Metro unveils new service criteria

150 to Seattle off I-5

After an eventful 2020, Metro has been taking a look at how it prioritizes routes. As first reported by Stephen Fesler, On January 27th it briefed King County’s Mobility and Environment committee on its progress and revealed a bit about the staff’s thinking.

It appears Metro’s top two investment priorities will remain reducing crowding and improving reliability.

The current service guidelines describe how the third priority works: each corridor has a score based on the corridor’s ridership potential (“corridor productivity”, 50%), service to low income and minority neighborhoods (“social equity”, 25%), and connecting key nodes in the county (“geographic value”, 25%). The point total puts the corridor into one of four frequency levels. Metro invests in the list of routes that fall below these target levels, not in order of combined score, but instead first the highest geographic values, followed by the highest corridor productivities, and then the remainder that presumably had high social equity scores.

Finally, routes that carry lots of rides per hour and/or passenger-miles per mile get whatever new money remains.

This system is quite subtle, but broadly speaking routes with high residential and job density but lowish frequency are likely to dominate the list, but of those the ones in sparsely-served areas are likely to be boosted first.

What might change?

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Sound Transit wants your feedback on the Stride S3 line

Rendering of the future Stride station at 104th Ave NE in Bothell (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has kicked off a new online open house for its future BRT service along SR 522 and NE 145th street, known as the Stride S3 line. The service, which was funded by the 2016 Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, will run from Bothell to the Seattle-Shoreline border along SR 522 and NE 145th street. From here, riders will be able to transfer to Link Light Rail for fast and frequent service to UW and downtown Seattle, and this service will replace Sound Transit Express route 522 when it opens.

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News roundup: not nearly enough

Intercity Transit Route 13 at the WA ST Legislature Bus Stop

This is an open thread.

Bill would increase housing supply, needs your help

Washington State Capitol Legislative Building.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

[UPDATE: Sources say HB1157 will be ruled “necessary to implement the budget,” which gives it some more time to live. But it still needs your help!]

Two companion bills, HB 1157 and SB 5390, would create incentives for local government to allow more housing, but at least one of them must emerge from its committee Monday (Finance and Ways and Means, respectively) to succeed in this session.

Both versions of the bill have a bipartisan group of sponsors. In the Senate, it’s Liias (D-Edmonds), Gildon (R-Puyallup), Nguyen (D-West Seattle), and Saldana (D-Rainier Valley). In the House, there are 18 sponsors from urban, suburban, and exurban districts, including Fitzgibbon, Harris-Talley, Hackney, Walen, and Ryu from Seattle and its inner suburbs. Thank your district’s delegation for its sponsorship!

The bill would allow cities or counties to create “real estate excise tax density incentive zones” where they get a portion of the REET proceeds. To qualify, the zone must allow “Single-family detached dwellings at a net density of at least six dwelling units per acre [1], duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, accessory dwelling units, and courtyard apartments.” To qualify, cities and counties cannot allow the units to be short-term rentals for more than 30 days per year.

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Denny Way & 3rd Ave bus improvements…finally

Denny Way at 3rd Ave (Google Maps)

From the SDOT blog:

The 3rd Ave and Denny Way Signal Improvements Project will be modifying signals, updating existing trolley poles, and reconstruct the triangular block of 3rd Ave, Broad St, and Denny Way to improve transit operation and reliability in this part of downtown.

Thus the beginning of the end for one of the longer-running minor subplots here on STB. Thanks to Move Seattle levy funds, Belltown-Queen Anne buses will get their own signal and have a more direct, reliable path across Denny Way.

You can read our exhaustive coverage going back nearly nine years: 2012, 2013, (2013 again), 2014.

New OneBusAway for iOS

There’s nothing that quite matches this community’s interests like open software in the service of transit. In a recent blog post, OneBusAway for Apple iOS maintainer Aaron Brethorst says that a complete rewrite of the software is ready for beta testing.

For most of you, know that beta testing will expose you to some bugs but help make the final product better.

For those of you who spend your lives gluing bits of software together, know that this new version is built on the ‘OBAKit’ library, which makes it much easier to build other real-time transit applications. There are certainly lots of rural transit agencies that don’t have the resources to deploy things of this nature, and this makes it easier for developers to apply their skills to help those in need.

HB 1304: the solution to the next problem

HB1304, which would allow existing monorail taxing authority to be used for light rail, happened to show signs of life at just about the time that ST3 projects sank into serious financial trouble. Inevitably, these two subjects have merged in the discourse. That’s unfortunate, because the bill is best thought of as solving a long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall. Transit advocates should seize the opportunity to clear this legislative veto point and then argue about how to use it.

The vision in 1994 (Link)

The design of Sound Transit is driven by the “spine” between Tacoma and Everett. The basic narrative is that local leaders in Pierce and Snohomish Counties thought, and continue to think, that light rail is important to the economic development of their core cities and convinced the legislature to authorize an agency large enough to take their interests into account. And so supermajorities in Seattle offset skepticism in outlying areas to allow each subarea to fund its stated priorities.

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Weekend Snowpen thread: To heat or not to heat

Bellevue buses in the snow, Photo by Oran Viriyincy / flickr

As the snow continues to blanket the region, it is high time we finally discuss a rather heated issue.

Long-time transportation reporter Mike Lindblom at The Seattle Times offered this twish last winter:

Should the transit agencies follow the sage advice of Mr. Lindblom, or continue past practice? Choose your side.

And, no, you can’t take your mask(s) off while on board. For the safety of everyone around you (and yourself), please keep your mask(s) on. If you are sure you don’t have the virus because you don’t have symptoms, you’ve missed out on the science that many carriers are asymptomatic. Nor does getting vaccinated automatically or immediately confer upon you a 100% guarantee you can’t get COVID-19. If you just have a single standard cloth mask on, most buses have medical-style masks available to layer up with your cloth mask and help you increase your protection against spreading or breathing in the virus.

If you really need to travel, find your local transit agency’s snow info page at STB’s snow info link list.

This is a snowpen thread.

Northgate LRVs on schedule, but risks remain

Siemens and Kinkisharyo vehicles in Bellevue last weekend (image by author)

The Sound Transit System Expansion Committee received an update yesterday on the availability of new Siemens vehicles to support the beginning of service to Northgate this Fall. Significant risks remain, but progress has been made since a previous report in November. CEO Peter Rogoff expressed confidence that Northgate Link will open on the intended schedule.

A minimum of 30 cars must be available to open Northgate service with the full complement of four car trains at eight minute headways.

Sound Transit had baselined the Northgate project with 40 cars being available by end of 2020. That plan was knocked off track by a series of early supply chain holdups and later testing issues, and further complicated by COVID. Manufacturing is now on schedule and on budget. Commissioning, the lengthy series of steps between manufacturing and putting cars in service, remains behind schedule. When we last reported on this in November, Sound Transit was pursing a ‘recovery schedule’ to get the needed minimum of 30 cars ready by the opening of Northgate in September 2021.

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News roundup: not as progressive

Grays Harbor Transit - New Flyer D40LF

This is an open thread.

ST to add public restrooms

On February 4, the ST Rider Experience Committee took up the longstanding issue of public restrooms on Link.

Sound Transit

Way back in 1998, a Board resolution mandated public restrooms at Union Station, Northgate TC, Everett, Tacoma Dome, Bellevue TC, and of course Sounder trains themselves. Since then, ST has added them at Seatac, Tukwila Link, Federal Way TC, and the Auburn and Sumner Sounder Stations.

By 2024, your bladder will have a universe of options, unless it’s on East Link (see the map).

The staff proposes three criteria for a public restroom: 10,000 boardings per day, five routes converging, or more than 20 minutes from the nearest restroom on Link. This would add Issaquah and Seattle Center to the map at right.

Each of these will cost about $322,000 annually to operate, mainly because of the security and customer service presence. Access can be controlled by Next generation ORCA or a QR code printed on a ticket. Public (and longtime STB) commenter Joe Kunzler had perhaps the most creative idea: to lease to small restaurants, which would be a revenue-positive way of providing both restrooms and other amenities at stations.

The committee moved to pass on the proposed policy change to the Sound Transit Board.

Sound Transit to expand paid parking

MLT Park and Ride HDR

Over the last few years, Sound Transit has eased the region into the idea of paying for scarce parking spots at Transit Centers. Before the pandemic, it was possible to guarantee yourself a spot by paying a monthly fee, less if a carpool or a low-income driver. ST had issued 1,100 permits at 14 facilities, according to ST Deputy Director Alex Krieg’s briefing at this month’s Executive Committee (see 1:30:00). ST froze the program as utilization cratered over the past year.

The main purpose, of course, is to manage demand. Before permits, spaces were strictly rationed based on willingness to show up early. Permits allow the agency to apply other criteria, as well as discouraging parking by riders with other easy alternatives. If free, why not drive 5 blocks and take up a spot, instead of walking?

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ACTION ALERT: Traffic is over… if you TESTIFY for it

The first hearing for House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transportation was moved to Tuesday, February 9th, at 10 am. Register now for Seattle Subway’s pre-testimony seminar scheduled for Monday, February 8th, at 6 pm.

As we noted last week, this bill will give Seattle the tools we need to solve a lot of problems. The most exciting part: HB 1304 can help address Link expansion timelines and create a system that serves the entire city. We need your help to advance the bill out of the Local Government committee.

Regarding the ST3 budget gap, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff wrote earlier this week, “Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.” We agree with Sound Transit that time is of the essence. To fill the budget gap caused by COVID, we truly need partnership at every level of government—city, region, state, and federal—working together. 

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Two more Link closures next quarter; float still intact

East Main Station (Sound Transit)

Last fall Sound Transit thought East Link construction would require three weekend closures in the 2nd Quarter of 2021 and two later in 2021 for testing.

In last month’s East Link Extension update (pdf), which has nice photographs of progress at each station, next quarter will now see five closures, two of which are for removal of the temporary platform at Pioneer Square. The two later closures will still be necessary.

The briefing didn’t name specific weekends. It’s unfortunate that the center platform is going away: while a center platform at Chinatown/International District Station would have been ideal for transfers between Link lines, Pioneer Square would at least provide an option for the mobility-challenged and those with a lot of luggage.

Alas, a permanent platform requires emergency egress and ADA accommodations. Still, if I were ST I’d just leave the platforms there and just not open the doors on that side in the hope that someday there could be a shovel-ready stimulus project to finish it.

In much better (and bigger) news, the project float is still intact, so pre-revenue testing should begin in early 2022, and if the float holds, service could begin later that year, well ahead of the formal target of September 2023.

News roundup: a bit of progress

This is an open thread.

Realignment will simultaneously pursue expanded funding while focusing on challenges and opportunities to reduce costs


8th Avenue W concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

Completing critical transit investments that regional voters approved in 2016 will not only enhance our mobility, but increase our communities’ economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and social equity. Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.

As an agency and region, we find ourselves whiplashed by a unique recession that has decimated revenue sources such as sales taxes, but without slowing our red hot property and construction markets. Other capital programs in rapidly growing regions are also experiencing this double bind that is beyond anything we’ve seen before.

Projects already under construction, including light rail extensions to Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way and Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, are continuing unabated toward on-schedule openings. Of the eight major projects we currently have under construction, seven are either on or ahead of schedule and on or below budget. We are now just months away from opening Link to Northgate, and in the next four years, we will almost triple our light rail system from 22 to 62 miles.

Continue reading “Realignment will simultaneously pursue expanded funding while focusing on challenges and opportunities to reduce costs”