Sound Transit & Link ridership continues to grow

Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit systemwide ridership went up 2.9 percent in Q2 of 2018, when compared to Q2 of 2017, according to the latest ST ridership report.

Riders boarded ST vehicles 12,442,840 times. The average weekday saw 163,681 boardings, a 2.4 percent increase from Q2 2017.

Link (6.2 percent more boardings) and Sounder (5.1 percent) both saw substantial ridership growth. Link’s average weekday ridership grew by 5.4 percent over Q2 2017. Westlake (11,827 boardings on an average weekday) and Husky Stadium (10,263 boardings) stations were first and second in Link ridership. Rainier Beach’s ridership grew the most, with a 14.6 percent increase in weekday ridership.

ST Express bus boardings went down a marginal 1.2 percent, which the agency says is “partially due to park-and-ride closures for East Link contruction [sic].”

The only bad news comes from Tacoma. Tacoma Link ridership is down 9 percent from Q2 2017. ST says “the total ridership decline was related to fewer special events and the temporary closure of 200 parking stalls at Tacoma Dome Station for renovation work started in June.” So, we can safely blame the drop (among other things) on Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, who played their respective May 22 and August 25 shows at CenturyLink Field, rather than the Tacoma Dome.

The region’s dramatic, sustained transit ridership growth defies the national trend. ST meets a need that STB readers have collectively seen for decades. Or, as ST more prosaically put it:

“As the region continues to grow, Link is perceived to be a good choice for commuting.”

News Roundup: Better Than Ever

Link at Royal Brougham Way

This is an open thread.

The Center City Connector and the First and Yesler Stop

Articulated Metro coach signed "18 North Beach"
Back when west-side local bus routes served First Avenue. Photo taken in 2009 by Andy Tucker.

“First and Yesler, Pioneer Square. James Street, Cherry Street, Pioneer Square Station, courthouse, Downtown Emergency Service Center.”

As my words rolled through the microphone and the rest of the slowing bus, competing as always with engine noise, I was already focused on the people waiting at the bus zone in question.  On this average May afternoon, I saw about thirty of them. Half were tourists, waiting in a tentative pack close to the bus stop sign. Sprawled on nearby benches were several regulars headed up to Bell, who might or might not have interesting beverages in their black plastic bags.  Standing farther back in the zone were a few early-departing commuters, focused intently on my signage, thankful to read “18 North Beach Via Ballard” at exactly the scheduled time. I threw open both doors, and they all clambered up the stairs. As usual, a couple tried intently to put bills into the farebox despite my hand in the way and the big green “Ride Free Area” sign. As I closed the doors, the last person through the front leaned over and asked “This bus goes to Pike’s Market, right?” Unable to resist a gentle correction, I said “Yes ma’am. For Pike Place Market, get off at Stewart Street.”

Pulling away just in time to make the green light at Cherry, I had about sixty people on board, which meant a few were in the aisle. More passengers got on at Marion, and more still at University. The big D60 coach started to feel a bit crowded as it climbed the steady grade of First, my right foot summoning equal parts motion and loudness. I knew the crowding would be brief.

“Stewart Street. Pine Street. Pike Place Market. Westlake. Westlake Station. Retail core.”

While making the announcement, I arrived at the zone, a bit less than a minute ahead of schedule. But I wasn’t worried about the technical violation of Metro rules. The departing stampede of both tourists and locals would use that minute and more, so I was in no danger of leaving early. Although the shelter was crowded with commuters waiting to get on, there would be plenty of seats for them once the “Pike’s Market” group had left.  As usual, those few First Avenue blocks would be the busiest part of my entire trip, even though it covered the length of the city from Arbor Heights to Loyal Heights.

Continue reading “The Center City Connector and the First and Yesler Stop”

Madison BRT is Testing the Limits of Electric Buses

SounderBruce (Flickr)

Mike Lindblom, in The Seattle Times:

Federal money for Madison Street bus-rapid transit is on hold because Seattle and King County Metro can’t get the trailblazing electric vehicles that officials promised.

The agencies sought clean, wire-powered trolleybuses since voters approved the Move Seattle property-tax levy in 2015 and the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure in 2016, which each provide partial funding.

But the sole qualified manufacturer, New Flyer Industries, says it doesn’t have the proper kind of bus available.

As we wrote last week, the procurement issues dogging the Madison BRT project have been confusing to say the least.  Lindblom’s Times piece yesterday does an excellent job laying it all out.

SDOT, who is spearheading the project and corralling the lion’s share of the funding, has set the bar high: they want an electric vehicle capable of serving up to 18,000 daily riders on a street that features a steep grade (so steep that a streetcar is out of the question).  They also want doors on both sides to accommodate center-running lanes through First Hill. That’s a tall order. Metro, who will operate the line, wants to find a vehicle that meets that bar, but they’re running into a roadblock in New Flyer which, thanks to Buy American provisions, is the only possible supplier. Continue reading “Madison BRT is Testing the Limits of Electric Buses”

The Windshield Perspective on Rail Projects

Atomic Taco/Flickr

In his years on the Seattle City Council, Nick Licata consistently supported running more buses in traffic. He was also a frequent opponent of capital investment for higher-quality transit. Never a leader on bus lanes, he engaged in a little concern trolling about Move Seattle before ultimately supporting it.  He opposed light rail until its opening made it incredibly popular in Seattle. And his strident opposition to streetcars never wavered.

This is useful context for his recent op-ed ($) opposing the Center City Connector. Most of the arguments have been rehearsed elsewhere, and I personally find them unconvincing. But I want to focus on one assertion, important enough to become the op-ed headline, and unintentionally revealing about the mindset that produces it.

Clearly if the CCC is built, there will be more transit riders on the three streetcar lines. However, SDOT has not projected how many will be new transit riders or riders moving from bus lines to the CCC. Those switching transit modes will only divert revenue from the larger bus network serving to bring employees and shoppers to our downtown while reducing the traffic congestion that is choking access to it.

Continue reading “The Windshield Perspective on Rail Projects”

Everett Transit’s Growing Pains Will Include Service Restructure and Fare Hike

Under this plan, Route 17 could be eliminated

Everett Transit, like the rest of the region, is going through growing pains. For years, the city-run department had operated about a dozen routes on a small budget with a small fare to match, and it even withstood the recession with only minor cuts to service.

But times have changed and Everett’s good fortune has run out. The agency is facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall within the next two years, which comes just as a new long-range plan had been approved and celebrated by the city. With the shortfall and a need to simplify some of its unwieldy routes in mind, Everett has proposed a “Sustainable Service” change to take effect in March 2019.

Continue reading “Everett Transit’s Growing Pains Will Include Service Restructure and Fare Hike”

Sound Transit Board plays hooky, plans to study fare enforcement

Summer school. Credit: David Seater

Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting didn’t have any Earth-shattering news, but it did feel a lot like summer school. Agency staff presented some updates on ongoing projects, but the board didn’t do much: too many elected officials cut class to move along the day’s most substantial agenda item.

Fare enforcement

Metro rolled out a new fare enforcement policy a few weeks ago. (Expect an in-depth look soon.) The transit and social justice activists who worked with Metro are excited about the Metro policy, which will reduce fines and hopefully prevent escalation.

The same coalition approached Sound Transit to make similar changes, but the agency is moving more slowly; on Thursday, the board approved a staff proposal to study fare enforcement policy and come up with recommendations.

Capitol Hill affordable housing

The board formalized ST staff’s laudable work on several affordable housing projects on Broadway, which we covered in depth here. The board approved the requisite land transfers with Seattle Central College and affordable housing developers.

Seattle Mayor and ST board member Jenny Durkan praised the projects, and said that the city would try to get the buildings open sooner by expediting permitting and construction.

Northgate Link construction update

The Northgate extension is humming along. ST staff said that construction is on schedule. Most of the major structural work on the stations is done, and the right of way is nearly ready for guideway system installation.

Northgate Link’s budget allocated about $223 million to handle contingencies and cost overruns. The board voted on Thursday to allocate $3.7 million from that pool to complete final design work.

Federal Way Link land transfers

After ST builds the Federal Way Link extension, the agency will have some leftover land. The agency needs to hold staging sites and the land under the future guideway during construction, but not after. When the project is finished, ST plans to transfer some of the surplus land to WSDOT, which will build an extension of SR 509.

The board was supposed to approve the baseline budget for the project on Thursday, but needed a supermajority vote to do it. However, the board didn’t have a the votes necessary for the supermajority, so the vote couldn’t go ahead. (The board did approve the land transfer.) Early in the meeting, the board stalled votes because a quorum of members was not present.

Claudia Balducci compounded the embarrassment by pointing out that the project’s baseline budget had not yet been studied by the ST Board’s capital committee.

“Because we’re not going to take action on this, can this go through capital committee like it should have in the first place?” Balducci said.

The board sent the land transfer back to committee, after a wisecrack by Durkan (who skipped the last board meeting):

“Who knew so much could be done by people not showing up?”

This post has been corrected. According to ST spokesperson Scott Thompson, the board approved the eventual land transfer, but not the Federal Way baseline budget. An earlier version of the post said that the land transfer was not approved.

News Roundup: Let’s Get Started

tower town

This is an open thread

School Safety Takes a Back Seat in Beacon Hill

Looking west across the current 15th/Columbia intersection.
What a Mercer student needing to catch a 107 bus sees today. Image from Google Maps.

[Update: Beacon Hill Safe Streets has this form to contact your representatives.]

A project to improve safety at the confusing and pedestrian-hostile intersection of 15th Avenue South and South Columbian Way in Beacon Hill, adjacent to Mercer Middle School, has been on SDOT’s radar for many years. (UPDATE: Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ Gordon Padelford correctly points out in comments that Beacon Hill Safe Streets has played the lead role supporting and organizing for the project throughout.)  SDOT data shows an average of five injury collisions annually over the last decade at this intersection. But Mercer students must cross the intersection to access Metro routes 60 and 107, which are the primary transit connections to most of Beacon Hill. The project finally received funding through 2016’s Move Seattle levy, as one of twelve safety projects added to the city’s Neighborhood Street Fund program. Last year, SDOT published a draft design that would simplify the intersection, add marked and signalized crosswalks on all sides, and make the wide and dangerous slip lane into a pedestrian plaza, as shown below:

Map of SDOT's initial proposed design
SDOT’s initial proposed design for 15th/Columbian.

This design won praise from safety advocates, but some drivers in the community vehemently objected to the lack of a separate signal for eastbound drivers on S Oregon St (as exists today).  Drivers feared that they would be subject to long delays trying to turn left from S Oregon onto 15th Ave S.  But when SDOT studied adding the S Oregon signal back, its modeling suggested that cars crossing the intersection would be subject to delays of two to three minutes.

To accommodate these concerned drivers without delay, SDOT on Tuesday proposed a compromise design, which would add the S Oregon signal back, but remove the crosswalk on the north side of the 15th/Columbian intersection:

A map of SDOT's compromise design for 15th/Columbian, with no crosswalk on the north side of the intersection and the S Oregon signal.
SDOT’s “compromise” design for 15th/Columbian.

To be blunt, the compromise is insane.  It sacrifices the safety of middle school kids who walk and ride transit—children between ages 12 and 14!—for a very slight improvement in driver convenience. Continue reading “School Safety Takes a Back Seat in Beacon Hill”

Procurement Woes for Madison BRT

SDOT

Madison BRT, also known as RapidRide G, is running into problems with bus procurement. Although the Trump Administration’s foot-dragging isn’t good for any transit project, it is these procurement delays that threaten to delay opening. At the moment, is unclear if these problems will actually delay the planned 2021 delivery.

RapidRide G will use special buses with doors on both the left and right side of the vehicle. The initial plan selected trolleybuses that may have off-wire capability.

According to a source at SDOT, the vehicles intended for the corridor—60 foot, BRT-optimized Xcelsior trolleybuses from New Flyer—can’t handle the steep grades of Madison Street. The source added that New Flyer intends to discontinue trolleybus manufacturing after an ongoing order for San Francisco is finished. Neither SFMTA nor New Flyer responded to requests for comment. Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer referred STB to SDOT for comment on the trolleybus grade issue.

SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson:

Continue reading “Procurement Woes for Madison BRT”

Metro and Rob Gannon move up a notch

Credit: 19adam99

On Monday, the King County Council unanimously voted to separate Metro from the Department of Transportation and make the agency an autonomous, cabinet-level department. In the same meeting, the council unanimously voted to keep Rob Gannon as the director of the agency; as an autonomous department, the Metro director is now a political appointee, rather than a civil service position.

Since its inception, Metro has long been a part of King County’s Department of Transportation. KCDOT administers Boeing Field, the West Seattle Water Taxi, county roads, and the county’s vehicle fleet. Metro has run more or less autonomously for years, but was still supervised by the KCDOT director.

“It’s organizational authority and flexibility,” says King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “It gives you more ability to set your own destiny. That extra layer of bureaucracy might not sound like much, but it’s a real thing. I say that as someone who ran a department here.”

Balducci ran the county’s jails from 2010-14. She said that, while she held that position, Metro’s head always sat in on cabinet meetings with the King County executive. That arrangement created awkward conflicts of interest, since the director of KCDOT—the Metro director’s boss—was also in on the meetings.

Continue reading “Metro and Rob Gannon move up a notch”

Bikeshare Out, Bikeshare In

SounderBruce/Flickr

Within one month of Seattle imposing new regulations and a $50 per bike per year permit fee, Sarah Anne Lloyd reports that both Ofo and Spin are on their way out.

When Ofo first announced its departure, the company attributed the decision to the new fee structure, which adds up to $250,000 for a fleet 5,000 bicycles (or $50 per bike). Fees go toward administering the bike-share permit, addressing equity issues, and developing parking solutions for the bicycles…

Like with Ofo, which also recently announced its bikes wouldn’t be returning, a Spin spokesperson cited high permit fees as a deciding factor.

If the companies are truthfully blaming the new fees, it would be a spectacular own-goal from the City. A light regulatory touch made Seattle into a dockless bikeshare success story. Taxing into oblivion the lowest-cost, lowest-impact transportation service imaginable while dumping cash into buses, trains, and cars would mock all the goals Seattle ostensibly has.

However, Ofo is broadly retreating from the U.S., and Spin may pivot to e-scooters. Blaming regulators is a better excuse than “we ran our business into the ground.” So readers can choose to believe the best or the worst about what SDOT and City Council wrought.

Regardless, never fear: JUMP (Uber) and Motivate (Lyft) are not deterred by exorbitant permit fees ($).

Though the city’s recently passed bike-share regulations allow up to four companies to operate up to 5,000 bikes each, only three applied for permits. The application period recently closed.

Continue reading “Bikeshare Out, Bikeshare In”

News Roundup: Fail Again

Winter 2017 301

This is an open thread.

I-90 bridge’s Link retrofit almost finished

A worker inspects a reaction frame inside a pontoon. Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit announced on Wednesday that construction crews are nearly done with their work retrofitting the I-90 bridge for East Link. Crews have worked for more than a year to post-tension the bridge’s pontoons.

ST reinforced the bridge to help it carry the load of Link’s tracks, overhead lines, and vehicles. The retrofit also improves the integrity of the bridge in heavy wind and an attendant storm surge, the likes of which sank the eastbound span in 1990.

All the Lake Washington floating bridges use a system of tensioned steel cables to hold the span in place. Construction crews installed additional cables in the pontoons of the I-90 span. The cables, which crews stressed and winched, pull the pontoons closer together, which creates greater load bearing capacity. Altogether, according to Sound Transit’s Zach Ambrose, “crews installed and stressed 1,080,000 feet of steel strand and applied 41,000 pounds of pressure.”

Steel cable and the frame that anchors it. Credit: Sound Transit

Giant steel structures, called reaction frames, anchor the new cables at both ends. They absorb the force from winching the steel cables, and whatever event that might stress the structure. Each of the ten reaction frames weigh about 17,500 pounds.

The structural work is finished. Crews are removing equipment from the pontoons and grouting the housing of the cables, to prevent water corrosion. After that work is done, construction of the guideway can start.

A diagram of the retrofit. Credit: Sound Transit

New Shuttle Pilot Serving the Waterfront

The Downtown Seattle Association is running a two-month “Waterfront Shuttle,” starting August 1st and running through October 1. It is free to ride and serves the stops shown on the map.

It is clearly aimed at tourists, although this month is a little late to start serving that market. It runs from 10am to 8pm, seven days a week, and hits many of the obvious tourist spots. The literature suggests people use the shuttle to access waterfront businesses after parking elsewhere downtown.

The money comes from WSDOT, as mitigation for their endless project on the waterfront. This year’s operation is a pilot to develop service concepts for future service should a long-term funding source arise. WSDOT’s mess will continue through 2019, so if the pilot is promising we may see another year of it. The DSA contracted with MTR Western to operate the buses.

The stated headway is “approximately” every 25 minutes, with no attempt to match any printed schedule. However, the end-to-end trip time is (at best) also 25 minutes. As 3 to 4 22-seat vehicles simultaneously serve the route at different times of day, the headways are often quite a bit shorter than 25 minutes. Although there are no real-time arrival information signs or data feeds, today DSA deploys “concierges” at major stops to communicate with buses on the radio.

When I first read about this service concept, I was skeptical that a 25-minute headway on a short-haul line would attract many riders. The DSA says that a total of 4,957 riders used the shuttle in the first two weeks, and (anecdotally) in peak hours these shuttles are sometimes standing-room-only. 35 riders per hour isn’t bad for new service with some of the limitations above; it would be great to see what a properly provisioned bus line could do.

SPONSOR: Two New Transportation Positions Open at Seattle Children’s

Join Seattle Children’s innovative Transportation & Sustainability Department in one of two newly created, TDM-focused positions: a Parking & Valet Systems Manager and a limited-term Transportation Systems Coordinator.

Parking & Valet Systems Manager

This leadership role will manage Seattle Children’s new 24/7 patient and family hospital valet operation, the organization’s parking system, and other roadway and pathway hardscape assets for all Seattle Children’s worksites with a focus on the hospital campus. In addition to designing and delivering best-in-class, customer-centric valet services to patients, families and visitors who are seeking treatment or services from Children’s emergency department and outpatient clinics, the Parking & Valet Systems Manager will be responsible for providing a safe, effective and pleasant experience for employees and customers using Seattle Children’s parking lots, roadways and pathways. This position will work with a range of internal leaders to develop and deliver support systems, countermeasures, and capacity to optimize clinical demand flow.

Our ideal candidate has 5+ years of valet and parking management experience, excellent interpersonal and customer service skills, and enjoys providing value and convenience to families who are stressed by their Children’s health issue. Read the full job description and apply online. The position will remain open until filled.

Transportation Systems Coordinator – Limited Term

This new, limited-term Transportation Systems Coordinator position will provide a wide range of customer service and administrative support in the enhancement, development, and expansion of the department’s daily operations. Serving as one of the primary points of contact for in-person, electronic, and telephone inquiries, this position will assist employees with commute planning, parking needs, and responding to questions about Seattle Children’s transportation programs. In addition to participating in the department’s internal outreach efforts, this position will be responsible for the customer service and data management aspects of Seattle Children’s renowned Company Bike Program (see below for more information about the program).

Our ideal candidate has two or more years of customer service or administrative support experience, excellent interpersonal and customer service skills, is detail-oriented, and interested in bicycling. Read the full job description and apply online. The position will remain open until filled. Continue reading “SPONSOR: Two New Transportation Positions Open at Seattle Children’s”