33 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Seattle Transit Flows”

  1. Question: is there any talk of increasing the passenger ferry capacity at Coleman Dock? Could the temporary facility on he north side of the dock just stay after construction. It looks like this is a major constraint affecting passenger ferry service into Seattle.

    1. Remember somebody suggesting that eventually, Colman Dock will handle only passenger ferries, as population increases, but percentage of through car traffic gets smaller, and car ferries will get a new terminal in the highway world down toward Spokane Street.

      Makes sense, and to make the Waterfront project make sense, can’t happen soon enough.

      Mark Dublin

      1. On the other hand, the car ferries offer a huge span of service and as much passenger capacity as we could want, all paid for by highway dollars. The frequency and speed could use some improvement from added passenger ferries, but I wouldn’t move away the car ferries until we can replace their span and capacity with something at least as good – and I frankly don’t think that full replacement is worth the money.

    1. Those large yellow blobs are Amtrak trains. The animation has a “node” at Tukwila which is an inflection for all but two of those which connect Tacoma and Seattle. The ones which go straight between Seattle and Tacoma — “through” Puget Sound” — are the Coast Starlight runs. All of the ones to the south continue on toward Olympia.

      There is also a pair to and from Everett which come in from the east rather than the north; those are the Empire Builder.

      1. If they were Sounder trains, they would have nodes at Kent, Auburn, Sumner and Puyallup, and a few would begin and end at Lakewood.

      2. Yeah, at first I thought “What the heck is that, way out there — is it Greyhound?” until I realized it was Amtrak.

  2. I think this is really cool. I very much enjoy looking at this, and find in insightful.

    It is pretty clear that we are very much a downtown hub system, as opposed to a grid system. In contrast, look at Montreal, which is the first city I saw after us:

    from=outro-embed

    They are very much a grid. You can infer where downtown is, but the bus system (and even the subway system) covers the entire city. Only the suburban rail lines seem to focus on downtown. That makes sense.

    Speaking of which, why is it the Canadians seem to be so much better at transit than the U. S.? Maybe that isn’t fair — they only have a handful of big cities, and we have dozens. Many of their cities are old, and thus have really good, old subway lines.

    But I’m quite confident that if you looked at value added over the last fifty years, the Canadians would be way over represented. They might not get the gold (D. C. is tough to beat) but they would be on the platform. More to the point, I don’t see any great, Canadian transit failures. Maybe they are out there, but I’m just not aware.

    When I look at Wikipedia, nothing comes to mind. Look at light rail, and sort by ridership per mile, which is a pretty good proxy for ridership per dollar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_light_rail_systems_by_ridership. Canadians aren’t on top, but all four are top ten. Same with the subway systems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_rapid_transit_systems_by_ridership. Not as impressive, perhaps, but the worst Canadian performer is Vancouver, which actually does better (in ridership per mile) than the ‘L’!

    Obviously, no one would claim that Vancouver has a better transit system than Chicago, but I just don’t see much wrong with any Canadian transit project, while I see plenty of stupid projects in the U. S.

    1. “It is pretty clear that we are very much a downtown hub system, as opposed to a grid system.”

      The question is how much that reflects people’s trips. A large number of people do work in downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue, and one of the reasons we have the fifth or sixth highest ridership per capita in the US is because our jobs didn’t decentralize as much as other cities (10% are downtown) and we have so much transit to them — those peak expresses are full.

      Montreal may be better, but how much of that is land use and job locations rather than just transit availability?

      “why is it the Canadians seem to be so much better at transit than the U. S.?”

      Different social attitudes. You don’t have a large percentage of people saying zero taxes is best, transit is unmanly and un-American, my big house and my big SUV is my castle, my gun is my defense, and government is the problem. So people accept Vancouver’s density and Calgary’s high level of transit and ridership.

      1. You don’t have a large percentage of people saying zero taxes is best … my big house and my big SUV is my castle, my gun is my defense, and government is the problem.

        Have you been to Calgary?

        Seriously though, you miss my point. Again, I’m not talking about spending *more* money. I’m talking about spending money more wisely. If anything, the Canadian cities are way underfunded when it comes to transit. Holy cow, Toronto only has 43 miles of subway! Toronto! Montreal is no better. Vancouver has more, but still under 50. In contrast, BART is 104 miles; DART is 93 and Denver has 59.

        They all lag the Canadian cities in ridership. Some of that may be cultural, or due to higher gas taxes. But I think it is also possible that BART, DART and the Denver light rail system were nowhere near as cost effective as the Canadian rail lines. Can you really say that any one of them are wonderful examples of 20th century American transit ingenuity? Of course not. They are all embarrassments. If you want to talk about an American city that did it right, then you would talk about D. C. But they spent oodles of money.

        But again, that isn’t my point. I’m making the case that the Canadian projects were all very good. Not one was a big failure. I may be wrong, which is why I’m asking — when did the Canadians screw it all up? if the answer is “never”, then why can’t do it right every time as well?

      2. You’re ignoring land use and, as I said, social attitudes (willingness to use transit). If Denver and Dallas and the Bay Area are sprawling, it doesn’t matter what kind of transit they have, they’ll still lag behind compact cities like Toronto and Vancouver and “I’m pretty American but I still like my Medicare and transit” Calgary.

      3. The question is how much that reflects people’s trips. A large number of people do work in downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue, and one of the reasons we have the fifth or sixth highest ridership per capita in the US is because our jobs didn’t decentralize as much as other cities (10% are downtown) and we have so much transit to them — those peak expresses are full.

        Citation please. My guess is that number is based on *commuting*. Big deal. People want to get around town, and in a city without a grid, it is very difficult.

        Now, to be fair, we have physical limitations. We have an hourglass shape (that is quite fetching, I would say). Montreal, despite the “mountain” that is its namesake, is fairly flat, and open. Making a grid to serve *the entire city* is a lot easier there. Same with Vancouver, as well as a lot of cities. But as far as employment goes, I would be surprised if we are really that much more centralized. They just put more effort into building a system that allows people to get anywhere to anywhere, whereas we are focused mainly on getting people downtown.

      4. I really wish there wasn’t a summary trashing of BART. Sure there are issues, but BART did and does do some things well.

        1. BART under Market Street construction included Muni Metro’s tunnel. BART may be a longer-distance service but it’s construction also paid for the highly-utilized Muni light rail tunnel too.

        2. BART has great farebox recovery. It’s at 60 to 70 percent, while Link is only at 40.

        3. San Francisco could not be an employment hub without BART. BART brings well over 100,000 workers from the East Bay and another well over 50,000 from points south of Downtown.

        4. BART carries 420k passengers on a weekday. DART is only 100k. Denver is under 80k. Vancouver’s SkyTrain is at 385k.

        5. BART goes 80 mph, so that it provides more commutable employment choices than slower systems do for people who cannot afford to live in San Francisco.

        6. 10-car BART trains can carry over 1400 people. That’s great when there are special events.

      5. In other words, the same level of transit performs differently in different environments. If we have Chicago’s level of service, we won’t have Chicago’s ridership because it’s a smaller city, with fewer large mixed-use areas like the North Side (which I’ve compared to the Ship Canal to 65th, Fremont to U-Village, but all like Capiitol Hill/First Hill west of 15th) to generate a lot of crosswise transit trips. Toronto is like Chicago. As for only 50 miles of subway, the city dragged its feet. They planned a Queen Street subway (it has a transfer station) but they never built it. They moved the subway north to Bloor Street and never put another one under Queen Street. In the mid century there were distractions with the Spadina Freeway which wasn’t built, the Spadina subway which was, and the Shephard transit which is a different technology and requires a transfer at the end of the subway, and no east-west subway north of Bloor. Canada in general follows the “inner city first” approach like Germany (after some tangents in the mid century); that’s why its transit is where the most all-day riders are. It doesn’t have to deal with “We don’t want those people to have transit, or to ride it to our area”, or suburbs that are sovereign entities and can veto transit plans or pull all the investment to them.

      6. If Denver and Dallas and the Bay Area are sprawling, it doesn’t matter what kind of transit they have, they’ll still lag behind compact cities like Toronto and Vancouver and “I’m pretty American but I still like my Medicare and transit” Calgary.

        Lag, in what way? Put aside the numbers. Assume that places like the Bay Area suffer from low ridership because they aren’t as progressive as the folks in Calgary.

        What cities in North America would you like to live in, when it comes to transit? More to the point, which cities have spent their money wisely since the war? To me, the Canadians bubble up to the top. They may not have the best systems, but they are awfully close in terms of value added for the money since 1950. In terms of bang for the buck, they seem to be doing really well. I know in those cities, I can get around really well via transit. When I think of Dallas, Denver, or even large parts of Oakland and San Fransisco (!) I know the transit just isn’t that good, and I would break down and buy a car.

      7. @Al — I wasn’t trashing BART. I was merely pointing out that none of the Canadian systems are very bad. The fact that they are even close to being as successful as BART (at least in ridership) is amazing, considering the investment made in the systems. When you look at the sizes of cities, it is even more striking (the Bay Area is huge, Dallas-Forth Worth is also really big, Vancouver is not).

        But as far as BART goes, it does some things really well, I agree. Without it the Bay Area would grind to a halt. The connection between Oakland and San Fransisco is huge. Service within San Fransisco is also essential, as far it goes. The problem is, it doesn’t go very far.

        They built it like you would build a freeway, which was a big mistake. To be fair, they were the first to do that. On paper, it sounds great. Build something that spreads out to he suburbs, runs really fast, and people will ride it in huge numbers. But that really isn’t the case. Almost all of the ridership is withing the urban core (Berkeley/Oakland/San Fransisco/Daly City). I think you have a hard time making the case that this makes living in the suburbs really easy, when so few actually ride it from there. Even suburban cites that are relatively densely populated, and very big, have relatively few riders.

        Besides, when this was built, the most affordable place around was Oakland. Oakland still has some of the most affordable places in the area, depending on the neighborhood. Yet Oakland — like San Fransisco — has only one line. It is tough to get around Oakland via BART and even tougher in San Fransisco. You are dependent on the buses (and Muni) which wouldn’t be bad, if not for the fact that they are both extremely slow. You don’t have a situation where the buses run fast, and the fast trains connect to them. You have a situation where they failed to serve the urban core well, but instead spent a lot of time and effort serving the suburbs (yet didn’t see ridership in the suburbs to justify the cost).

        Which, I guess is my point, in a round about way. I can understand why San Fransisco followed that model (they were the first, really). What I don’t understand is why, after looking at those numbers, other American cities figured that was the way to go. D. C. took a very different track (focusing on the urban core). So did the Canadian cities, as far as I can tell.

        I asked before, and I wasn’t trying to be rhetorical. Are there big Canadian transit failures? Is their high ridership only due to cultural or political reasons, or is it a case where they actually build smarter (for cultural or political reasons)?

      8. A few things:

        1. Oakland has all five BART lines running through it. It carries commuters to Downtown Oakland from the north, south, east and west. There is a BART station within a mile of almost anywhere within the City of Oakland except for the low-density areas to the east in the Oakland Hills.

        2. The only BART lines that are freeway medians are the segments on SR 24 in low-density areas of Rockridge (Oakland), Orinda and Lafayette, in the I-580 corridor (as this is the only pass between Castro Valley and Dublin) and the segment from south of Glen Park to just south of Daly City. Everywhere else is at least several blocks from a freeway. Meanwhile, Chicago and DC have several freeway median segments to the subway systems. In fact, if I had to point to the freeway-median subway concept, I would be more apt to attribute it to Chicago.

        3. The presence of natural obstacles not only like San Francisco Bay, but also the many large hills in the area create pockets of urbanization that does not radiate well from the City core. While Seattle has some major constraints like that (Lake Washington and Puget Sound), they pale in comparison to the ones in the Bay area. It’s hard to build a rail system without building miles of underutilized track.

        4. I think that while it’s often mentioned that BART has tentacles pretty far out compared to other systems (with unserved areas closer in), let’s be clear that the recent extensions of many of the tentacles were paid for by the outlying counties and not by San Francisco directly. Sales tax votes in Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have at different times provided much of the local funding match for all BART extensions since 1990.

        Why are Canadian rail systems more successful? I would attribute some it to big non-transit reasons:

        – The weather. With winter weather, there is a much stronger economic incentive to live in higher-density buildings. Shoveling snow off of a driveway is time-consuming and tiring. Even wiping snow off a car is time-consuming and tiring. For that reason, many people in snowier areas place more value to more density. In much of the US, the inverse is true, as some home buyers feel that some cities are hotter, polluted places without tree canopies that are unsuitable for overnight habitation so the further the better! I don’t believe that, but I’ve met people that do.

        – Frugalness. Canadians are generally more balanced in their frugalness when it comes to transit. Thus, it’s really hard to point to a transit failure in a Canadian city because there seems to be more objectivity put into it. American rail building seems to be unnecessarily bogged down in binary politics; with many, one either has to love everything about a transit capital program or hate everything about it, or one has to tireless push for it to be in a neighborhood or fight it in a neighborhood because it’s a perceived nuisance. There doesn’t seem to be as much room for taking a more objective look at things in our American rail-building craze. Also, anyone from Toronto that I’ve chatted with has been quite blunt that Toronto mistakenly has significantly underinvested in more extensive rail transit; it’s hard to build an unproductive line when the regional investment isn’t very ambitious to begin with;

        – Prejudice. There is still a notable part of the population of the US that has been tacitly taught that any transit is for poor, undesirable people (usually equated with minorities) that are to be avoided at all costs. They mistakenly think “I might catch something”! In movies like “The Help” or “Hidden Figures”, one can see how this ugly offensive attitude played out. Rosa Parks is one important figure that fought against this lunacy, but that didn’t keep many parents from casually passing along their prejudices about sharing common facilities like transit vehicles to their kids to this day. Canadians have their racial inequities and biases but they don’t seem nearly ingrained and passed down as those in the US.

        The evolution of the second, suburban downtowns with parking garages on the north side of Dallas, or the north side of Atlanta, or the west side of Houston or even in Northern Virginia (or — gasp! — in East King County) — areas where new job centers moved closer to the management class neighborhoods and offer free parking — seem to also have an implicit class-driven bias to them. It’s reversed gentrification.

        To this latter point, one has to only look at ST3, which politically chose a much less congested I-90 corridor for light rail to an affluent Issaquah and Sammamish over a congested 405 corridor to Renton, or chose to invest in getting light rail to Federal Way or bigger garages in Auburn than to a closer-in and poorer Burien, or feature a very expensive tunnel in Lower Queen Anne rather than fund a rail branch to Lake City. Of course, it’s too offensive to many Puget Sound residents to point out that our decisions are biased against the poor or minorities and not studied from a productivity standpoint; I think it’s instead excused as “we need their votes” or “their mayor is on the board” or “the corporations say that they’ll expand if we serve where their management lives and where we want to build new buildings” or the most common anti-transit one “a rail line may be noisy and degrade my aesthetics and property values, so I won’t let it interrupt my environmentally superior trail or row of trees not on my property”. I may be in the minority on the STB, but I think that advocates for the poor could have quite a Title 6 field day with ST3, frankly — because the projects were not defined by a larger productivity study first.

    1. asdf2, are you sure you’re not looking at a currrent video of I-5 between Everett and Centralia every single rush hour this year? Probably only reason ISIS didn’t take credit was because it didn’t exist yet.

      Also, I seem to remember that the disaster was aggravated by attorneys, with the help of police to one side or the other, arguing for hours as to who got to do what, for reasons of expense. You could argue that this situation cried out for repair and prevention years before Bertha hit that previously discovered pipe.

      Including extremely expensive road and track way where nothing can get in transit’s way. After 25 years, can still see that beat-up Ford Econoline van come tooling past where I stood on the northbound platform at Pioneer Square. Two occupants with determined expression and full dress ragged T-shirts of the Aryan Nations.

      I called Emergency. Evidently police had a talk with them in the yard at CPS about what signs mean that say don’t drive into the Tunnel unless you are a bus. Which in turn which meant that whatever they could have done at Westlake at noon did not happen only through blind luck. Must have been before 9-11-2001, which resulted in barriers that should have been there on 9-15-1990.

      Speaking of which, clearly recall standing in Westlake-to-be with the walls still dripping, in an official tour group, and pointing out a semi-trailer as long as an artic. Made a few estimates from my quarrying days as to whether crater would include the Space Needle, or just a southern twin for the Denny Regrade.

      Answer was something like crossing bridges when we came to them. Good thing we finally got those barricades in before those bridges came to us and collapsed overhead.

      What I’m saying is that one-offs don’t always go off right ’til a few more offs. Though mass loss of life definitely results from not preventing all the rest of same order. And maintenance deferment. Whose results are really the success of years’ long successful efforts at failure

      MD

  3. Good stuff. Problem is, we got an issue in the North by Northwest.

    Last Wednesday, Everett Transit made its annual Transit Development Plan presentation and I put it on YouTube without any… postprocessing: https://youtu.be/RMpPAX3fsfg, . Most important stuff starts 20:34 in and especially 28:12 onward.

    An Everett City Councilmember asked some pointed questions of Everett Transit staff, especially after going over the Everett Transit Draft Transit Development Plan (TDP) financials on page 13 of 26 and from 28:12 until 30:03 of the YouTube.

    I’ve gone over the Draft TDP financials and every year for the next six years to 2022, Everett Transit is projected to keep losing money year after year. Very concerning.

  4. RossB, give us some examples of US systems you consider failures. Also, since failure implies finality, why whatever’s wrong in your estimate can’t be fixed. A favorite coffee-stop of mine had to change hands. Equally good quality and management, before and after.

    But looking at surrounding development, first very capable owners probably opened about five years early. The outcome of any project- which for things the size of transit systems really mean a series of projects over many decades- can depend entirely on things beyond anyone’s prediction or control.

    I would say that the Forward Thrust project, both parts, despite Federal money, was at least 20 years early. Transit-building around Seattle is many times harder than around San Francisco. Through the city itself, major transit arteries are in effect canyons, with few problems with gradient.

    Which are natural streetcar corridors- which light rail sized trainsets still run like the old PCC streetcars except clumsier. Very large trolleybus network owes to the amount of extremely dense residence on the hills above those valleys.

    South of San Francisco and east of The Bay, the terrain is conducive and compared to Seattle, unpopulated. Also, like just about every other large city in the world, San Francisco inherited miles of trackage running exactly where transit needed to go.

    As a country, Canada has about the population of one large US region, a huge amount of which is either lightly populated or uninhabitable. And like southern Sweden and coastal Norway, McDonalds’ are not the only unhealthy habit the nationals are happily acquiring.

    Main question, though, is sincere, and badly needed in these pages. Please give us examples.

    Mark

      1. And TBH I think 62 would be an amazing subway route. Magnuson Park, Ravenna, Roosevelt-Green Lake, Wallingford, Fremont, SLU, Downtown/CBD, Pioneer Square, ID. Hits nearly all the major destinations in NE/central Seattle.

        Would cost a whole lot though

    1. There are a bunch of things that are bad about route 62, ‘eh?

      1. Weird route when NOAA turnaround isn’t open. Negotiate a turnaround/layover in Magnuson Park. I’d naively suggest making Sand Point Way/74th the last outbound stop, turning right into the park, laying over along the nearly-empty 62nd Ave NE, then continuing south, taking the first available left, left on Sportsfield Drive, left on 74th Street, and back out to Sand Point Way.

      2. Pass-ups along Dexter. One suggestion would be to introduce some short-turn trips during rush-hour, just from downtown to somewhere near Wallingford where the bus can turn around easily. It might also help to run some short-turn express trips, running the normal route from Green Lake to Bridge Way then going downtown by Aurora, hoping that these trips draw more riders from these areas, freeing up space for Fremont/Dexter riders.

      3. Super unreliable travel times on Dexter. Congestion pricing? I have other weird ideas but congestion pricing is probably the most comprehensive.

      1. 4. Neighborhood stickers. You can’t drive there unless you have a reason to be there. Aurora is a short block up the hill; Westlake is a long block down the hill. They’re both high speed car sewers. Make Dexter a transitway and local vehicles only.

      2. Trying to reserve Dexter for local traffic and transit is one of the “other weird ideas” I’ve thought about, because I agree it’s inappropriate to use it to drive through. I don’t see stickers as the answer — even residential streets need to provide public access (visitors, deliveries, etc.), and Dexter has lots of businesses on it!

        Suppose you had two license-plate cameras, perhaps one just south of Westlake/Nickerson and one just north of Aloha. If you cross both in the same direction within some time frame you’re ticketed. Even then, during light traffic you may be ticketed even though you made a stop along the way… and during heavy traffic you could dodge the ticket driving straight through. Resolving these issues would take lots of human effort… and we have too many other needs to spend all that much enforcement effort on Dexter.

        That’s the good thing about congestion pricing: it’s a nice general solution. Most people agree that if people are driving through from lower Fremont to downtown it’s appropriate that they use Westlake (if they’re going all the way downtown they may prefer Aurora, to avoid a surface crossing of Mercer, but I don’t think Westlake is an inappropriate choice). That doesn’t make congestion on Westlake any less a problem — the 40 needs to move, too! I’ve often said we should cap the number of (non-residential) parking spaces operated in greater-downtown… but even that doesn’t cover taxis (including the annoying app-hailed variety that think every bike and bus lane is a loading zone, get off my lawn ya damn yuppies, etc.).

      3. @Andrew, a bus “passing people up” means they tried to board but couldn’t because there wasn’t enough room for them to fit on.

    2. Straightening out Tangletown is already in Metro’s LRP: the 2025 plan has Meridian-55th-Latona-65th. The 2040 plan upgrades it to RapidRide. They should straighten it out now, but apparently Metro wants to avoid controversy and opposition before the light rail restructures.

      The answer to Dexter pass-ups and downtown-Greenlake relief runs is, does this really have to be all one route? The west third is high-ridership, the middle is moderate, the east third is low. Usually Metro tries to balance ridership on the two halves of a route. In this case it’s an attempt to build up ridership on the eastern half, and attach it to a stronger route so that it can have frequent service. All this assumed the 71 would be deleted, which was reversed at the last minute, giving the ungodly spectacle of six buses an hour on lightly-traveled 65th east of 15th, and two buses an hour on 15th north of 65th going up to Maple Leaf and Pinehurst.

      I have always thought the 62 should go west from Fremont rather than south to downtown, and downtown-Fremont-somewhere should be another route. That’s the most logical place to split it, disrupting the least number of one-seat rides and recognizing the different rideship levels on both halves. From the perspective of NE 65th, Roosevelt Station is important, Greenlake is important, Magnuson Park is a bit less important but still significant, and Fremont is a bit less important but still significant. Dexter and downtown are at the bottom of importance. From the perspective of Fremont, Dexter and downtown are important, Greenlake is a wonderful new crosstown connection, as is Roosevelt, but the benefits diminish east of 15th.

      Re the Magnuson Park routing problem, I have no idea. The 30 was routed into the park several years ago but nobody got on or off it there and it added a 10-minute overhead to go in and back out. But the park is precisely where buses *don’t* want to be when there’s an event there, because that’s what’s sabotaging the 62’s normal routing, all those cars creating traffic and necessitating the odd evening/weekend route attempts.

      A 62 subway, meh. Let’s get the 45th line underway first and think more about the 62’s alignment.

      1. This is great! Thank you for your insight.

        To be frank, I think NE seattle service is pretty lacking once you hear norther and easter of UW, but I also get that it’s really dense enough to warrant better service. Makes me annoyed that this is the case >.>

      2. >Straightening out Tangletown is already in Metro’s LRP: the 2025 plan has Meridian-55th-Latona-65th
        Wouldn’t this bypass the built up area of East Green Lake?

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