To the San Juans by Transit

Anacortes Ferry Terminal (Joe Mabel/wikimedia)

If you’ve driven to the San Juans, especially in summer, you know the horror: scheduling a ferry slot months in advance, struggling with an overloaded website when the slots are released, allotting plenty of extra time in case you hit traffic, and showing up no later than 45 minutes before sailing. And then you fork over $30-$50 each way (plus the passenger fare) to haul the car on board.

Last Labor Day weekend, I tried a different way: public transit all the way from Seattle, to join my party already on Orcas Island with the car. Google Maps told me to leave downtown Seattle at 3:15pm to make the 7:20 sailing from Anacortes. It’s a 90 minute drive under ideal conditions, though if you’re driving to the islands you’d best leave some extra time.

That same uncertainty did me in, even on the bus. It will surprise no Snohomish County commuter that my 512 capitulated to the traffic. The HOV lane failed, and even though I’d departed 15 minutes earlier than recommended, I didn’t come close to making the (hourly) Skagit Transit 90X to Mt. Vernon. I grabbed a sandwich and schemed to get as close to possible to the ferry before switching to Lyft.

Continue reading “To the San Juans by Transit”

WSDOT Plans Transit Improvements on SR-520

Cars waiting to exit SR-520 at Montlake
Montlake off-ramp (photo by the author)

Two pieces of good news for bus commuters on SR-520: one next month and another in 2023.

Next month, WSDOT will install a temporary bus-only queue jump in the Montlake off-ramp.  This comes a few months after several advocates met with the agency to discuss potential improvements.  The queue jump will take advantage of excess shoulder space on the exit ramp, leaving the two car lanes intact. Unfortunately, the right-of-way narrows at Montlake Way, so buses will need to merge right before the intersection. Still, letting buses to the front of the line will probably save a couple of light cycles.

proposed bus lane on montlake offramp

The re-striping will happen the weekend of Oct. 5-7, weather permitting, and the new bus lane will open Monday, Oct. 8. Kudos to WSDOT for listening to transit riders and moving quickly. The lane will be open for at least six months until Montlake lid construction gets underway. David Goldberg, WSDOT’s Ombudsman who has been liaising with transit advocates on this project, told me via email that how long the lane is ultimately in operation will depend on the contractor’s schedule, which should be finalized “in the next few weeks.”

The project will improve reliability for all buses that use the Montlake off-ramp, including the 167, 255, 271, 277, 540, 541, 542, and 556.  When completed in 2024, the Montlake lid will provide permanent dedicated access for these routes, as well as HOVs, going to and from 520.

With the 520 freeway stop disappearing next year and more buses diverted to Husky Stadium as part of One Center City efforts, giving priority through Montlake — at least for a little while — is very welcome.

Next, WSDOT announced this week that the agency is pushing up the opening date of the transit connection from 520 to I-5, providing a direct bus path to South Lake Union. Continue reading “WSDOT Plans Transit Improvements on SR-520”

News Roundup: Ditch Your Car

King County Metro Gillig Low Floor 40' HEV

This is an open thread

Photo by AtomicTaco in the STB Flickr Pool

RapidRide Update: Some Now, More Later

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

Several of Metro’s busiest routes are scheduled to be upgraded to RapidRide before 2024, while several others will get speed and reliability improvements but without the RapidRide branding, according to the agency’s latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

While RapidRide is a program of King County Metro, Seattle’s 2015 Move Seattle Levy promised “seven new RapidRide+ corridors” in the city, which were pitched as above and beyond current RapidRide in terms of dedicated right-of-way. In the face of budget pressures and an increasingly hostile federal funding environment, SDOT reassessed the levy earlier this year, SDOT saying that while it “can deliver investments on all seven RapidRide corridors…the cost to complete a level of investment that aligns with the higher mobility needs of our growing city and meets community expectations is greater than available funding.”

As Metro and the City work out what they can actually deliver and on what timeline, that level of investment is coming into focus.  Continue reading “RapidRide Update: Some Now, More Later”

Streetcar Survives in Mayor Durkan’s First Budget

Mayor Jenny Durkan delivers the budget
Yesterday Mayor Durkan announced her 2019-2020 budget proposal, to be presented to the City Council, which will have an opportunity to weigh in. In the context of an overall effort to control spending city-wide, the SDOT budget increases by $128m over 2018 levels.

Here are some transit highlights:

  • The Streetcar lives! The budget includes $9m for streetcar support, and while it goes out of the way to say the Mayor has “not reached a final decision” about the Center City Connector, it doesn’t de-fund it, either
  • $1m to continue studying congestion pricing, including an equity analysis
  • $4m for ORCA Opportunity, a.k.a. free ORCA for high-schoolers, which now serves 15,000 people
  • $2.4m to support ST3, including Graham Street station design. Since 130th St appears to be moving forward, it’s good to see Graham Street get some love, too
  • Funding for “micro transit” with a goal to “increase mobility in areas where there are service gaps.” That seems similar to the last-mile connectors SDOT proposed back in June, somewhat controversially. We’ll see if this scaled-back version of the idea survives council.
  • 100k in new bus service hours, which is part of the 177,000 in new hours Metro announced this week.  This should get us even closer to the 2025 goal of 72% of the city living near frequent transit
  • Automated enforcement of bus lanes, currently “not permitted under state law,” will get added to the city’s legislative priorities. Read our interview with Mark Hallenbeck on the subject.

Read more on the Mayor’s blog or view the budget in all its glory here.  Read more from The Seattle Times, Erica C. Barnett, and SCC Insight.  And call out any other interesting bits in the comments.

Transit Still a Low-Income Lifeline

Gene Balk has a typically informative column ($) about who is taking to transit to work these days. University professors, housekeepers, and computer programmers have the highest transit share of any professions in Seattle. He astutely points out how much this has to do with where jobs are located. Seattle is incredibly fortunate that Amazon continues to place the vast majority of its office jobs in the center city.

Someone might use that as a story of how transit is now just a “hipster” phenomenon, but professional definitions are arbitrary — I don’t know the difference between “computer programmer” and “software developer” in this context.

Credit: Mark Nowlin/The Seattle Times

Meanwhile, less arbitrary divisions, like the income chart above, show that low income people remain, in both absolute and relative terms, the biggest users of transit in the region. Moreover, transit’s mode share is relatively stable across income boundaries. Broadly speaking, we’ve made transit an attractive option, and this creates a positive feedback loop. Creating higher-income riders creates stakeholders with more political power — which leads to better and more attractive transit.

Everett Transit Debuts Its First Electric Battery Bus

Everett’s new Proterra electric battery bus

Everett Transit, on the verge of a major network restructure, brought its first electric battery bus into service earlier this week. The bus, a 42-foot Proterra Catalyst E2, is identical to the newer generation of electric battery buses operated by Metro in Bellevue and has been one of the most popular electric models for the past several years. The bus can carry 31 seated passengers and about 18 standees, can handle grades of 10% at 40 miles per hour, and can run for 250 miles on a single charge (which takes 2.5 hours to complete). Similar Proterra buses have been making trial runs in Bellingham for the Whatcom Transportation Authority and a pair were recently delivered to Kitsap Transit and Pierce Transit.

The new bus is the first of four that will enter service by the end of the year and will primarily run on Route 7, the system’s flagship route that runs along Broadway and Evergreen Way—Everett’s two busiest transit corridors. It was funded by a $3.4 million Low or No Emission Vehicle grant awarded by the Federal Transit Administration in 2016 and matched by funds from the agency.

Continue reading “Everett Transit Debuts Its First Electric Battery Bus”

ST3 Level 2 Planning: Time to Make Decisions

Sound Transit is currently gathering public input on the ST3 Level 2 Planning options they presented a few weeks ago. As we noted early this year, this is an opportunity to make light rail exceptional and the difference is all in the details. At this phase it’s time to apply the concepts of reliability, expandability, and accessibility and make some choices.

Our recommendations make a central assumption: There will not be additional funding available for the more expensive options. This might change sometime in the future, but considering what is happening with our federal, state, and local government it’s pretty safe to say that it won’t happen before the preferred alternative is selected in early 2019. Continue reading “ST3 Level 2 Planning: Time to Make Decisions”

News Roundup: Master Plans

write on red

This is an open thread

Write on Red, Mitchell Hainefield in the STB Flickr Pool

Rainier Freeway Station Closure Begins Sept. 22

A rendering of the future Judkins Park Light Rail Station Credit: Sound Transit

Rainier Freeway Station, at I-90 and Rainier will close for 5 years beginning Monday, September 22, for East Link Construction. You can read Sound Transit’s explainer for more details. Most routes (111, 114, 212, 214, 216, 218, and 219) will bypass the station and head into downtown, while the 554, 217, and some 212 trips will be detoured via Rainier Ave and S Dearborn St to provide service coverage to the North Rainier area.

Needless to say the routes that remain on I-90 will be faster for riders going to and from the Eastside. Seattle DOT is, however, mitigating some of the impact for some routes by making a stretch of 4th Avenue S into an all-day bus lane.

Contributor Jason Shindler wrote a guest piece for us in 2016 previewing some of these changes and suggesting some “radical changes” that could speed up buses traveling on I-90.

I-90 bus route September changes
Credit: Metro, Sound Transit, and Lizz Giordano

In 2023, the station will re-open to serve East Link light rail exclusively.  At that time, all I-90 buses coming in to Seattle will terminate at either Mercer Island (with limitations) or South Bellevue.

Link Plans Part 3: West Seattle

C Line at the Junction. Credit: Shane in the City.

This is the third and final post in our series about the latest designs for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions. This post covers West Seattle.

On September 5th, Sound Transit released its latest concept work on the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions. We’re examining each segment in-depth, from north to south, station by station.

More detailed information, including Sound Transit’s score of each station site and track segment, can be found here. Sound Transit’s new outreach website has visualizations and other information. Here’s where you can read Part One (Ballard) and Part Two (Downtown & SLU).

Since the Level 1 analysis, ST eliminated the Delridge station options that were well off of Delridge Way, leaving only alignments that continue west on Genesee Street. Nearly all alignments that point west at Alaska Junction are also gone, as they mesh poorly with vague future plans to continue to White Center (the west-pointing ST3 representative project remains). The majority of surviving options tunnel under the Junction.  All have a potential ridership of between 10,000 and 12,500 within the station walksheds.

Staff continue to make it clear that a tunnel will add costs.  The three tunnel options here increase the overall project costs by anywhere from $500M to $1.2B, in addition to creating increased schedule risk. If a tunnel were to be selected, supplemental funding from the City would be required.

Credit: Sound Transit.

Duwamish Crossing

ST presented three alignments of the water crossing: a bridge north of the West Seattle Bridge, a bridge adjacent to the south edge of the West Seattle Bridge, and a bridge south of Harbor Island with a tunnel through Pigeon Hill.

The Pigeon Hill alignment seems likely to be eliminated. It would be the most complicated feat of engineering, and therefore the most expensive option at $1.2B more than the representative project; the river crossing would be the widest, and the tunnel would have to be a deep bore through the hill. ST staff seemed lukewarm about the alignment.  

Continue reading “Link Plans Part 3: West Seattle”

Link Plans Part 2: Uptown, South Lake Union, Downtown, and Sodo

Westlake Avenue. Credit: SolDuc Photography.

This is the second of three posts in our series about the latest designs for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions. This post covers Uptown and South Lake Union.

Last Wednesday, September 5th, Sound Transit released its latest concept work on the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions. We’re examining each segment in-depth, from north to south, station by station.

More detailed information, including Sound Transit’s score of each station site and track segment, can be found here. Sound Transit’s new outreach website has visualizations and other information. Read Part One here.

Since the Level 1 alternatives, there have been a few changes. The all-Mercer St. alignment, the 8th Avenue First Hill Stop, and the idea of having only one stop in South Lake Union have disappeared.

Uptown (Seattle Center)

Credit: Sound Transit. Click to enlarge.

The underground Uptown station will sit in a neighborhood dense with jobs, residents, and events ridership. The station will lie on an east-west, tunneled track segment roughly on the axis of 1st Avenue N. The question is whether the station will be built on Harrison, Republican, Mercer, or Roy.

Sound Transit identified four factors in the ultimate decision: tunnel and portal alignment, service for Key Arena & Seattle Center, bus integration, and TOD potential.

Roy scores the lowest by those metrics. Bus integration and Seattle Center service would be poor, though there is more upzoning potential near the station site. Continue reading “Link Plans Part 2: Uptown, South Lake Union, Downtown, and Sodo”

Metro Service Change: More Service, Again

Metro coach 2758 operating route 41, turning into the express lanes from 9th Ave.
Metro route 41, soon to get more frequent. Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

Over the last three years, we’ve gotten used to a continuous stream of service improvements from Metro.  The pattern continues with this fall’s service change, which starts next Saturday, September 22.  There are almost no substantive changes to Metro service this time around.  The big picture is a peanut-butter-style scattering of new trips throughout the Metro system, some funded by Metro itself and some by the Seattle TBD.

New 10-Minute Service

The most headline-worthy addition is that routes 41, 70, and RapidRide E Line go to 10-minute frequency during the day on weekdays.  This is a minor adjustment for the E Line, which already has 10-minute frequency most of the time, and just needed a few gaps filled. It’s a bigger change for the 41 and 70, both of which have 15-minute midday service today.  Weekend and evening service will remain at current 12- to 15-minute frequencies on all three routes.

SR 99 Reroutes

Metro has finally disclosed what will happen to West Seattle Bridge and SR 509 service once the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes.  The changes will happen in two phases.

Phase 1 covers the time when both the viaduct and the new SR 99 tunnel are closed.  Plans for this phase remain subject to change.  Routes that currently use the Alaskan Way Viaduct to reach the West Seattle Bridge, including RapidRide C Line, 21 Express, 37, 55, 56, 57, 120, and 125, will use surface streets: 4th Ave northbound, and the current route 21 routing (but without local stops) southbound.  Service on these routes will be slower, but stop locations shouldn’t change.  Routes that proceed south on Highway 99, including 113, 121, 122, and 123, will use 1st Ave S south of S Lander St, missing stops along E Marginal Way S and resulting in a long walk for passengers in that area.

Metro will shift to Phase 2 after the SR 99 tunnel opens and the new ramps connecting SR 99 to S Dearborn St are operational.  All ex-Viaduct service will use 1st Ave S to reach those ramps and then resume normal route along SR 99, serving all normal stops.  The Phase 2 routing will likely be in place for several years, until the City of Seattle has completed construction of the new Alaskan Way as far as Columbia St.  1st Ave S service has in the past been prone to delays, and it is still not clear if buses will receive any priority along 1st Ave S between Columbia St and S Dearborn St.

Other changes, all minor, below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Service Change: More Service, Again”

North 130th Station moves closer to early construction

Credit: brewbooks

The Sound Transit Board’s capital committee on Thursday made the early construction of the North 130th St. more likely. The agency’s staff and elected leadership also continued to express concerns about the Trump administration’s hostility to transit projects.

The committee also voted to elevate Downtown Redmond’s new Link station, change the Federal Way Link federal grant proposal, study improvements to Seattle RapidRide, and install new diagnostic units on light rail vehicles.

N 130th Street Station preliminary engineering

As we predicted Wednesday, the North 130th St. Link station got one step closer to opening at the same time as the Lynnwood Link Extension in 2024, instead of 2031. The Sound Transit Board’s Capital Committee encouraged (but did not formally vote to recommend) a plan for ST staff to begin preliminary engineering on the station.

Until today, the board’s Snohomish County officials opposed building the station before Everett got Link service. Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, the only Snohomish County official on the committee, supported the move to begin engineering work. Earling’s cautious endorsement of the move was a victory for Seattle officials, especially City Councilmember Debora Juarez, who campaigned on the issue.

Continue reading “North 130th Station moves closer to early construction”

News Roundup: This Month

Link pulling into Capitol Hill Station

This is an open thread.

130th St Station May Get Built Early

130th and I-5 (Google Maps)

Possible good news for North Seattle: the Sound Transit board’s capital committee will vote Thursday on a resolution to move forward with preliminary engineering for 130th St station, meaning it could open years earlier than originally planned.

We started writing about 130th back in 2013, touting its potential for east-west connectivity and transit-oriented development.  130th also has only a partial I-5 interchange, making it friendlier to non-motorized and bus access from the Lake City and Bitter Lake neighborhoods. However, the ST studies and the political machinations between Seattle, Shoreline, and Snohomish cities conspired to give us stations at Northgate and 145th, with a 2-mile gap in between.

As ST3 got closer, more advocates began asking for the station to be added to the plans.  When the draft ST3 plan was released in April of 2016, the 130th station was listed as “provisional.”  Then, after a public process that included some vigorous advocacy from folks including Seattle City Councilmember Debra Juarez, who represents North Seattle’s District 5, the station was added in but deferred to 2031.

Lynwood Link Extension Credit: Sound Transit

The 2031 date didn’t really make anyone happy.  Adding the station after Lynnwood Link was up and running would have been expensive and disruptive.  But it was seen as too risky, both in terms of Lynnwood’s timeline and federal funding, to add the station concurrently with the rest of the Lynnwood extension. With Lynnwood Link pushed out to 2024, staff appear more confident that they can squeeze it in.

It’s not time to pop the Champagne corks up in Pinehurst just yet. The resolution calls the preliminary engineering proposal a “due diligence effort” to “help determine the viability of accelerating final design and construction of the station to be sufficiently complete by 2024 concurrent with [Lynnwood Link] to avoid or minimize service disruptions.” But this is still optimistic news for a project that has had its share of setbacks.

ST Express Cutting Trips on Popular Routes

I-90 bus route September changes
Credit: Metro, Sound Transit, and Lizz Giordano

Sound Transit’s new schedule books are out. The September 22 service changes include some bad news and little bits of good news. Seven ST Express bus routes, including the two with the highest ridership (routes 550 and 545), are losing trips. Routes 511 and 580 are the only routes gaining trips. Some routes are losing a little span of service, and some are gaining.

Route 510 is losing two trips, both in the afternoon peak, with trips from 3:55 to 5:35 becoming more spread out.

Route 511, however, is gaining a trip, improving frequency and altering schedule times from 4:06 pm to 6:18 pm.

Route 513 is losing one northbound afternoon trip, impacting the timing of all northbound 513 runs. On the bright side, the last trip will start five minutes later, extending span of service.

Continue reading “ST Express Cutting Trips on Popular Routes”