Ride Free Zone Could Save 3rd Ave Bus Ops

A recent presentation on One Center City / Convention Center expansion construction plans teased the possibility of an off-board payment zone on 3rd Ave all the way from Jackson St to Denny Way Ave, with all-door boarding. King County spokesperson Scott Gutierrez quickly threw cold water on the tease by pointing out that the plan amounted to adding RapidRide-style off-board ORCA readers at each bus stop on 3rd Ave, as an additional payment option, all-door boarding, cash payers still paying while boarding at the front, and random fare enforcement on all the buses that traverse 3rd Ave.

The county is considering other measures to reduce the impact of front-door fare payment by (1) buying out the ORCA card fees for cards distributed at county facilities and possibly other facilities in King County; and (2) eliminating the zone and peak surcharges on Metro buses.

Policy changes like eliminating paper transfers, having a cash surcharge, and making the cash fare an even $3 appear unlikely to be proposed, much less stomached by the county council. Even if they were, they still wouldn’t eliminate the impact of front-door change fumbling on 3rd Ave. Nor does it appear likely that Metro or the council will expect everyone to get an ORCA card and keep it filled with ORCA product in order to be able to board on 3rd Ave.

There is another way to remove front-door fare slow-downs on 3rd Ave, and it is something that’s been used before, to great effect: a Ride Free Zone (RFZ).

The problems with the original RFZ included excessive dwell time waiting for passengers to push to the front and pay as they exited, and the mass confusion of when people were supposed to pay while boarding or wait until alighting. Thankfully, Metro’s plan to deploy fare enforcement on all the 3rd Ave buses, but not necessarily on 3rd Ave, helps solve that problem.

A new RFZ would deliver the additional benefit of moving fare enforcement off of 3rd Ave, where it would be difficult to do on crushloaded peak-hour buses.

Those paying with ORCA will be able to tap a reader on 3rd Ave before boarding, board at any door, and then exit at any door when they reach their destination, with or without an RFZ.

Continue reading “Ride Free Zone Could Save 3rd Ave Bus Ops”

DEIS Shows Two Options for Adding 95,000 Homes to Seattle

Last week Seattle released a much-anticipated draft of the environmental impact statement for the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which allows developers additional height in exchange for building a certain amount of affordable housing.

Three scenarios were analysed: one taking no action, and two slightly different plans for distributing the increased development capacity around 27 neighborhoods in the city. All options would leave most single families areas unchanged. No action is expected to result in “substantially less affordable housing” and “less market-rate housing supply,” according to the report. Alternative #2 implements zoning changes using existing growth patterns. Alternative #3 directs more growth to areas with a low displacement risk and easy access to transit, jobs and public amenities.

In other words, with alternative 3, neighborhoods such as Wallingford, Fremont and Ballard would see larger upzones and an expansion of the urban village boundary, allowing denser development, to areas within a 10-minute walk of frequent public transit. In the second plan, areas deemed to have a high risk of displacement and low opportunity, such as Rainier Beach or Othello, would receive less-dramatic upzones and smaller extensions of the urban village boundary.

Implementing either proposal would create roughly the same number of affordable homes — estimated at 5,500 — and generate 95,000 total units of housing over the next 20 years. The plan of no action would generate only about 200 affordable units and 77,000 new homes, remaining consistent with the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

With all scenarios expected to impact the region’s transportation network, the report identified “reducing the share of SOV travel is key to Seattle’s transportation strategy.”

Continue reading “DEIS Shows Two Options for Adding 95,000 Homes to Seattle”

One Center City options narrow

Near-Term Transit Capital Projects, Click for Larger View (OCC Advisory Group)

The One Center City plan for handling near-term disruption in Seattle downtown transit and traffic grinds forward. Anticipating the end of bus operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, staff are narrowing down the options. At last week’s advisory group meeting, we learned several project elements that are moving forward, and some that are not. It’s not clear whether the pared down program of operational improvements will be enough to prevent a substantial deterioration in service performance.

Meanwhile, the exit of buses from the tunnel, previously anticipated for September 2018, is likely to be delayed. On Monday, the King County Council Committee of the Whole approved an amendment delaying Metro’s vacation of Convention Place until at least March 2019. If the Convention Center doesn’t have its permits by June 2018, or if WSCC is not ready to take over the site by September 2018, then joint operations could continue until at least September 2019. The delay might allow another look at One Center City options that need more time for implementation.

What has been dropped?

The earlier proposal to terminate ST 550 at International District Station was dropped because of adverse impacts to riders compounded by East Link construction elsewhere on the route. The closure of the D2 roadway in late 2018 mean route revisions remain necessary, but the 550 will be operating through downtown on surface streets once the tunnel closes. It is not expected to operate on 3rd Avenue.

Continue reading “One Center City options narrow”

News Roundup: Top-Level View

6th & Spring with transit/queue jump signal visible.

This is an open thread.

Reminder: SR 520 open houses

SR 520 service changes could mean more late evening service on Metro 255 and other Eastside routes

Several open houses are scheduled for the public to learn about new service on the SR 520 corridor. The first is on Wednesday evening in Kirkland, with others to follow through the rest of the month.

A particularly interesting opportunity is the open house at UW Husky Stadium on June 19. As well as the regular open house exhibits, staff members will guide tours of the bus-rail transfer experience.

Another way to participate is through the online survey which is open until June 30.

As we reported last week, Metro and Sound Transit are seeking public input on several service options on the SR 520 corridor following the closure of the downtown bus tunnel and other service-impacting changes. The revisions being considered will end most direct service to downtown Seattle across SR 520, but increase frequency and service connections on the Eastside.

Open house details after the jump.

Continue reading “Reminder: SR 520 open houses”

Redmond stations

Redmond’s preferred downtown station (Image: Redmond TRAIN study)

East Link to Downtown Redmond is scheduled to open in 2024, and the Sound Transit Board will update its preferred alternative on June 22. “Concept refinements” are now being considered. These are minor updates to the alignment including changes to station locations and the vertical profile of the guideway. Redmond last week approved a letter to the Board setting out what they hope to see.

In Downtown Redmond, a public process early this year considered four options: elevated vs at-grade, east (between 164th and 166th) vs west (between 161st and Leary). The Downtown Transit Integration (TRAIN) Study (large pdf), and public response, prefer the “East Elevated” option. That places the station opposite the Redmond Town Center parking garage. It allows easier bus-rail transfers because buses could approach both sides of the station, eliminating most street crossings for transferring riders. The shorter guideway for the East option reduces by several blocks the impacts to the Redmond Central Connector trail, and elevating the guideway eliminates vehicle and pedestrian conflicts if gates were opening every four minutes at peak.

Redmond’s second ST3 station is in Southeast Redmond in the Marymoor area. Here, the city prefers an at-grade alignment. Both affordability and trail connection considerations figured in that choice. Continue reading “Redmond stations”

UW Reroutes Bring Several Closer to Station, for Two Weeks

Due to construction on the University of Washington campus, several King County Metro and Community Transit bus routes, as well as ST Express 540, will be diverted off Grant Lane and Stevens Way on weekdays for the next two weeks, as well as for the weekend of June 24 and 25.

All reroutes: Click to enlarge.

Westbound, Metro routes 31, 32, 67, 75, 78, and 372 will all serve:

  • a temporary southbound stop on Montlake Blvd north of the Hec Ed pedestrian overpass
  • a temporary westbound stop on NE Pacific Pl just west of Montlake Blvd
  • the westbound stop on NE Pacific St a block east of 15th Ave NE

Eastbound, routes 75, 78, and 372 will serve:

  • the eastbound stop on NE Pacific St a block east of 15th Ave NE
  • the eastbound stop on NE Pacific Pl at the west point of the Rainier Vista triangle
  • the northbound stop on Montlake Blvd NE in front of Alaska Airlines Arena (formerly known as Hec Edmundson Pavillion)

Metro route 277 and ST Express 540 will skip their campus loop, and just serve their regular stops on Campus Parkway, 15th Ave NE, and NE Pacific St, plus a temporary drop-off-only stop on inbound runs at the flagpole on Memorial Way.

All six Community Transit UW routes (810, 821, 855, 860, 871, and 880) will loop around campus clockwise, using three of its normal stops, serving:

CT routes: Click to enlarge.
  • the regular eastbound stop on Stevens Lane, just east of Memorial Way
  • the regular southbound stop on E Stevens Way NE, just north of Pend Orville Rd NE. This is the last regular stop before the reroute begins.
  • a temporary southbound stop on Montlake Blvd north of the Hec Ed pedestrian overpass
  • a temporary westbound stop on NE Pacific Pl just west of Montlake Blvd
  • the westbound stop on NE Pacific St a block east of 15th Ave NE
  • the regular northbound stop on 15th Ave NE just north of NE 42nd St

Bruce Engelhardt contributed to this post.

Link Light Rail vs. Washington State Ferries

Ferries and water taxi in Seattle

Coleman Ferry Dock / photo by SounderBruce

Washington State Ferries just released its 2017 first quarter boarding statistics, revealing another milestone for Link Light Rail: For the first quarter of a year ever, Link Light Rail had more boardings than Washington State Ferries did.

Washington State Ferries had 4,960,373 boardings among all its lines for January to March of this year. Link Light Rail had 5,171,115 boardings on its single line during the same period.

This is not to say that Link Light Rail has permanently passed WSF as the third-highest ridership transit agency in the state (if treated separately from the rest of Sound Transit). Washington State Ferries’ highest-boardings quarter ever was July-September of 2016, with 7,455,613 boardings. Link’s record quarter was 5,596,453, for the same period.

The Strait Shot Begins June 17

stylized map of the Strait Shot
Travel poster style map by the author

Easier car-free getaways to the Olympic Peninsula begin Saturday, June 17 when Clallam Transit inaugurates the “Strait Shot” daily direct bus service between Port Angeles and the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. STB previously covered the service in detail, which is a 75-mile route using 40-passenger transit buses making five intermediate stops.

There will be a morning roundtrip and an evening roundtrip Monday to Saturday and an evening round trip on Sunday. Adult fare is $10 per person each way and $5 for children and Regional Reduced Fare Permit card holders. Fare must be paid in exact cash only; ORCA cards are not accepted. Limited space is available for bicycles on a first-come, first-served basis. The bus is scheduled to complete the trip in two hours, making it competitive with driving.

The Strait Shot is a more convenient option than the existing 5-seat local transit ride and costs less than the Dungeness Line. From Port Angeles, riders can connect to other Clallam Transit buses that can take them to Forks (with onward connections to Neah Bay and La Push) or walk over to the Black Ball ferry to Victoria, B.C. Buses are timed to meet with the Bainbridge ferry and will wait for late ferries. More information is available in the full schedule. You can also plan your trip in Google Maps.

News Roundup: Better Than Tweeting

King County Battery Bus Announcement
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Metro General Manager Rob Gannon order electric buses for Metro. Photo by Atomic Taco / flickr

  • Governors and mayors must do a lot more than tweeting against Trump to fight climate change and housing crises.
  • Councilmember Kshama Sawant pushes a simple and awesome mandate on landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants. The Rental Housing Association tweets back.
  • Oregon legislature wants to raise $8 billion for highway expansion, provide some operating funds for buses, and ban light rail from getting any of the money.
  • Dutch traffic light system prioritizes helping bikes get green light.
  • Mandatory affordable housing / upzone in International District escapes committee.
  • Mapping can be used to fight gentrification and displacement.
  • Mobility pricing can be used to fight traffic congestion.
  • Sacramento asks its NBA franchise to pony up for a streetcar.
  • Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson wants Metro and Sound Transit to let everyone under 19 ride free. As in, not just for the summer, but forever, at least until they turn 19.
  • Mercer Island still wants SOV access to HOV lanes.
  • Mercer Island City Manager sends a letter to residents explaining reason for settlement with Sound Tranist.
  • Seattle Times does some math ($) on park & ride spaces.
  • Civil engineer does some math on Ballard Bridge openings.
  • Spokane bus drivers want better protections after a rash of attacks.
  • Erica Barnett interviews state senator and mayoral candidate Bob Hasegawa.
  • Erica will moderate a Transportation and Housing Candidate Forum on Thursday, June 22.
  • Seattle police detectives ask your help tracking down the driver of this hit-and-run car.
  • Job Opening: CEO at California High Speed Rail

This is an open thread.

Summer Youth ORCA Promo

King County Metro and Sound Transit are teaming up to promote youth transit ridership and ORCA card use this summer. Both are offering limited-time special discounted fares for youth ORCA card users from June 17 through Labor Day (September 4). The promotion was announced Tuesday.

  • All youth ORCA card users on King County Metro and Seattle Streetcars will be charged just 50 cents per ride (with a 2-hour electronic transfer window), from the card’s e-purse. Youth cardholders with a monthly pass worth $18 or more will have unlimited rides on Metro and the streetcars.
  • All youth ORCA card users on Sound Transit services, including all trains, will be charged just $1.00 per ride (with a 2-hour electronic transfer window), from the card’s e-purse. Youth cardholders with a monthly pass worth $36 or more will have unlimited rides on Sound Transit.
  • Metro is eating the normal $5 youth card fee, and giving out the cards via mail, at its HQ, at various ORCA to-go promotional events, and at sites that distribute the adult low-income ORCA card. The card is available to youth ages 6-18.
  • Those who receive the promotional card (stamped on the back as such), rather than a youth card that expires on the holder’s 19th birthday, will get to exchange the card, for free, for a youth ORCA card that expires on the holder’s 19th birthday, at Metro HQ. Leftover ORCA product will be transferred to the new card. Promotional cards revert to regular-fare ORCA cards on October 1.
  • The promotional discounts are only available by using loaded ORCA product, which can be uploaded online (with a delay of a day or two), at an ORCA vending machine (immediately), or at various retailers (immediately).
  • .
    Up to four riders age 5 and under may ride free with each fare-paying adult.

    Metro averages over 400,000 ORCA youth boardings per month during the school year, but less than 130,000 during summer months. Five school districts offer some of their students free ORCA passes that are good only during the school year.

    Public response to the promotion could impact future youth fares and the card fee, per King County spokesperson Scott Gutierrez, as Metro is seeing what incentives youth to ride transit and to pay with ORCA product.

    Pierce Transit also has a summer youth pass, for $36, covering all Pierce Transit rides from June 1 through August 31. The pass is loaded onto a youth ORCA card.

    Help Everett Develop Downtown Zoning and Long-Range Transit Plans

    A proposed design for the Downtown Everett light rail station and nearby development (City of Everett)

    The City of Everett is looking to join the wave of cities absorbing our ever-exploding population growth by writing two key long-range plans over the coming months, one for downtown land use and one for citywide transit.

    The “Metro Everett” plan, which will try to accommodate an expected 60,000 new residents and 40,000 new employees in Everett, has reached the draft options stage and the city is considering several options. The recommended plan entails simplifying the zoning system to favor multi-family housing and mixed-use commercial, raising height limits in the downtown area, and softening parking minimums to encourage non-driving uses. The plan is also preparing for significant changes in the Everett Station area, where Link service will terminate in 2036, adding to existing station area plans adopted by the city a decade ago.

    An open house on Tuesday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Everett Performing Arts Center (Colby & Everett; routes 3, 17, and 29) will have more details, including the draft plan and potential changes to the Everett Station area, as well as city staffers and a chance for the public to provide written feedback.

    ET B0308 in Everett
    An Everett Transit bus in downtown Everett

    Everett Transit will be seeking input throughout most of June to help form a Long Range Plan to guide the municipal bus system over the next 20 years. Through June 22, an online open house will allow the public to view materials related to the plan and take a survey on their transit use around Everett. The Long Range Plan, to be adopted in early 2018 by the City Council, will establish service standards and consider emerging technologies like electric battery buses (a few of which Everett are slated to receive soon) and partnerships with rideshare companies.

    There will be a series of in-person sessions next week near three of Everett’s main transit centers.

    Everett Station (Visioning Workshop)
    Thursday, June 8, 6 to 8 p.m. (Presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.)
    3201 Smith Avenue – Weyerhaeuser Room, 4th Floor (Most Everett Transit routes; Community Transit Swift and 201/202; Sound Transit 510/512 and Sounder commuter rail)

    Everett Mall (Drop-In Session)
    Saturday, June 10, 4 to 6 p.m.
    1402 SE Everett Mall Way – Near Massage Envy (Everett Transit routes 2, 7, 12, 17, and 29)

    Everett Community College (Drop-In Session)
    Monday, June 12, 12 to 2 p.m.
    2000 Tower Street – Gray Wolf Hall, Lobby (Everett Transit routes 7, 17, and 29; Community Transit 201/202)

    Last Chance to Support STB with a Donation

    Well folks, this is it: this is the last time I’ll ask you for money in 2017.  I’ve already appealed to your nostalgia by reminding you of our ten years of writing and all the good times we’ve had together.  I’ve attempted to stir your civic pride by making the case for independent local media.  This time I have no clever angles, just a straight up ask: help us keep Seattle Transit Blog the best local media outlet for transit and transportation news and opinion.

    Advertising covers less than 20% of our expenses. The other 80% comes from reader donations.  It’s that 80% that lets us hire reporters and provide the coverage we can.  If you’ve already donated, then thank you.  Maybe tell a friend or share this post on your social network of choice.  If you haven’t given yet, here’s your chance.  We’re grateful for your support.

    Make a one-time donation


    SR 520 service change concepts released

    Last evening, Metro and Sound Transit released service change concepts for revised bus service on SR 520. This kicks off the second of three rounds of public input, including an online survey and several open houses in mid- to late June. Because these are service concepts, they do not describe capital improvements in Montlake or elsewhere could be combined with either service option.

    Ten routes, six Metro (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and four Sound Transit (540, 541, 542, 545), are included. Two all-day routes, Metro 255 serving Kirkland-Seattle and Sound Transit 545 serving Redmond-Seattle, carry two-thirds of current ridership. As expected, many buses that currently serve downtown Seattle would be rerouted to UW station freeing resources that would otherwise be consumed in downtown congestion. Changes would take effect ahead of the closure of Convention Place Station, currently scheduled for Fall 2018.

    Either alternative improves cross-lake service for most riders, excepting those who prioritize one seat rides to downtown over all else. But the reinvested service hours target different priorities, and many riders will consider their individual circumstances in figuring which option they prefer. A notable highlight of the proposals is that both options include new service between South Lake Union and the Eastside.

    Very helpfully, the Metro website separately describes the options, including pros and cons of each, for the major Eastside markets served: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond. Sound Transit’s website has maps for each market under each option: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond.

    After the jump is my summary of the system-wide changes.

    Continue reading “SR 520 service change concepts released”

    The archaic community councils

    Grocery store and strip mall in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood.

    A familiar story is playing out in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood. The Houghton-Everest Business Center is a collection of strip malls and small offices, mostly over 40 years old. Retail spaces are antiquated and undersized. The pedestrian environment, dominated by curb cuts to parking lots, is unsafe. But it is just a block from Google’s office, less than a mile from downtown Kirkland, and served by every major bus route in the city. The area is primed for reinvention into a prosperous mixed-use neighborhood if the zoning allowed.

    After years of discussion and delays, an obtuse proposal emerged that probably prevents any redevelopment. The current 30’ height limit will be selectively raised to 35’ on a few properties. The added five feet would only be available to developers who create a new grocery or drug store over 20,000 square feet. Even then, the economics of new buildings will be constrained by added design review, 10% affordable housing rules, residential density limits, a rule that no more than 20% of the upper floors can be office, setbacks of 15 feet above the second floor, added road access requirements, and more.

    The Kirkland City Council has yet to review the proposal, but can only rubber stamp it (a first study session is scheduled for Tuesday). The undersized zoning changes are the creation of the Houghton Community Council (HCC). The HCC has veto power over land use changes in most of Kirkland south of 68th St, and will block any Kirkland Council action that differs from their proposal.

    Community Councils (“municipal corporations” in state law) were authorized by the Legislature in 1967 to ease annexation into larger cities, and were generally viewed as transitional arrangements. There were never many, and most were dissolved over time even though state law does not require a sunset. Just two remain. The Houghton Council dates to the annexation of the city of Houghton to Kirkland in 1968. The East Bellevue Community Council (EBCC) was created when unincorporated neighborhoods were annexed to Bellevue in 1969. No recent annexation has included the creation of a Community Council.

    Continue reading “The archaic community councils”

    Seattle is Denser Than 90% of Large U.S. Cities

    There’s been a good deal of recent attention to Seattle’s continued growth spurt. The Upshot column in the New York Times points out that we’re also one of the few cities that is growing denser as we add population. In fact, Seattle is already cited as the 8th most dense of the 50 most populous U.S. cities. I’ll expand on that last fact in this post – hopefully giving some context for what our current state of density means relative to the other large cities of the U.S.

    Two questions arise naturally: What is a “large” city? And how should density be measured? Here, I’ll define a “large city” as one with at least 100,000 residents. Such cities are in the 99th percentile of population for all incorporated places in the U.S. – so that seems sensible. As for density, I find the population-weighted density metric to be more informative and interesting than the usual “population divided-by area” measure. Population-weighted density measures the density at which the average person resides and is less sensitive to the amount of vacant land within city boundaries. For an excellent example of why one might prefer weighted density, see Honolulu, Hawaii. The traditional density is about 6,000 ppl/sq. mi., but the weighted density is closer to 25,000. That difference is like suburban Renton vs. Lower Queen Anne, so it is significant!

    How does Seattle stack up when it comes to weighted density? To find out, I pulled census block group level population estimates for all U.S. cities with over 100,000 residents from the 2015 American Community Survey. In all, I calculated weighted densities for about 300 cities. Here’s what the distribution of those densities looks like:

    Continue reading “Seattle is Denser Than 90% of Large U.S. Cities”

    Midday 2-Car Link Trains End Today

    Link riders at UW Station

    From now on, board the third car if you want to avoid crowds like this.
    Photo by SounderBruce

    Sound Transit will be rolling out increased capacity on Link Light Rail beginning Monday, featuring twelve 3-car trains from opening of service to at least end of PM peak, seven AM peak-only 2-car trains, and seven 2-car trains in the PM peak that will stay out through close of service. On event nights, all 3-car trains will stay out, and the 2-car trains will come back to base at the end of PM peak.

    What that means for those of you waiting for a train on a weekday, delineated by time of day, is as follows:

    Before 6 am: Expect a 3-car train. Stand to the left of the last between-car-barrier, and board the third car, for maximum spaciousness.

    6 am to 9 am: You have a 12-in-19 chance of your train being a 3-car train. Stand near the left-most between-car-barrier between the second and third car, and be prepared for either length.

    BH Link Station, southbound platform.

    Between-car-barriers / photo by Matthew Bates

    9 am to 3 pm: Expect a 3-car train. Stand to the left of the last between-car-barrier, and board the third car, for maximum spaciousness.

    3 pm to 6 pm: You have a 12-in-19 chance of your train being a 3-car train. Stand near the left-most between-car-barrier between the second and third car, and be prepared for either length.

    6 pm to close on Mariners game nights and other major event nights: Expect a 3-car train. Stand to the left of the last between-car-barrier, and board the third car, for maximum spaciousness.

    6 pm to close on non-event weeknights: You have a 5-in-12 chance of your train being a 3-car train. Stand near the left-most between-car-barrier between the second and third car, and be prepared for either length.

    Continue reading “Midday 2-Car Link Trains End Today”

    Agreement reached on Mercer Island access to I-90

    I-90 floating bridge with Mercer Island in the background (Image: Joe Wolf)

    Mercer Island has reached agreement with Sound Transit on access to I-90. The agreement means the express lanes can close permanently to auto traffic as scheduled this weekend. A planned hearing this morning in King County Superior Court on Mercer Island’s injunction to prevent the closures is now cancelled.

    The agreement includes $10 million in traffic improvements on the island and replacement parking for the South Bellevue P&R lot which closed for East Link construction earlier this week. Mercer Island Council approved the agreement shortly before midnight last night after a 6 1/2 hour executive session. Approval from the Sound Transit Board is anticipated at the June 22 Board meeting.

    The Seattle Times first reported the deal outline, and the offer sheet is here. A further readout is anticipated from Mercer Island later today. [UPDATE: Mercer Island’s press statement is here]. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff outlined major elements of the agreement at the O&A Committee meeting this afternoon.

    The agreement includes: Continue reading “Agreement reached on Mercer Island access to I-90”