15th Ave NW & Market Q3 Install rear bus pads for RapidRide D.
Railroad crossings, TBD Q4 “Exempt”/”Tracks out of service” signs to allow Metro buses to avoid stopping at RR crossings.
Various, TBD Q4 Install protected left-turn signals
Various, TBD Q4 Install channelization, signs and markings to improve operations.
Lake City Way & 125th Q4 Install bus bulb.
Blanchard St, east of 3rd Q4 Install BAT lane (saving RapidRide C 4 min/trip); new RapidRide stop at 6th.
15th Ave NW, Leary to Market Q4 Install BAT lane; install ped signal at 53rd.
Westlake, Blanchard to Fairview Q4 Install red painted transit lanes.
Route 60, TBD Q4 Provide rear door pads for various route 60 stops.
Broadway, Pine to Marion Q4 Install SB transit lane, subject to traffic analysis and outreach (saving 55 sec/trip).
Terry, Republican to Mercer Q4 Rechannelize to improve streetcar operations.

I don’t have too much to say about the project list overall, other than that everything sounds great, and I want more of it, faster. I’m especially happy about the 15th Ave NW ped signal, which will provide benefits far beyound transit. Perhaps missing from the list are heavily-used stops in the Fremont area, and speed and reliability improvements on the Uptown couplet.

One thing, in particular, I’m interested in hearing about in the comments: suggestions for left-turn pockets and other signage and channelization improvements. I’ll collect suggestions that seem feasible to me and forward them to SDOT.

Flights Coming to Paine Field

Alaska Airlines shocked everyone yesterday by announcing they would begin commercial service out of Paine Field in fall 2018. There will be 9 daily flights by Boeing 737 and Embraer 175 jets, presumably to major Western cities. But how does this fit into the overall strategy for the area, a strategy that includes Link to Paine Field? And how can flyers get there via transit?

Serious discussions of flights here go back to at least 2008,  and I first wrote about it in 2010.  Local officials see limited growth prospects from Boeing, but a hub of expertise in various technical niches that has grown up around it. They look to that hub for job growth, while outside investors look for places that they can reach without a 2-hour cab ride. Both light rail to Seattle and SeaTac, and an airport no more than two hops away from most major world hubs, fit into that strategy.

On the other hand, like most other communities Paine’s immediate neighbors resist the externalities of additional flights. Mukilteo figures therefore oppose the flights outright. Somewhat more removed officials, like Everett Council and Sound Transit Boardmember Paul Roberts, support commercial service but minimize the volume of flights that might occur someday. But it’s hard to believe that other airlines wouldn’t be interested, especially when Seatac faces capacity limits again.

With a handful of flights next year, high-capacity transit may not be a high priority. However, given the expense of driving to a flight, a decent transit option would be welcome. According to Brett Smith of contractor Propeller Airports, the passenger terminal will be as shown on the map above. This places it 0.4 miles from the intersection of Airport Road and 100th St SW, the nearest point where transit could serve the terminal while being “on the way.”

Continue reading “Flights Coming to Paine Field”

News Roundup: Hopeful

Ferries and water taxi in Seattle

This is an open thread.