55 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Christmas Buses”

  1. The intersection at Beacon Avenue South and South Columbian Way (where the 36 and 50 cross paths) has been re-configured again. Last summer, SDOT installed new protected bike lanes on Columbian Way and made significant changes at Beacon & Columbian that have been causing long, long delays for east-west auto traffic and route 50. The new configuration has a new right turn signal for eastbound traffic planning to turn onto southbound Beacon and the east-west lane configurations have changed at the intersection. It’s too early to tell if the long delays will abate, but I noticed that a lot of east-west auto traffic is still diverting onto neighborhood streets to avoid the Beacon & Columbian intersection.

    1. The protected bike lane no longer disappears way before the intersection, leaving people on bikes to fend for themselves.

      1. I walked up to the intersection this morning to take a look at the changes during daylight hours. Left turns are now prohibited from Columbian to Beacon in both directions. Some of the bollards protecting the bike lanes have been removed, but there still is a short row protecting bikes at the intersection. Right turn signals, along with “No Turn on Red” signs, and bike-only signals (similar to the 2nd Avenue bike lanes) have been installed at the intersection, too.

        The biggest threat to bike riders will be drivers who decide to suddenly swerve off Columbian onto the side streets without looking for bike riders before they make the turn.

      2. @GuyOnBeaconHill
        “Left turns are now prohibited from Columbian to Beacon in both directions….”

        Thanks for the updates. My spouse and I pass thru that intersection every time we head to my mother-in-law’s house, so I appreciate the info you’ve provided. Since the second configuration of Columbian Way with the installation of the protected bike lanes we have noticed the various problems with the intersection at Beacon Ave including the vehicles avoiding it and using side streets. It seems like each time we drive down from our home in Edmonds to see family on Beacon Hill (using the Columbian Way route vs the S Albro route) we encounter some kind of change that has been made at or near the Columbian Way and Beacon Ave intersection. I guess SDOT has been dealing with several unintended consequences to traffic (and transit) flow as a result of the new (protected bike lane) configuration and has just been trying different measures to see what works. I’m not sure what the impacts are going to be with the ban on left turns from Columbian Way but it seems like this too will divert some traffic to side streets to get around the restriction. Frankly, I have always thought that this intersection needed left turn only arrows built into the light signal cycle for all approaches (to prevent the one or two cars that are inevitably stuck in the intersection waiting to make the left turns onto Beacon Ave from Columbian Way). I’ll get a firsthand look myself at the latest SDOT “fix” in a couple of days when we visit again over the holidays.

      3. Because the signal time on Columbian is still too short, it still backs up both cars and Route 50.

        The recent changes seem to allow an additional car or two to get through, but mainly appears to make bicycling safer.

        The ultimate solution is to remove the “boulevard” — which is actually just a badly landscaped median parking lot around there — in favor of a narrower Beacon Avenue with a frontage road or on-street parking nearby.

  2. I wonder how much of Seattle ridership struggles are tied to issues in downtown Seattle. Namely, Amazon moving employees to the east side, increases in Crime, and recent store closures. In some ways, there are fewer reasons to head into downtown on the weekends, outside of major sport events. Macy’s is closing in February, Barnes and Noble is closing in January, and dozens of other stores have closed in recent months. The Pacific Place Shopping center is undergoing significant renovation, but from what I’ve heard they are having issues attracting retailers. In other words, don’t expect it to have too many stores in 2020. Combine these factors, many Seattlites would rather stay home than venture into downtown on the weekends. Consider ride sharing options, and I am not surprised that weekend service is struggling. I expect ridership woes to continue into 2020, tied directly to the many challenges downtown is facing.

    1. How did this happen? If it weren’t for the crime and dereliction downtown, it would be more popular than ever as a place to shop, considering that per capita car ownership has been declining in recent years. Now where can people like me who don’t own a car go to shop? Northgate mall is going away. Bellevue? Seriously? I used to transfer from the light rail to the bus at 3rd & Yesler or 3rd & Pine at any time, day or night, and think nothing of it. But several experiences have made those transfers unsafe for me. And how about people who live downtown. It’s very ironic that someone who lives downtown would have to drive a car to a suburb in order to shop.

      1. Do many people still frequently go places in person to shop anymore? I feel like for me and most people I know, most purchases are made online and delivered.

      2. I still do & will continue to shop in person. Shopping online is boring & pointless.

        Could you imagine a large city without any physical retail? That would lead to dying tourism, hotel & restaurant industries as who would want to visit or stay in an empty city center. In the case of Seattle, the Space Needle & Pike Place Market wouldn’t be enough to draw large numbers of tourists on there own. You need an active core to attract visitors . 9 to 5 just won’t cut it.

      3. “Now where can people like me who don’t own a car go to shop?”

        The answer is local businesses. It doesn’t have to be one particular store to buy everything; one for this, one for that, one for something else is acceptable.

        When it is worth going downtown, it’s usually for experiences, not merchandise and, when it is merchandise, it has to be something fairly unique that you can’t just get from a neighborhood store.

        In my case, I do the bulk of my shopping on foot and, if I need something I can’t get on foot, I order it off Amazon. The one business that still has enough of a draw to get me to physically travel downtown to shop is REI. Even then, I usually try to tack the shopping onto the end of something else, rather than make a special trip just to shop.

      4. Storefront retail is a tough game. Landlords are asking over $50/square foot in downtown Seattle for prime retail. That’s over $6,000 a month for a 1,000 square foot space. Even trendy neighborhood spots are wanting $40-$45 if the construction is new or fairly new.

      5. Life without tourism? Sounds great to me. I have this crazy notion that a city should be about the people who live in and near it, not about financial whales coming from distant locales. Restaurants can serve the local populace quite handily as long as they’re good quality and competitively priced. If the hotel industry is that reliant on tourism, they need to revise their business model, not be pandered to.

        I am certain more people find physical shopping to be more boring and pointless than online shopping. I’d even go so far as to argue Seattle companies make billions off of that very concept.

      6. Shopping itself may be in decline (at least, non-luxury shopping but those guys weren’t taking the bus any way) as we approach the next business cycle’s correction or recession. The party can’t last forever. Many of the “working/middle class” retail stores have gone out of business or are closing stores. 90% of retail sales are still at stores. Many people shopping on credit which is not sustainable. Seattle’s retail scene is not immune to this. Might be worth looking in to just how much Saturday transit ridership is shopping trips.

      7. The US had an oversupply of stores even before the migration to online ordering so a cull was inevitable. The number of stores selling identical items per person is some astronomical number and out of proportion with other countries. I think car dealerships were in the same category.

        Remember the Auburn Supermall? It was supposed to be super but it immediately fell further than the Federal Way Commons.

      1. Oh yeah. The stop where I catch route 124 southbound at Boeing really is a serious stop now, with a walkway from the sidewalk, across the tracks and parting the shrubbery, to the stop; a flashing light to signal the bus in the dark, a brighter light so that one isn’t standing in the dark, a seat, and it is actually up on the curb. It is no longer a pull-out where the bus has to turn back into traffic nor just an unlighted pole standing in the street. Thanks to the national worst-stop contest!

  3. I completely understand how much effort it would’ve taken to keep the Route 41 and 550 buses in the DSTT for construction duration. And how little enthusiasm the responsible operating entities had for doing any such thing.

    But transit needs to give itself some performance credit for having to operate with the handicap of building and running a regional railroad with buses for however many years the work takes. When the trains finally arrive on-scene, so should a lot of passengers.

    But also have a problem with the capital “C” on crime. Prefer STB’s “$” for calling out long-ongoing Unwillingne$$ to A$$ure that the majority of our people of all ages and skin-color$ can afford both a life and a pla$e to live it.

    I’m curious, incidentally. Is Pioneer Square Station’s Third Avenue entrance fit to use again? And when is Western State Hospital is going to get its accreditation back? Con$idering the amount of money currently propelling Seattle’s economy right now, should be no $hortage of ca$h to keep pa$$enger$’ and driver$’ per$onal $afety.

    Mark Dublin

  4. Our neighbor to the south, California, is rolling out a state requirement to analyze VMT rather than level of service for traffic congestion. Lots of tools are being researched and created. It’s not only interesting at how it prioritizes a climate change metric, but how research and data should be informing decisions rather than mere activism.

    The intro page on this work is here:

    The analysis tools already in use for San Jose and Los Angeles are discussed here:

    I realize that California wouldn’t be doing this without a strong mandate to both require more rigorous environmental analysis as well as address climate change. Still, it’s such a sea change that it’s worthy to observe and possibly implement in our region in the near future.

  5. Olympia has already started decoratively-lighting some of its buses for the holidays. Some really beautiful effects, much appreciated given weather and time of year.


    1. Where would we be if it weren’t for the mass deployment of LED lighting? :) You can get 100W equivalent LED bulbs in Dollar Tree for $1.

    1. Ridership goes up or down as the quality of transit goes up and down. Cities with high transit frequency, reliability, and a good grid network (or at least a good island network that gets people to urban villages and between them efficiently) have high levels of ridership. Seattle has done a lot of restructuring and added Link and RapidRide and filled in frequency, so ridership has gone up. New York and DC have deferred maintenance on their subways to the point that they have unacceptable cancellations and delays, so people find alternatives. Los Angeles and most American cities have reduced their bus service, so ridership is declining.

      Land use is a major factor in transit ridership, and most American cities are underzoned, have too many residential-only areas, and have very wide arterials and car-centric signaling. However, it’s hard to change that in the short term, and we can see how transit changes affect ridership changes even if the land use remains constantly bad.

      The US has never really tried excellent transit amid mediocre land use, so we don’t know how much transit alone can do. But we’re nowhere near the ceiling, so better transit would increase ridership practically everywhere. We need to get to a minimum 15 minute service on all core routes in every city, including evenings and Sunday. That’s the only way to make transit reasonably competitive with driving. The situation the US has of 30-60 minute inner-city routes that often don’t run evenings or Sundays probably doesn’t occur in France except in very small towns like Fall City or Vashon Island. And we don’t even have that in those towns.

  6. I promised a longer comment in a future open thread after tuning in late to the last one. So here goes about Washington State Ferries (WSF). The same WSF has a wonderful spread starting at page 34 of the latest WSDOT Grey Notebook: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/publications/fulltext/graynotebook/gray-notebook-Sep19.pdf

    I am also deeply concerned at the age of the state ferry fleet, staring out at readers in stark relief back on page 16. We have got to start considering a Sound Transit size ballot measure just to keep WSF around and capable. With 50% of the fleet in fair condition, 18% in poor condition and a maintenance backlog of $206.5 million, WSF has to be protected from any 976 cuts. Period. Or we are going to do some serious, irreparable damage to our marine highways.

    Frankly I see a future where WSF is governed by a taxing district of the Puget Sound to fund the Marine Highway.. Now granted, I would prefer an elected board but I could live with a gubernatorial appointed board confirmed by the State Senate that hires/fires the Executive Director (currently the Assistant Secretary, and the current one I enthusiastically support). This board would ensure that the special taxes for the marine highway got invested in improving service and keeping the system in a state of good repair. It would also mollify Southwest Washington & Eastern Washington who have no perceptible benefit from Washington State Ferries and rightfully get concerned at any talk of a ‘ST3 for WSF’.

    But enough talk about governance. I really want to stress that the state ferry system desperately needs new ferries – at least one per biennium, preferably two. We need ferries that are hybrid-electric or electric for the environment. We need ferries that have lifeboats for 120% of passenger capacity so every ferry is super safe and SOLAS capable, period. We need to stop treating the state ferry system as an afterthought, but as part of an integrated Puget Sound mass transit and freight mobility system that for instance allows transfers to land-based transit via ORCA plus joins ORCA Lift. All of this requires investment and muscular face forward leadership; not disinvestment and appeasing the likes of Tim Eyman.

    Let’s also remember something: We had four – yes, 4! – ferries of the Steel Electric class withdrawn from service due to corrision. It was a major crisis that rattled WSF to its core in 2007-2009, and luckily didn’t impact a major route like Mukilteo-Clinton or Seattle-Bainbridge. It seems to me if we continue to not fund proper upkeep and repair of the WSF fleet, and not defend WSF as an agency to be enthusiastic about the next Steel Electric crisis could very well hit a ferry route a lot more significant than Keystone-Port Townsend. Please keep this in mind.

    So yes, I’m asking you guys to really take a hard look at the state of WSF in 2020. Thanks.

    1. But service is currently suspended between Seattle and Portland due to a mudslide at Titlow Beach.

      Also, more than 2 years have passed since the Dupont derailment. Any news or even a rumor about when the trains will return to the Bypass route.

      1. This is absurd. Suspended service during one of the busiest weekends off the year because we still aren’t on the bypass.

      2. The only thing I’ve heard on the Internet (where everything is true), is the Wisconsin Talgo trainsets are on the move (the rumor is – headed this way).

        I wonder if they’re waiting for them before they move back to the Bypass route? I would assume that would allow them to restart the schedule that was put into place for the Bypass route, with the 2 extra trains.

      3. Well, as the work on the Everett to Seattle segment has shown, all it takes is money and political will to solve the mudslide issues.

      4. Here’s an information page: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/rail/questions-answers-derailment

        In really surprised that it hasn’t resumed service yet. I knew they were waiting for PTC, but that was done earlier in the year. I’m not totally sure why they need new trains. Maybe it has something to do with PTC.

        The crazy thing about this is that this was all because one guy didn’t pay attention. There were signs, but I guess there weren’t enough signs, which is why it’s Sound Transit’s fault. His lawyer even argued that he was “set up for failure,” which just seems ridiculous. Obviously PTC is ideal, but surely the people operating the trains can generally be trusted to be more competent than that? (especially after an incident like this). And you’re kidding yourself if you think PTC eliminates risk.

      5. They need at least one trainset to replace the one lost in the derailment.

        Amtrak is always short equipment, anyway.
        The Series8 Talgo trainsets are compliant, hence why it would be nice if the Wisconsin trainset rumor were true. I’m with Talgo on this, in that even though the NTSB said casualties were due to non-compliant Series6 equipment, that if it were standard passenger cars they would not have remained as upright as they did.

        As to ‘laying blame’. As I remember from one of those “Why Planes Crash” shows – “It’s never just ONE thing that causes the crash, it’s a series of incremental failures along the way”

        And it wasn’t the engineer’s lawyer, it was an NTSB official who made the “He was set up to fail” comment.

        This was one of those instances that everyone had a part in.
        I’d rather see everything done deliberately with extra care bringing back the service (although I think having more trainsets sooner would speed things up).

        I have a feeling they are being overly cautious, and want the service to begin again without any nagging questions.

      6. Thanks for the correction. I do agree that the more sensible thing to to would be to bring back service with more care than wait for full PTC completion. Since it was the case that a number of failures came together to make this happen, it’s not going to all be fixed by PTC. Especially after an incident, everyone will be on high alert for trouble signs. I don’t think that it needs to sit for years and years before operating the line. After all, they did previously determine that it was safe for revenue service, and I don’t think that it’s all wrong because of one incident (just like any type of operating vehicle that is deemed safe has a possibility of failure).

      7. From what I’ve read, the Wisconsin sets will be worked on next year, and should be in the NW “later in the year”. I’m guessing they will be adding business class and dining cars so they match the other trainsets.

        I’m hoping they will be able to move to the bypass and increase service. Ideally, this would happen by the start of June, when summer traffic picks up.

    1. As long as it is a fantasy let’s not forget the floating rail tunnel between Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth that would tie into the southbound link line going from the junction to Burien.

    2. I think, even if every single person in Kitsap were to abandon their cars overnight, you still wouldn’t get the ridership to justify something like that without some massive redevelopment.

      1. Well said asdf2. The things Kitsap need to do to boost transit is:

        a) Get Sunday service
        b) Get a younger exec director
        c) Work on boosting ridership every which way possible

  7. A bus memory … Taking (I believe) an Egged bus from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi. Somewhere along the journey, a man’s keffiyeh got sucked out the window. The bus driver stopped in the middle of nowhere to let the man off to go run back and get it.

    1. The main reason that line is underutilized is the tunnel isn’t tall enough for double stack container freight. WSDOT & BNSF have been going round and round about how to split the cost. It seems more likely the State would chip in on the cost if they were given passenger track rights. I don’t know if the tunnel would support Sounder style coaches as is or not. Or if the old Talgo sets could be repurposed for this.

      Stevens is definitely a bottle neck so BNSF should be ready to deal. Passenger service to Spokane eliminates the drive of the passes which could induce many people to use rail if the times were more reasonable.

      1. The Stampede Pass tunnel had its floor dug out and lowered when the BNSF reconditioned the line in 1995. It may not be able to handle double stacks but it can handle a lot of other high stuff. Even prior to the 1995 rebuilding it had dome cars going through it regularly as they were part of the North Coast Limited trains. It has handled Superliners several times in the past. The Sounder type cars shouldn’t have any issue there.

    2. I agree that this is exciting!

      I’ve long wondered why a reliable way to get through the Cascades quickly hadn’t been on the radar screen.

      The station terminus in King County is an important consideration. Stop at Auburn? Build new track to connect to Link in Federal Way (Is the SR 16 right-of-way too narrow)? Run north to a new station at BAR or only to Downtown Seattle on the more crowded track section?

      The other missing link is a way to get within walking distance of the state Capitol in Olympia. I’m not sure if the two connections could be packaged as one project, but I would imagine that some Eastern Washington legislators would be supportive.

      1. Wouldn’t the simplest and most convenient option be for the trains to continue north from Auburn to Seattle on the BSNF tracks, doubling as added Sounder runs, or possibly Amtrak Cascades service?

      2. The Stampede Pass routing intersects the BNSF line between Seattle and Tacoma at Auburn. Trains routing from Seattle to Stampede Pass would run through the east platform of Auburn Station, in the current track configuration, and would bypass the congested Auburn BNSF rail yard. So, it could conceivably have stops any of Seattle, Tukwila, Kent, or Auburn, depending on the priorities of speed and passenger demand. I would assume that a cross-state Amtrak route would choose Seattle and one other suburban stop. Making the second stop in Auburn makes sense for the logistics that the train would need to slow down considerably to navigate the tight curve from SB to EB or WB to NB, and is on a straight section of track through Kent & Tukwila.
        Running west to Federal Way is probably infeasible. Both SR 18 (not 16) and Peasley Canyon Road are constrained within canyons that occasionally have landslides onto the road. Further, they go up slopes that are far too steep for most heavy rail to ascend. The best connections to Link would be a bus connection from Auburn to Federal Way, or riding the train to King Street Station in Seattle.
        Downtown Olympia is a massive undertaking at this point. Stampede Pass is “low hanging fruit” that we should take full advantage of.

      3. The Stampede Pass rail line has more curves and elevation gains and losses than the Stevens Pass line. It won’t be cheap or easy to upgrade the infrastructure to modern passenger service standards. Anything approaching high-speed service would be impossibly expensive. Most of the BNSF trains that currently use Stampede Pass are empty railcars: empty grain and coal cars heading back east or empty flatbeds heading back to the Port of Seattle or Tacoma.

      4. Guy on Beacon Hill,
        Understood. Can we please start quantifying the time cost of interference with freight across Stevens and compare to the savings that could be made up on Stampede?
        Also, Empire Builder runs once daily. If there is demand for two trains per day between Spokane and Seattle and/or, there is demand for rail service between Seattle and Ellensburg, Yakima, and TriCities, then, the Empire Builder could continue its daily run via Stevens Pass with a supplemental run via Stampede Pass. I sense that there is demand for both routes, especially given the population in both north & south Puget Sound, Yakima, Tri Cities, and Wenatchee, as well as the tourist demand for Leavenworth.
        Having redundancy is a good thing, as anybody who drives across the Cascades knows all too well. If one pass closes, there would be an alternative.
        I’m not suggesting that it is a good candidate for HSR. If any east-west route is a good candidate for HSR, it is probably the Empire Builder-Portland alignment, via the Columbia River. However, I don’t see HSR going east-west any time soon. It would need to be in the Amtrak Cascades corridor first, where there is stronger demand and need for HSR.

      5. It appears the project between BNSF and WSDOT is so mothballed that it’s not even listed on the WSDOT website anymore. Here is what the PDF from WSDOTs 2010-2030 Freight Rail Plan says:

        Stampede Pass
        The BNSF’s Auburn-Pasco line, which passes through the Stampede
        Tunnel, operates today at a low level of practical capacity. The line
        cannot be used to relieve the Everett-Spokane line, because the ceiling of
        the Stampede Tunnel is too low to accommodate double-stack intermodal
        container trains. Grades over Stampede Pass also make it difficult to haul
        heavily-loaded unit grain trains along this line.

        It goes back as far as when Gregoire was in office than they were going to re-crown the tunnel. For some reason I forget it can’t be lowered it has to be raised. Don’t know? But until BNSF has reason to use this as relief for Stevens Pass they aren’t going to keep it open in the winter. Which means to cost of plowing would have to be absorbed 100% by passenger operations; ain’t going to happen. The other issue is it takes you from Auburn to the Tri-Cities, not Spokane. I don’t know what ROW and upgrades it would take to serve Spokane but without that it’s not really practical for passenger rail.

    1. So, what are we looking at here? Some state legislator or project advocate who either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or does but has an interest (consulting, re-election support, etc) in promoting it? I didn’t know the background and find this disappointing.

      1. Indeed, the Empire Builder is 8 hr Spokane to Seattle but it makes stops in Ephrata, Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Everett and Edmonds along the way. Stampede Pass would substitute Auburn plus I believe Yakima and Walla Walla. It might eliminate the need for current bus connections to the Tri-Cities. The main issue I see is until BNSF has year round need for Stampede Pass passenger service doesn’t make sense.

        Besides serving a different set of Cities a Seattle – Spokane route not tied to the cross country schedule of the Empire Builder would allow it to Depart/Arrive at this destination pair at a time that is actually useful. A 2AM departure from Spokane pretty much means nobody is going to use it. The reverse route is just about as bad leaving Seattle at 4:40PM and arriving in Spokane at 12:40AM.

      2. Transit fans have suggested it for years to connect the rest of Washington’s largest cities to the rail network (all except Pullman). The state is finally exploring it, as it did with Cascades in the 1990s. The long-term goal is some sensible passenger service on Seattle-Ellensburg-Yakima-Pasco-Spokane, and on a shorter Ellensburg-Ritzville track not in this study. $350 million for track improvements, well that seems downright small compared to the billions we’re spending on Link and potentially HSR. The DSTT was $200 million — in 1980s dollars. I would like more than the once-daily slow service the study envisions, but first things first. The important thing is to get state interest in studying it. Studying costs much less than construction, and we can argue about construction costs later. If it takes ten or twenty years to approve construction, maybe the legislature will be different and public attitudes will be more pro-rail and pro-alternatives-to-cars-highways-airports.

    2. By comparison, the Empire Builder is scheduled for eight hours Seattle-Spokane, so Stampede Pass still comes out ahead of adding another daylight turnback-run there.

Comments are closed.