26 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Spokane’s Central City Line”

  1. Does anyone know whether Metro will continue the Trailhead Direct program from Issaquah Transit Center this year?

    1. Skylar, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday to find our whether the program called “Public Transportation” will continue to do anything.

      However, would suggest we both call our Congress person, the enforcement agency for the Americans With Disabilities Act, and 1-844-77-Jesse so KIRO 7..

      To get the answer to the real question, as to how many years it’s been that we’ve been able to talk to transit information on weekends and holidays. And, straight face or Batman “Joker” mask, can anybody seriously claim Seattle has no budget for it?

      Just askin’.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Last I heard (in December) they are. They are even looking into expanding it to having a pickup in Seattle. They’re also looking at what other trails they might be able to add.

      1. Excellent! A group of us car-free (formerly-just-urban) hikers loved it last year, and I’m glad it was successful enough to expand.

  2. In light of rent finally starting to drop, I thought I’d bring up this idea again. Build dense family friendly areas.

    I often hear people around here say you will love your apartment up until you have kids, then you will come around and get a detached house. Just looking at the local options, I see their point. Two and three bedroom apartments are hard to find. Many of the places that have apartments are not the sort of place most parents would be comfortable with their kids playing unattended. But I think we can change that.

    We should make a new type of zoning for family friendly buildings. All units would need to be two or three bedroom. Amenities would need to include play areas. Then we should upzone areas which are close to transit, elementary schools, and parks. For example area sandwiched between Green Lake, Aurora, and N 80th st is in close walking distance to transit, a park, an an elementary school.

    If WA fixed it’s condo liability rules, these could also be condos for all those who want to home equity. Removing one more reason why people seem to think moving to the suburbs is an inexorable fact of life.

    Just think about how much nicer such a setup would be over the suburbs. No one really likes those trips out and back to the kids school where you need to fight to get a spot for drop off or pickup. Nobody likes to deal with kids fighting in the back of the car while you try to concentrate on the road. With the dense family setup, many of these problems are turned on their head. Taking the kids to school or the park is chance for exercise for you and the kid. When you are to busy to take the kids places, they have a safe playground right in the building. With denser concentration of family, it will be easier to find older kids to babysit too.

    I recognize that there are some challenges to this idea, but consider what will happen if we don’t create family friendly areas in our city. As the current wave of young techies ages, they will start to have kids, some of them will move to the suburbs, increasing strain on our transportation network and leaving all of those families with long commutes. Others will keep living in the city, raising kids in places poorly suited for them.

    This year we will finally do the much belated MHA upzone. Lets make sure we are ready for the next round of upzones, for our future kids.

    1. 2 and 3 bedroom apartments are also a great option for extended families and recent arrivals who are often on low incomes.

      This is typically how many of the recently arrived immigrant families make ends meet in places like NYC. You get several adults or couples sharing an apartment and pooling their income and suddenly the opportunities of a place like NYC are within reach.

  3. The best thing to happen to Spokane since about 1974 is the Kendall Yards. Finally a little in-town development instead of just more big box stores further out. Hopefully it catches on.

  4. Is a line that stops every 1/4 to 1/2 mile really “bus rapid transit”? We really do need more descriptive distinctions for different bus line designs. We call everything from freeway express buses to streetcar emulators like this “BRT” these days. I’d even consider just calling this a rubber-tired streetcar.

    1. Al, like with “Light Rail”, let’s leave aside the terminology and look what’s needed around Spokane right now. Most likely the place is still so thinly populated that spacing they’re building is not only all they need, but pushing distance passengers are willing or able to walk.

      It’s a growing place, and compared to Seattle, which to the rest of the urban world is wide and flat. Spokane won’t have to condemn any property for anything faster ‘ti time when somebody will bother to buy the bonds.


    2. In the context of Spokane, yes. I visited Spokane last year to see how its urbanism is getting on, and walked the western half of this route and surrounding area. (This was before the second vote so I didn’t know if it would ever happen. I didn’t know the exact route and the first vote failed, so I guessed where the most likely route would be. I guesed OK up to Cincinnati & Mission but then turned left instead of right, so I saw western Mission instead of the way toward the college. It was all small houses there; like around N 11th Street in Tacoma near UPS.)

      The entire route is a 60-90-minute walk and has nothing like Seattle’s traffic or high bus on/offs to necessitate a limited-stop overlay. Metro’s standard stop spacing is now 0.25-0.5 mile; it’s only legacy areas like NE 65th St and 35th Ave NW that have closer spacing. Spokane is also small enough that you could bus through the entire city in less than an hour, like if Bellevue-Kirkland-Redmond were alone and had their own bus network. So Spokane needs to focus on frequency and bus lanes rather than fancy stopping patterns.

      RapidRide was originally going to be more like Swift, but Initiative 695 slashed its funding so it couldn’t afford a limited-stop overlay. Metro kept calling it BRT for several years, and people got mad that the D and E weren’t much faster than the routes they replaced, so eventually Metro stopped calling RapidRide BRT. RapidRide is great for what it does: I have found all its areas more accessible than before. The problem is just that it’s not “enough” for western Seattle trunk service yet: it still takes too long for what ought to be 20-minute trips like 65th & 15th NW or 85th & Aurora to Capitol Hill, or 40-minute trips from there to Bellevue. So the best way to artculate this is to say that Spokane’s service is BRT, and Seattle currently has nothing that would qualify as BRT.

      The BRT Standard has a scale to describe different levels of BRT, and it’s better to just follow that scale than to quibble what “is” or “isn’t” BRT or what the single essential feature is. By that standard, both RapidRide and Spokane’s service appear to be off the bottom, so let’s just leave them there as pre-BRT which will hopefully be incrementally improved, and not worry if somebody calls them BRT prematurely, as long as they refer to the scale, and thus show that there is a higher standard to aspire to.

      1. The Problem with RapidRide is yeah they practically just overlayed the old route they were replacing with a shinier coat of paint and called it a day. I ride the A Line about everyday to College and it’s pretty telling that this was a half baked attempt. The main issue is that all stops are not created equal or make sense why they are there. The most glarring of these would be like 268th or 246th, which are not anywhere near major commerce or residential areas. Or if they are, they lack a crosswalk next to the stop make it feesiable to get to said areas. Along with some stations not having shelters or ORCA readers where you would think they would make sense like Redondo Heights P&R.
        Though they seem to be fixing some of these issues at least. They finally fixed the Southbound Station for 240th at Highline this last year. Previously it was in the gas station parking lot and lack any semblance of shelter. Now it’s next to the college’s administrative building with a proper station and shelter. It also meant that a couple of bus stops were consolidated for 166 as well since the A and 166 share Pac Hwy between 240th and Kent Des Moines Road
        I expect RapidRide as a service within KC Metro will get better as time goes on and they learn from the mistakes of the first few lines, hopefully.

      2. Things like proper shelters often get overlooked (I overlook them, when evaluating a BRT proposal) even though they can make a big difference. Lack of ORCA readers is a bigger mistake, in my opinion. I understand the idea. Some stops are unpopular enough to not warrant the expense. But if that’s the case, why even have the stop? I guess it isn’t that big of a deal if it is used every once in a while, but it doesn’t make sense in the middle of a line. On the ends, it can make sense to design it that way — you are only hurting the people there, and a slow stop is better than none. That is a common approach for a downtown bus tunnel or transit mall — level boarding and off board payment downtown (where the buses converge) with regular bus stops in the suburbs. But for a line like this, where you have demand all along the corridor, it seems like they need more ORCA readers or a stop diet.

        As far as particular stops go, in general, the stop spacing seems fine to me. The A is the most popular bus outside Seattle. Most of the very popular buses spend all their time in Seattle, this doesn’t even serve downtown. It has five times the ridership of the 574, even though they both serve Federal Way and SeaTac. In general it is doing the right thing in terms of stop spacing.

        What I think this needs is a better express overlay. The only time these extra stops are irritating is when you are going a long distance. If you are going a long distance, then an express is better. The 574 serves as an express for the area, but it only serves the Federal Way TC. It doesn’t even serve the college. If you had a limited stop express (call it the A+) that simply served the most popular stations, I think it would be quite popular. You wouldn’t run the express as often — maybe every half hour. That is obviously not ideal, but everyone has a choice (fast versus frequent). You certainly wouldn’t need to run it late at night — that is where the A comes in. It is when extra stops don’t matter that much (because few people are using them). I would time this express opposite the 574, which means that Federal Way TC riders would have 15 minute express service to SeaTac (alternating between using I-5 and SR 99). My guess is that this kind of service wouldn’t be very expensive (it would be fairly popular and cheap to operate) and work out fairly well.

        In general I think that is something that is missing from our system. I don’t think any of our RapidRide lines mix with each other. Same is true with Swift. A mix of express and local would make be a nice addition, that would likely increase ridership on both. It takes the pressure off catching the express, while still offering a major times savings for those who use it. Right now the E operates as an express (for the most part) but that is just the geography. There are no stops in the middle of Woodland Park or on the Aurora Bridge. But for other routes, this approach would make sense, especially as we build this out. You’ve already done the work (or will do the work) of putting in the ORCA readers. So just skip a few stops, or a section. For example, when they convert the 40 to RapidRide, how about converting the 18 to a limited stop all day (not not super frequent) RapidRide? That means that riders on 24th have a faster one stop ride to downtown. It would be faster than the D as well, since it would skip Queen Anne. You wouldn’t need to add any new ORCA readers — just use the ones for the other bus.

      3. “Some stops are unpopular enough to not warrant the expense. But if that’s the case, why even have the stop?”

        Because it’s the only route in the area. That’s a corollary of not having an overlay.

        I’ve heard two things about the RapidRide stops. Originally they were presented as lower-volume stops. Later in Metro’s planning it aspired to upgrade all stops to stations. So I can’t tell whether it was just budget limitations that they didn’t put stations in originally, or Metro changed its mind.

    3. I actually have an issue with the notion of “levels” of BRT too. Each transit priority strategy could be “leveled” but not the line itself. Surely bus lanes are a better level than mere signal priority, for example. It’s particularly notable the RapidRide is missing from even a bronze definition. Still, an overall metallic description is very evasive (kind of like why is a “silver” health plan sometimes better than a “gold” health plan on the exchanges).

      My comment is mainly one of frustration rather than criticism. I feel like the community is too lazy to develop better terms. Just saying that a bus moves faster is a pretty vague concept to what riders may expect.

      I’ll through out some suggested terms some for starters:

      “Enhanced bus”. A line with better stops and signal priority — maybe with a paid fare zone. This is what most of Metro’s RapidRide program is designed to be.

      “High speed bus”. A line designed to run mostly inside freeways or in areas where they can move abover 40 or 50 mph. This would be what we should be calling the 520 services and the 405 services and perhaps several other ST express routes that use HOV lanes for a good portion of their trip.

      “Tram bus”. An enhanced bus line designed to work like a streetcar, with or without exclusive lanes, This is what Spokane is doing here. It also would be a better description for the Madison project that we instead call BRT.

      While we on the subject of terms, I think we really need to go back to what the word “station” actually means. Classically, it should mean where we can be “stationary” while waiting awhile for a transit vehicle. That means restrooms (that open with an Orca card or printed ticket scan code), some indoor protection from the elements, seating for resting more than 15 or 20 minutes, maybe appropriate vendor opportunities and manned personnel (at least part of the time). I would rather us have “platforms” where the station elements are not provided. King Street is a real “station” but Othello is not.

      Working with unfamiliar terms is always difficult. Language changes very slowly. I get that. Still, whenever I see BRT mentioned by an agency, I am usually first wondering how many compromises a transit project designer must make (sacrificing things usually to save money or imposition on car-oriented corridors) to get the project approved.

      1. I just think there are two many variables to come up with terms that summarize a particular line. I agree with you about the “gold”, “silver”, “bronze” designations as well. The problem is, one “silver” might be completely different than another “silver”. That’s why you have to read a report to get a good idea of the advantages and disadvantages of a particular system. Some are great for long distance trips, while some are the opposite. Some are really fast, while others focus on frequency. I don’t think you can summarize this with a particular term, but I think a little chart would work nicely. For example, Madison BRT could be something like this:

        Peak Hour Frequency: A
        Daytime Frequency: A
        Evening Frequency: B
        Late Night Service: C
        Core Congestion Avoidance: A
        Outer Congestion Avoidance: C
        Traffic Signal Improvements: B
        Dwell times: A
        Amount of line in urban core: 70%
        Length of line: 2 miles
        Stop Spacing Core: .25 mile
        Stop Spacing Outside Core: .25 mile
        Interface with existing transit: B

        You get the idea. (By the way, I’m not saying this is a fair assessment). There are probably better ways to say this, as well. All of these could have notes or simply skip the grading. For example, you could just list the headways for each time frame (and let the reader make their own assessment). But for some both a grade and notes would be a good idea (I might put “buses and streetcar A, light rail C” for interfacing with other transit). The point is, if you look at this, see that most of this run is in the urban core and the line is short, then you aren’t worried about all the stops. They actually make sense (you want a bunch of stops there). But for another run (e. g. Swift) it wouldn’t, unless there as a similar express overlay (that avoided all the stops).

    4. >> Is a line that stops every 1/4 to 1/2 mile really “bus rapid transit”?

      Is a subway that stops every 1/4 to 1/2 mile really “a subway”? Yes, I am pretty sure it is.

      It should be obvious to anyone who looks at our subway that the problem is not that the stop spacing is too small, but that it is too big. The most popular spots (by far) are those clustered together, in downtown Seattle. That is even with the missing station at Madison (they they wanted to add, but ran out of money).

      In general, the proper distance for subway stops (or bus stops) really depends on the situation. The same is true for running on the surface, or running underground. There is no hard and fast rule, but there are guidelines for both subways and BRT:

      1) Avoid congestion. If a bus or train is stuck in traffic, then it is bad. In general, most subways don’t, even though plenty of subways run on the surface. That is because if it does get stuck in traffic, they stop calling it a subway (and call it a streetcar instead).

      2) Avoid stopping at traffic lights. Same concept, really. It just shouldn’t happen (otherwise you should go underground or above ground). If it happens once in a blue moon, it is really no big deal (and probably not worth dealing with). But in general, it should be avoided.

      3) Short dwell times. Stopping “all the time” is annoying, but not the end of the world if you can get moving again very quickly. A system that lacks level boarding or off board payment simply shouldn’t be called BRT.

      4) Serve multiple trips on the same line. This is the opposite of an express bus line or commuter rail.

      5) Runs frequently.

      6) Is popular all day.

      To me, if it fits all of those, it is BRT or a subway. Of course that is a judgement call. Much of our light rail line is a subway, with bits of commuter rail thrown in. But that is why I don’t worry too much about the terminology. I have to look at the details.

      If you are building a bus line with off board payment, level boarding, no congestion, but it runs as an express, so what? I wouldn’t call it BRT, but it is still pretty nice for the folks involved. It might function only for commuters, but those commuters should be happy. If you can achieve all that for very little money, go for it.

      But spending huge amounts for commuter based service, even if it meets most of the other criteria probably isn’t a good value. In other words, off board payment and level boarding may not be the biggest problem if the bus only makes a handful of stops. Investing in very good headways doesn’t make sense if ridership is low in the middle of the day. You are better off focusing on avoiding congestion (since that happens to be the biggest issue for the bulk of the riders).

      Unfortunately, there is no good term for what people want to build. You can build a “light rail” system that is infrequent and unpopular most of the day, and you would still call it “light rail”. Unfortunately, the same is true for BRT. Like “light rail”, it is unlikely that you will have on board payment, but agencies have been known to call it BRT anyway. That is why I think it makes sense to just list the features, and explain why you believe they make sense. In many cases, quarter mile stops make it *more* of a BRT line, rather than less of one. It all depends on the stops.

      1. Do you have more information about the missing station at Madison? This is the first I’ve heard of it. I always thought there should’ve been another station between Pioneer Square and University St but I didn’t know it was actually planned.

      2. @barman — I’m having trouble finding a reference. I am pretty sure that Wikipedia used to mention it, but no longer does. If you look in the latest version of the article about the tunnel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downtown_Seattle_Transit_Tunnel#History) you can see a paragraph that states “The Downtown Transit Project subcommittee unanimously approved Metro recommendations that would reduce the number of bus tunnel stations from six to five, saving $35 million”. I am pretty sure that sixth station was at Madison. The source for that is the Seattle Times, but I can’t find the Seattle Times article. The Seattle Times site is no help, and when I tried to use the Seattle Public Library’s site, I ran into trouble with EXProxy.

    5. One of the biggest tangible benefits we got out of RapidRide was having that 15-minutes-or-better frequency actually apply 7 days a week, well into the evening. If is RapidRide standards of frequency that make it feasible to get out and do stuff in the evenings and on Sundays (especially Sunday evenings) without worrying about how you’re going to get back.

      1. I agree. That is why I think labels like “BRT” are misleading. Even the measures they use can be misleading. Two “bronze level BRT” systems might be completely different. One might run fast, but infrequently, while the other is slower, but runs all the time. If you actually list the features, instead of just hyping it with “BRT” it is a lot more helpful.

  5. BSLFGRSIORSE (“Bus Shaped Like Flash Gordon’s Rocket Ship Instead of The Starship Enterprise”) is tempting.

    Good thing all those sailor-uniformed nuclear submarine tech trainees from Arco, fifty miles west of Idaho falls have all retired. Because sixty seconds into first “Star Wars”, camera flashed to the flight deck of a starship, and a thundering cheer went up.

    With all hands correctly identifying every switch, lever, and screen. Somehow I don’t think any of those servicemen could do the same with fake-wood bulkheads (I mean walls) and furniture, and executive desk for the Captain. True, more real-world destructive power. Hope future stand-in for Defense Secretary “Mad Dog Mattis” hides the codes on an asteroid in a Temporal Mop Closet.

    OK, but bet any five-year-old can still identify the window he’s standing on the seat looking out of as something that is not on a train. Be honest. Has anybody ever heard a single BRT passenger go “Wheeeee!”? Good goal to try for, though.

    But I think we can relax about styling and concentrate on attractive, comfortable mechanically tough, and with a speedometer a driver can read without looking under the steering wheel.

    Also, still willing to try and convince the Governor (not a hard man to convince, is he?) that it’d be a legitimate terrorist-related ‘quake drill to run a really fast grader up parallel I-5 from Lakewood to Dupont, pave it with gravel, and get intercity bus rulebook from any African country.

    Or…good thing the Bredas are (uh oh…where?) because might be easier to pave and groove a certain stretch of railroad and run at joint ops speed which was top limit for a Breda. Which right now seems like a good idea. And somebody tell me: When Spokane says “Electric Bus”, they do mean batteries, don’t they?



    1. For what it’s worth, I’ve shouted WHEEEE on the 545 as it barrelled down 5th Ave from Seneca towards Jackson Street at what felt like 40+ miles an hour, careening down the hill and lifting me out of my chair (I was the only passenger left at that point).

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