Frank and I will tape another mailbag for our podcast as early as Wednesday night. Please fill this comment thread with your questions in the next day or so.

37 Replies to “Podcast Mailbag Questions”

  1. Got two mailbag questions:

    1) How’s King County Council working out governing King County Metro?

    After listening to so many fellow STB commentators, STB management, and thought leaders in the transit world I’m of the view only Sound Transit should have a directly elected board. I’d rather Community Transit, Skagit Transit, Pierce Transit be run by county councils with the same transparency on county councils.

    2) Why don’t you guys cover Transit Development Plans more and help prime the pump for comments into them? Really would like more people to comment into them to request new routes, new vehicles, more bus shelters, that kind of thing…

  2. 1. Thoughts on earthquake risk and the Cascadia Subduction Zone?

    2. Empirically, there seems to be huge fare evasion. Has there been any study on the impact of this, not on revenue, but in terms of overloading service (the transit authorities might plan for a number much lower than the true number of riders)?

    3. Will access to transit cause the schools in areas such as Lynwood to get better?

    4. Are there any recommended video games that represent well the challenges of transit?

  3. The streetcar has a $75 million budget deficit, more likely to increase than decrease when the remaining uncertainties are ironed out.

    From the press briefing, SCC Insight reports “She suggested that part of the equation for her would be to look at needs in other regional transit projects that may not be fully funded or that the city might want to pitch in for to help influence the outcome (such as light rail to West Seattle and Ballard).”

    Another plausible path may be folding the extra streetcar dollars into the TBD renewal in 2020, particularly if the FTA review takes as long as the city now expects. Then again, a priority for next TBD might be to boost the Move Seattle transit projects which are coming up short on grant expectations.

    Where stand you on the streetcar if the budget gap competes with these other transit priorities?

    1. Yet another problem with the streetcar is we can’t just assume that the $75 million promised by the feds will actually materialize. As long as Trump is president, it certainly won’t. And, even after he leaves office, there’s going to be a huge backlog of pending FTA grant requests from all over the country, for an agency whose staff will be largely depleted, and might take some time to get back into a workable state.

      Even if Trump is voted out in 2020, it could very well be 2024 before any grant money rolls in. If Trump gets re-elected, we might have to wait until 2028.

      Surely, there is something else, transit-related, we can do with this money *today* without needing to depend on federal money that may or may not ever materialize. I also feel like we have a ton of transit downtown already, and the more pressing needs are elsewhere in the city. For instance, the streetcar money would be a great way to cover cost overruns in the Roosevelt and Madison BRT lines.

      1. Yeah, the calculus of the $75 million has gotten complicated. There is precedent for transferring similar grants to other related projects (RossB cites Providence), but it’s not for sure.

        Even apart from the slowdown in FTA grant disbursements, it’s also no longer clear that the FTA will fund the streetcar – they’ve signaled they are going to re-review everything since there’s so much new information.

        If the money is transferable, or if it simply goes away, it significantly changes the math around incremental impacts to the city. And it’ll be 12-18 months before we know for sure.

      2. The grant situation looks bad but it’s not a complete certainty. Congress did appropriate the grant money this year and it’s not certain whether they’d really be able to zero it out next year. Amtrak’s death has been predicted for forty years and it still hasn’t happened. The right-wingers say a lot but what they can achieve is somewhat less. I can’t see Trump vetoing a budget solely because of transit grants. (It’s not, like, a wall.) If he does veto it there may be an override. Assuming that happens, the issue then turns to the FTA. Currently the FTA is refusing to spend this year’s grants because it’s ideologically opposed to transit and favors maximum oil extraction. But that’s illegal, and somebody may sue over it. If that happens, the courts may order the FTA to spend it, or seize the money and distribute it itself (according to the existing grant awards). Of course the lower courts may side with the transit agencies and the Supreme Court may side with the administration. But it’s not certain until it happens. Of course, any court dispute may take longer than a year to resolve, so we may need interim money in the meantime if we pursue the project.

  4. 1. There is a study in ST3, I believe, to investigate the feasibility of a Ballard to U district line. This is always written about as line terminating at the U district. There is considerable density surrounding the University village and the children’s hospital. Is there a reason why this should go no further east than the U district? Or is the density east of the U district only starting to develop and wasn’t on the radar until recently?

    2. Will East Link be limited to one train every six minutes due to the small on street section toward the Bel Red area?

    1. Could Sound Transit get into the habit of letting the public see section drawings instead of “plan view” (looking straight down like at a map.?) Because it could shorten the discussion by making the real choices a lot clearer- and fewer.

      Mark Dublin

  5. I have heard vaguely that there may be headway restrictions for East Link due to the I-90 floating bridge. I know the bridge is designed to handle two trains heading in opposite directions passing each other, but do we anticipate the bridge handling 3 or 4 trains on the bridge at the same time?

    Let’s assume we can have a max of one train per direction at a time. The length of the bridge is 5811 feet, which at the 50 mph top speed of Link light rail is roughly 1.3 minutes, but even if we conservatively estimate more than double that travel time (3 minutes), then does that mean we could operate light rail on the bridge at 3 minute headways?

  6. How about a frank discussion about center island platforms (proposed for Both Madison and CCC)?

    1.How much faster is it?
    2. How much safer is it?
    3. Does it encourage risky jaywalking?
    4. Does the added time waiting to cross a street (getting on or off a vehicle) cancel out the travel time benefits while on a vehicle?
    5. What does an operator do when buses have to operate on the same street but don’t have left-side doors (both public buses and employer buses)?
    6. What do paratransit vans do when they have to block the only lane of vehicle traffic (as the other lane is for transit use)?
    7. How much room does the paid fare boarding area need for readers and ticket vending machines?

    In sum, is it a profoundly better, practical design or just a gimmick? Is it worth delaying projects and finding many more tens of millions just to have it?

    1. For pedestrian safety and jaywalking, I think cars speeds will have to be much limited. If that discourages driving there, good. Pike Place Market has had street traffic in the middle of it much too long. Main problem in a permanently crowded area like Pike Place Market, there will be people walking around a very close quarters with the trains.

      And as far as van travel goes, easy solution. No curb parking at all along the streetcar route. Will give us a whole extra lane on each side of the street. If First becomes, in effect, as streetcar mall, that’s good too.

      Left hand streetcar doors and right hand bus doors? If you’re going to use both to same center platform, I think easiest way is still contra-flowing all vehicles the whole length of the line. Important to separate streetcar from car lanes by at least a curb. Some sharp shrubs to keep pedestrians off the tracks.

      A lot of lights and bells. And very low speed a least first year or two. At least. Which I think will hold for either right or left-hand running ’till people get used to the situation. To me, this will be our most crowded length of streetcar of the whole network.

      From my own experience, streetcars are the easiest vehicles to get used to at close quarters. Though in other countries, people start getting used to streetcars by sound, vibrations, and the way their mother changes pace and direction of walking before they’re born

      This could be our hardest problem- so best to send designers and operating people overseas to talk with streetcar operations people over there. And bring their operating people here, too.


    2. Center platforms = always good.
      Side platforms = always bad.

      Center platforms allow people to turn around to an opposite-direction train, or if they miss their stop, or if they change their mind en route (e.g., if they decide they don’t have enough time to complete their errand so they switch to another destination instead). When East Link starts people will have to transfer to an opposite-direction train to go from the Eastside to the Airport. It’s an issue of usability. The reason the network exists is to address the people’s mobility needs, so anything that hinders that function is bad. It’s the same reason airplane manufacturers redesigned their cockpits and doctors created checklists, so that the correct action is the easiest and most intuitive one. It’s the same reason that trains should be frequent, ORCA readers should have a distinct off-beep, there should be a turnstyle or fake doorway to minimize inadvertent fare evasion, and transit should be free. All these things improve the passenger experience and have no equally-strong downside, so why not do them? (Of course, some of them would cost more so they may not be feasible at this time, but the fundamental issue is the basic need of mobility.)

      1. Mike, this is precisely correct. The goal in design should always be “Can someone understand and use this (whatever) intuitively, and does the design lend itself to assisting people to do so?” I’ve written about the turnstile/”barrier” issue before; interline transfers are several orders of magnitude more important and MUST be designed correctly. The question the agency and the design team has to answer is not “is this transfer possible” but “is this transfer as EASY as possible.”

        I would hope that in schematic (early) design one of the first things they do is a simple role playing exercise around a table where questions are asked such as “I’m in Mercer Island and I need to get to the airport – what path must I take at the transfer station to change trains?” (substitute any destination pair on different lines – Mountlake Terrace to Seattle Center, etc.). Following that and once designs begin to be developed, members of the public can be asked how they would understand making these transfers. Even more critical is understanding that many people will make that transfer twice a day, five days a week for decades, and it needs to not be physically or mentally daunting. Cross-platform transfers are always best where possible, or direct center platform to center platform vertical transfer where lines are crossing.

        Where best design practice cannot be followed in certain areas for cost reasons – and this happens on nearly any project of any size, public or private – it is incumbent on ST to state this and the reasons why. It is far more critical to provide an easy experience for the user than a dramatic entrance or a station building rather than simple access points, nice though those things may be.

      2. “The question the agency and the design team has to answer is not “is this transfer possible” but “is this transfer as EASY as possible.” ”

        Especially if you’re trying to change the culture of “Transfers are burdens” to “Connections give me the opportunity to access more places.” Unhelpful word watch: to transfer (Human Transt)

  7. Nobody is more sick of this subject than I am. But something putrid doesn’t get easier to ignore with age. Charging fully-paid-up ORCA card-holders with Fare Evasion for transit’s most minor mistake imaginable is a lot worse matter than ST calling a passenger a thief while your pocket is full of his money. And fighting like a rabid mink for the right to keep doing it.

    It’s Hell’s own breach of faith with regional transit’s strongest implicit campaign promise. Sound Transit’s chief purpose was to keep a perennial seven-part kindergarten quarrel in-house and out of its passengers faces. Not to use criminal law to enforce thinking a full 180 degrees wrong from the start.

    Members of a Regional transit organization don’t threaten their passengers with the law to get every possible penny from the passengers they separately carry. They pay their accounting department to share the money they individually collect between their partner agencies so as to assure all seven combined an equally high quality level of service!

    So Martin and Frank, tell me what I can do, personally and alone if need be, to get this piece of graffiti off my train window without giving the Sound Transit Board what it deserves. Because sadly don’t have a credible threat to assure that even though I favor ST-3, STB will never endorse me.

    Mark Dublin

  8. What is the post-tunnel plan for buses that currently use the Alaska Way Viaduct to access downtown? For example, routs 56, 57 and the C line all enter and exit downtown via the viaduct. Will they be forced through pioneer square?

    1. Alternatively, can or should the new tunnel be used for some existing or new bus routes? It seems like a great way to get riders to SLU faster to or from the south.

    2. I’m reasonably sure the plan for all three is to use a version of the current Reroute route for when the Viaduct is closed, which goes down 3rd to 4th and then down to 1st to the WS Bridge onramp (and uses 4th to 3rd when heading to downtown):

      (The 56 and 57’s reroute map deviates slightly from the C’s, but I suspect that’s because they weren’t drawn at the same time or in the same style.)

    3. Initially I don’t think any routes will use the tunnel. Longer-term, Metro’s LRP has an Express route on Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU that would use it.


      It looks like the plan is to reroute at least the West Seattle lines off of SR-99 and onto Alaskan Way, then turn them up the new dedicated two-way transit lanes on Columbia up to Third. The dedicated lanes only run two blocks from First to Third, however. The other two blocks remain open, which seems stupid. Why not have dedicated lanes all the way up the hill from Alaskan Way? That’s a mystery.

      More here:

  9. What do you see as the operational benefits/tradeoffs of 5th Ave vs 4th Ave for the green line tunnel?

  10. 1. As proponents of the CCC, how would you pay for the budget shortfalls, knowing the “success” of the head tax?

    2. How come there is no Circulator bus here like in Washington, DC (see to take up the slack in areas that connect transit lines (could this be a substitute for the CCC)

  11. It’s early, but looking ahead to next year’s district Seattle City Council elections:

    1) How would you grade the City Council’s performance around transit and land use? Do you feel like there have been any big legislative opportunities left on the table since the last election in 2015?

    2) What would be transit and land issues that you’d recommend voters press the candidates on next year when campaigns get going?

  12. Piggybacking on David’s comment. Do you know what the plan is for buses that approach Seattle from the north on Hwy 99, such as the Rapid Ride E? How will they get off the freeway and onto surface streets? Is there any hope that it can be less congested than the current option (onramp to Denny Way, biggest delay in my commute, every day)? Thank you.

  13. Why does ST refuse to provide real time train information at their stations? Most transit agencies do. Even at UW and Capitol Hill, they simply list the scheduled time, not actual time. For the rest of the system we get “next train two minutes”. They know where every train is in the system. At least provide us with a simple app that shows where trains are. If I am waiting at SODO, I could look and see the train is pulling away from Mount Baker and I would know it would be there in a few minutes. Instead we have no info. Can’t you do better ST?

  14. Can we talk about the 4th Ave Union Station alignment? A huge underground station underneath ID/Union/King Stations would be incredible.

    Why is it that Sound Transit is so not willing to “go big”? It’s a permanent thing our generation and future generations will have to live with, whether it is ideal or not. Why not just build it right?

  15. Why can’t King County Metro provide better mapping?

    Why can’t they put numbers on the maps that correlate to time points?

    Why can’t they prepare a system map that shows each route, rather than putting multiple routes on top of each other (downtown being the exception)?

    Why can’t they provide an option to view maps over aerials?

    Why do they put snow routes on the maps year round, or even at all? This creates unnecessary clutter and confusion. There are much better ways to communicate snow routes.

    They’ve used the same map template for decades. They are great at providing info that’s rarely needed (like snow routes) but not so great at providing info that’s needed everyday (like time points).

    I don’t get it.

  16. Seems clear to me the Durkan administration will not support the CCC streetcar project, no matter how many holes are found in their logic and how much the overruns are self-inflicted. SDOT is also running into issues with Madison BRT.

    How do you think the administration will salvage both of these “troubled” projects (depending on your perspective)? Will some radical solution be proposed? Or will the CCC be scuttled and whatever funds may remain be shifted to shore up other projects, leaving the FHSC and SLUT to wither on the vine?

  17. If it’s not too late for a question, I learned recently that there used to be a Spirit of Washington Dinner Train. Is there any chance the remnants of that path could be used to complement the light rail we’re building out?

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