Route 40 improvements at 30% design

SDOT presented the Seattle Transit Advisory Board with a set of design concepts for the Route 40 corridor, slated to get priority bus treatments as part of the Move Seattle Levy. One of the most popular routes in the system, Route 40 also intersects with several other popular routes on its way from Downtown through SLU and Fremont to Ballard.

The 40 is frequent, but chronically tardy – more than 20% of Northbound trips are delayed at almost all hours of the day. As is the custom with these sorts of corridors, attention is focused on the choke points. Here are some highlights. Remember that this is 30% design, so the usual Hunger Games rules apply: not every concept presented below will make it to the final project, may the odds be yadda yadda yadda

Continue reading “Route 40 improvements at 30% design”

Upzone opportunities for RapidRide K

Zoning along Northup Way and 116th Ave NE in Bellevue

When the RapidRide K Line opens on the Eastside in 2025, it’s hardly expected to gain the same fanfare as East Link will two years before it. Nonetheless, better high-capacity bus service is no less deserving of a sensible complementary land use policy that maximizes available development opportunities.

The full alignment has yet to be finalized but wherever it ends up being, the K Line faces the same fundamental challenge as the B Line: lots of single-family zoning and very little infill for redevelopment. While it’s not reasonable to expect any major planning effort for gangbusters TOD, there are a few upzone opportunities worthy of attention: NE 85th in Kirkland and Northup/116th in Bellevue.

The City of Kirkland is currently pursuing a station area plan for the NE 85th Stride BRT station. In the likely event that the K Line ends up traversing 85th between downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake, it will serve the dual purpose of providing a frequent connection to Stride as well as support development in the station area. The initial development framework calls for incremental infill and mixed use zones just outside the I-405 right-of-way.

The 85th interchange is already receiving hot attention between WSDOT, Sound Transit, and Kirkland. It’s slated to be one of the most expensive ST3 projects so it makes sense that the City will want to squeeze as much as it can out of the investment. It remains to be seen how much success will be found in planning around a massive freeway although the early concepts look promising enough.

Continue reading “Upzone opportunities for RapidRide K”

Mercer Island sues Sound Transit, this time over buses

ST Express 554 and King County Metro 204 buses at Mercer Island stop / photo by SounderBruce

As reported by the Mercer Island Reporter Thursday, the Mercer Island City Council is again preparing to sue Sound Transit.

In an open letter, the City Council contends:

It is essential for all Islanders to understand that the Bus/Rail Interchange, as currently proposed by Sound Transit, is in breach of the 2017 Settlement Agreement between Sound Transit and the City with the potential to adversely impact traffic patterns and public safety for all of our residents. We have notified Sound Transit numerous times that its current plan, which includes new curb cuts to accommodate bus layovers along North Mercer Way, fails to meet the terms of the Settlement Agreement which explicitly forbade these features. We have also voiced concerns over future operations that this plan enables, including the high volume of bicycles and pedestrians that will be expected to mix with cars and buses adjacent to the busy Park & Ride location once East Link light Rail is operational. Despite the City’s reasonable objections and requests for essential information, Sound Transit has repeatedly ignored our concerns and insisted on unilaterally implementing its design plans.

However, the purported ban on curb cuts [They seem to be referring to bus pull-outs, not ADA wheelchair cuts in sidewalks at intersections.] along North Mercer Way is not in the settlement.

Sound Transit is expected to seek final construction permits for work around the station in September. The Mercer Island City Council is likely to oppose the permits unless the new lawsuit is settled. Delaying the permits could hold up the opening of East Link. But in order to delay the permits, the City would have to prove that Sound Transit has broken the terms of the settlement.

Continue reading “Mercer Island sues Sound Transit, this time over buses”

News roundup: blowing it

Along the Waterfront
Peter Lewis/Flickr (2011)

This is an open thread.

Face mask dispensers

Face mask dispenser on TriMet MAX train

As observant reader Brian Bradford brought to our attention, TriMet is installing metal face mask dispensers on their buses, streetcars, and trains. Thanks, Brian!

Mask dispensers have also been installed in transit vehicles by:

Various agencies have also installed hand sanitizer dispensers.

Bring back Seattle express routes as Link feeders

Route 157, which serves a unique area, was removed entirely from the September service change after COVID-19 cuts

As reported previously, south King County is seeing a major change in service coming in September. While nearly all of the all-day service from earlier proposals remains intact in the final service change, the proposed peak-hour Seattle express routes have been scaled down drastically. Metro is currently suspending all south King County peak-only express routes except routes 102 and 193 (the latter is presumably preserved to get essential workers to First Hill hospitals). Since Metro is in deep financial trouble due to loss of sales tax revenues, bringing back these peak expresses would be a long and slow process.

Express routes which are mainly there to provide extra capacity during peak likely won’t make sense at all in a post-COVID world, where there will probably be a permanent decline in peak-hour demand. The other express routes either provide the only service to an area (such as route 157), or make faster an otherwise long and cumbersome trip (routes 158/159, 190/192, and others). While Metro’s final September service preserves route 162 in full (replacing suspended routes 158 and 159), it is not bringing back routes 157 and 190 (both of which were originally planned to receive routing adjustments, but keep the same levels of service). While route 190 passengers have a slower alternative by taking the A-Line to Link, route 157 covers some areas that do not have any other service, meaning that residents here are completely cut off from transit entirely unless they drive to a park-and-ride (which we want to discourage).

Continue reading “Bring back Seattle express routes as Link feeders”

Rider Experience Committee tracks service quality

On August 6th Sound Transit’s Rider Experience Committee met to discuss its evolving “scorecard” for ride quality. It’s a promising set of metrics, but it would be great if the committee’s writ expanded beyond current service to the future.

The scorecard has metrics in five categories: dependable, safe, available, clean, and informed. The individual items seem reasonable enough:

Continue reading “Rider Experience Committee tracks service quality”

South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180

King County Metro is preparing to roll out its South King County route restructure on September 19, as party of its semi-annual regular service change (not to be confused with the ad hoc changes that have been rolled out on short notice all spring and summer). Martin reported on the semi-final proposal back in March.

Meanwhile, Metro recently listed the 10 most ridership-resilient (the ratio of 2020 ridership to 2019 ridership) routes. Route 180 is king at an amazing 74% of ridership retained.

The next three are routes that may be picking up the slack from the Link Light Rail infrequency that also goes away on September 19. Route 7 has retained 66% of its ridership, followed by the A line with 62% and route 106 with 58%. Route 36 comes in seventh at 47%.

On September 18, route 180 will ride into the sunset as the reigning resilience champion, to be replaced by new routes 161, 160, and 184.

As route restructures go, this one is pretty radical. Thirteen routes (158, 159, 164, 166, 169, 180, 186, 192, 908, 910, 913, 916, and 952) will be removed. Five new routes will be rolled out.

Continue reading “South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180”

Council committee approves e-scooter pilot

Lime-S Scooters

On Wednesday, the Seattle Transportation & Utilities Committee approved two ordinances (starts at 1:54:14) related to e-scooter operations. The full council will vote on September 8th.

The bills are CB 119867 and 119868. Slides for both are here. They both passed, with Gonzalez, Morales, and Strauss voting yes and Pedersen no.

The former would allow motorized scooters in streets with speed limits of 25 mph or lower, bike lanes, and on sidewalks that are part of a bike route (e.g. on movable bridges). The latter actually authorizes scooter rental operations and sets up a fee schedule that the city projects will raise about $1m annually ($150/device), used to administer the program and build more bike and scooter parking. The permitting plan is here, but is an administrative document that didn’t need Council approval.

Continue reading “Council committee approves e-scooter pilot”

Amtrak completes PTC

After years of Congressional pressure and the occasional serious accident, Amtrak announced last week that it’s completed deployment of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all track sections and locomotives that it owns.

Cascades PTC work was complete in March 2019. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder don’t use any Amtrak-owned track, though they do use their locomotives.

Amtrak only owns about 623 miles of track, most notably parts of the Northeast Corridor but also bits of Michigan and Southern California. 86% of all Amtrak route miles are now subject to PTC.

In unrelated news, the Amtrak app and website will now tell you, at booking time, how full a train is relative to its (Covid-reduced) seating capacity (see image above). This is intended to help people make their own health decisions, though it would be a useful feature to keep beyond that. This feature is not operational on the Pacific Surfliner or Capitol Corridor, both in California.

News roundup: the best in US History

Angle Lake Extension Construction: Gantry
Angle Lake Construction, 2014 (Atomic Taco/Flickr)

This is an open thread.

RapidRide passes federal muster for Fall 2024 opening

A RapidRide bus at Bellevue Transit Center Image: Oran Viriyincy

SDOT’s proposed RapidRide G line will now open in 2024 after SDOT and the Federal Transit Administration have agreed that the agency has the chops to complete the project. FTA had raised concerns in February about staffing issues and other timeline aspects of the 2-mile BRT line, first conceived in 2011. Those concerns threatened the project’s federal funding as part of the Small Starts grant program.

A “project management oversight contractor” was brought in to help correct some of the outstanding issues in SDOT’s original application. The extended timeline includes more contingency and clarity about the org chart and the balance of responsibilities between SDOT and Metro.

The contractor has also provided a set of recommendations that are not blockers for the current small starts grant but are interesting to consider and examine. It’s like having a federally funded transit blogger:

Provide justification for the use of left-side platforms on this route, which requires a unique sub-fleet of buses, beyond simply stating that “The left side doors will be used to serve island platforms located in the center of the Madison Street BRT running.” References should be made to documents that describe other options that were considered, as well as the alternatives analysis evaluation process utilized.

Reconsider the statement in the draft FMP that an unspecified number of the five-door buses may have their two left-side doors removed if their use on MBRT is not required, since it would seem to be an unnecessary expense that would preclude those buses from ever being used on MBRT if the future need should arise.

A great question! The custom bus fleet has been a concern of ours as well. There are no easy answers here, since the current route veers between running in the median and running curbside. (First Hill advocates argued for the unique center-running section, which makes for great BRT, but is challenging if only partially implemented). But it ought to make SDOT and Metro stop and think if they really ought to make this route such a special snowflake without bringing the rest of RapidRide up to similar standards.

Explain why the non-revenue mileage appears to be high. The draft FMP states that the MBRT bus sub-fleet will operate 1,725 deadhead and other non-revenue miles per week, which is 26% of the total of 6,625 weekly miles.

That’s quite of non-revenue miles for a short, center-city route. Leave your explanations in the comments and maybe the FTA will refer to them down the road.

Update 8/20: SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson responds via email with a note about the left-side doors:

Center-running buses with boarding platforms on both sides was originally addressed in the development of the locally preferred alternative in 2015.  Left-sided boarding is necessary to build the bus-only lane in First Hill and over I-5 which does not conflict with right-turn movements. This decision was based primarily on operational analysis showing that center transit lanes would facilitate 40% faster and more reliable service by separating buses from lanes with right-turn movements.  Center transit lanes not only lead to more reliable service, they also help make more room for pedestrians in areas with narrow streets or sidewalks. 

No doubt the center-running lanes are better. It would have been great to have them for the whole route (and a few other RR routes as well).

Community Transit tries out new trip planner

An example result from the beta trip planner (Community Transit)

Community Transit has begun a public beta test of a new trip planning interface on its website using the OpenTripPlanner system. The trip planning website will be able to provide real-time departure information and service alerts for Community Transit routes and integrate with other regional agencies, including Everett Transit, Metro, and Sound Transit, in a manner similar to the current trip planner.

The beta trip planner uses a modern map interface similar to Google Maps, putting destinations first and collapsing time and mode options. The current trip planner puts all of these options at equal importance on the launch screen, which isn’t as intuitive for users. The current interface also requires an extra screen for most addresses to confirm which city they are in, while the beta interface uses a simple drop-down box for suggestions as the user types.

The beta trip planner is also able to mix modes, adding a personal bike or use of a park-and-ride for extra flexibility. This comes in handy for some trips that would otherwise have an extremely short or slow bus connection to reach a high-frequency hub, or is out of range for buses but is in easy driving distance to a park-and-ride lot. As a bonus, the bicycling and walking options also include an estimate of calories burned for those who need some extra encouragement to add an active segment to their commute.

Continue reading “Community Transit tries out new trip planner”

Will Bellevue’s I-405 project do anything for station access?

The policy status quo – Link in Blue, bike paths in green (City of Bellevue)

Bellevue is in the midst of its “South Downtown I-405 Access Study,” which is expected to wrap up at the end of the year. The East Main Link Station opening in 2023 is expected to spur development in the area below Main Street, which in turn will add to congestion in the area.

The City of Bellevue wants to minimize traffic congestion and help people get where they need to go, whether they are walking, biking, riding transit or driving.

Study Website

They’re down to seven alternatives, and there’s an online open house where you can comment on them. It’s safe to say they are centering the “minimize traffic congestion” bit, at least in intent.

The first two options merely add on and/or off-ramps to I-405 at various points. In a direct sense, these are entirely useless for bikes, pedestrians, and transit. Proponents might argue that they might keep some cars away from the station area.

Continue reading “Will Bellevue’s I-405 project do anything for station access?”

Spokane looks to use double-deckers for its next high-capacity corridor

An earlier preview of double-deckers in Spokane

The Spokane Transit Authority will be purchasing a set of double-decker buses for use on the Cheney Line, one of its High Performance Transit routes set to begin service next year. A $2.95 million FTA grant awarded this week will help fund the purchase of up to seven coaches, which would enter service in 2023, replacing normal coaches that will temporarily be used on the route.

The Cheney Line is one of several “High Performance Transit” (HPT) projects that were funded by the STA Moving Forward ballot measure, which was passed on its second try in 2016. While the program’s centerpiece is the City Center Line, a BRT corridor set to open in 2022, the other projects will also bring major improvements for Spokane County commuters. Each HPT corridor will have frequent service with buses every 15 minutes during peak periods, enhanced bus stops, special branding, and other features that fit some characteristics of American-style BRT lite.

The Cheney Line in particular will share similarities with the long-haul Community Transit and Sound Transit Express commuter routes where double-deckers have been used over the past decade to great success. It will only have a handful of stops and operate primarily as an express service between Downtown Spokane and Cheney, home of Eastern Washington University. Two routes, 6 and 66, will combine to form 15-minute headways on a common trunk between the two hubs while also serving a new transit center at West Plains.

The project’s $13.47 million budget will be covered by a mix of STA Moving Forward funds as well as grants from the FTA and WSDOT.

News roundup: not all the way

No. 519 crossing Front Street
Dave Honan/Flickr (2012)

This is an open thread.

Link to run every 15 minutes starting September 19

Seattle, WA: Seattle Link light rail at Rainier Beach station
Link Light Rail at Rainier Beach Station (photo by nabobswims)

Sound Transit recently revealed that as of September 19, 2020, Link Light Rail will run every 15 minutes during the day on weekdays and weekends, and every 8 minutes at peak. Link will still drop down to 30 minute headways in the evenings. This will be the first time since early April that Link will be running frequent service, as well as the first time since early January that Link will be more frequent at peak than Connect 2020 frequencies. While not as frequent as “normal” service, the restoration of frequent service is a welcome development. In recent months, restoration of Link service has been well behind that of Sound Transit and King County metro bus service, with many major corridors getting frequent bus service while Link still lacks frequent service at all (even at peak). This has been particularly bad for Kirkland riders, as back in March, Metro restructured route 255 to end at UW, with the expectation of frequent Link service to pick up riders headed to downtown.

Continue reading “Link to run every 15 minutes starting September 19”