This is an open thread.

80 Replies to “News roundup: a bit of progress”

  1. A west Seattle gondola that runs all the way to Sodo seems to me to be a selfish solution, because the slowness, and lack of capacity is going to preclude any expansion south.

    If anything you have to build light rail to Delridge, and then a gondola up the hill to the junction.

    Otherwise,, it looks like they are preventing people who live south of there from ever gaining ready access to high capacity transit, which maybe also has the side-effect of keeping “those people” in their neighborhoods and not coming to the junction .

    West Seattle -= the new Mercer Island?

    Nah, couldn’t be that could it ?

    1. I don’t think it makes sense in either case. Gondolas are like ferries: They have to have a huge geographic advantage (be a big shortcut) and be relatively short and connect to a major destination on one (or both) ends. Its a lot to ask.

      In the case of a gondola to SoDo, it fails on all counts. SoDo is not a major destination, and neither are any of the West Seattle stops. It offers only a minor geographic advantage, and it is a bit too far. The alternative is extremely fast — there is literally a freeway connecting West Seattle to downtown. If there was no freeway or bridge, and the gondola went to I. D., I could see it.

      If you built light rail to Delridge, and then ran a gondola up the hill, it still wouldn’t work. Delridge and Genesee is not a destination. That is a lot like running the gondolas to SoDo. If they kept running the buses downtown, then hardly anyone would ride the gondola or the train. If they terminated the buses in West Seattle, then everyone who rides the bus would be worse off. For the vast majority of transit users, it means that right before their bus is about to get downtown, they are forced to go up a huge set of escalators, and wait for the train. That will be slower 9 times out of 10, and always inconvenient. Those close to the gondola stations at Avalon or the Junction are a little better, but not much better than taking the C or 21. The only people that come out significantly ahead are the folks close to the Delridge Station, and there just aren’t many people there. Even then, the new RapidRide might be more frequent than the train.

      The gondola idea and the light rail idea have the same basic flaw: They don’t add much value. Most of the time, for almost all of the trips, you are better with an existing bus.

      In contrast, consider Northgate Link. For Northgate riders heading downtown in the morning, the train adds very little. The bus is fast, it travels in its own lane, and it used to go right into the tunnel.

      But the train adds a lot. The rest of the day — *most* of the day — the bus isn’t that fast. Once the express lanes reverse, the trip is slow, involving the surface streets and clogged roads. But the train also adds a lot more trips. Riders from Northgate will suddenly get a much faster trip to Roosevelt, UW and Capitol Hill. These are all significant destinations, and in the case of UW, a huge one. None of the plans for West Seattle have that.

      1. They are two examples of monomodalism and faith-based planning; lovers of a mode look for a market. The Seattle streetcar dreams are similar.

    2. I think the support for the gondola is twofold – it’s faster and less disruptive. The first is likely not true – the EIS process will take just as long as rail, the Link now has several years head start – and the 2nd is likely true but isn’t a good enough reason to implement an inferior mode.

      A gondola likely only makes sense in a context in which there is no Link to WS (say, Ross wins out with his bus tunnel idea) and there is no car bridge with lanes available for buses (i.e. if SDOT removes the bridge at end of life and doesn’t do a major replacement).

      1. But the EIS process has nothing to with the speed in which we get projects. It is all about money. Since a gondola would be a lot cheaper, I think it is highly likely that it would be done a lot sooner.

        Your other point is correct. A gondola only makes sense if *both* bridges are removed, not just the one that is not working right now. Right now, the buses are faster (even going over the short bridge).

    3. I think the support for the gondola is twofold – it’s faster and less disruptive. The first is likely not true – the EIS process will take just as long as rail, the Link now has several years head start – and the 2nd is likely true but isn’t a good enough reason to implement an inferior mode.

      A gondola likely only makes sense in a context in which there is no Link to WS (say, Ross wins out with his bus tunnel idea) and there is no car bridge with lanes available for buses (i.e. if SDOT removes the bridge at end of life and doesn’t do a major replacement). As Ross says, with the freeway bridge, the gondola isn’t going to pull riders away from the buses, which indicates it is not an improvement.

      1. If I understand the gondola idea it will run from West Seattle to a link rail station, probably Sodo, which is no one’s destination, instead of running light rail to West Seattle, because it is cheaper. Plus now someone from West Seattle has added a seat and transfer to downtown Seattle, which even buses don’t require, when it is just across the Sound. It’s like I can see downtown Seattle, but can’t get there, at least by transit, despite my taxes. I am going to Sodo, which means the next idea I will have to read about is TOD in Sodo.

        The first question most West Seattle residents will likely ask is why not just run rail to West Seattle (certainly if rail for Ballard is still a go), like ST 3 promises, and “find” the money. After all, their property tax and vehicle tabs show how much they are paying for ST 3. Their second question will be where do I park to catch the gondola. Their first demand will be no loss of car capacity in any new bridge, just like Ballard and Magnolia, when they see a gondola to replace a promised rail line.

        Average citizens who don’t live and breath transit think gondolas are things you take when vacationing in Switzerland, or skiing, not serious transit. All a gondola will tell them, and everyone else, is don’t get rid of your car, these transit guys have gone off the rails (pun intended).

        Then there is HB 1304, which supposedly/hopefully will cover the cost-estimate errors in ST 3 for Seattle, and likely declines in future revenue, which of course will bring up the disappointing Move Seattle. Naturally the average citizen will ask why are we paying for ST 3 projects twice? ST and Seattle Subway will have fun answering that question.

        But I think most citizens will understand the desire (if not efficacy) of rail to West Seattle, since it is part of ST 3, in any proposal under HB 1304 (while seriously debating Ross’ idea that express buses are the better choice, certainly if Seattle is paying for it twice), but would look at the idea for a gondola as part of a tax increase and wonder WTF.

        Move Seattle had some questionable/progressive projects, but at least it did not include a gondola. I kind of follow transit, and when I see a proposal for a gondola as something other than a tourist attraction to a neighborhood of 71,000 with little density and no park and ride I think WTF. When I just see a proposal for a gondola I think WTF, except for the proposal to run a gondola from Pike Place Market next to the Ferris wheel to the convention center, which is an amusement ride.

        If the fact is ST cannot complete the ST 3 projects in the N. King Co. subarea (which it can’t), the choices are a Seattle only levy under HB 1304 that will be massive and on top of ST 3 taxes, or I guess alternatives that will probably still be expensive like express buses and a second transit tunnel. Either way, Seattle voters and taxpayers will be disappointed and angry, and ST and the city will have very little credibility after this and Move Seattle. Pay way more for buses instead of rail. Ouch, but at least an argument can be made express buses will actually be better in the end. The eastside with East Link will be a good example: East Link will likely have few riders, while express buses on the eastside with dedicated lanes will have a lot of riders.

        But if the Seattle voters suddenly see higher taxes in a HB 1304 Seattle specific levy — and no tax increases in other subareas after Seattle paid to run rail to Snohomish Co. and S. King Co. — that substitutes a gondola for rail I think the citizens will pull the plug on ST 3 and vote no on any HB 1304 levy. Maybe then a gondola will be the only option depending on cost.

        I certainly would not suggest a gondola for Seattle in ST 4.

        My point is if Seattle is going to have to ask the voters to pay for ST 3 twice under a HB 1304 levy I would avoid any Move Seattle kind of silly projects, and things like gondolas. Keep it simple and tight: a second transit tunnel, buses until rail is possible, and promise any future bridges will have no loss of car capacity because transit will earn its riders, not make drivers trips as inconvenient as transit.

        Don’t put a gondola in any levy under HB 1304 is my humble advice.

    4. There’s two parts to this recommendation:

      1. Ending Link at Delridge —at least temporarily. I have no issue with this. Avalon has some density but there are plenty of similar areas in Seattle and part of area around Avalon is still reasonably close and within walking distance to a Delridge station. Alaska Junction is on the western edge of density and it’s still less than a mile from the planned Delridge station . I’m sure lots of of the riders are coming from buses, which can be relocated to an end station transit center. It know it disappoints some others here because they like front door service to Seattle’s upscale querky neighborhood commercial districts, but that last three-quarter mile is expensive and messy to resolve. It’s a matter of station placement, consensus, land purchase and cost-effectiveness.

      2. Installing a gondola to Alaska Junction. It’s an interesting idea — but gondolas are not convenient to use and slower to ride if other alternatives are available. I also wonder what the staff and maintenance requirements would be. Other cable technologies could be more applicable that move a tad faster and can avoid some ADA issues by operating on a track. Even a streetcar or tram to distribute riders more widely across West Seattle could be more useful.

      With the funding pushing the schedule several years and the hassle of a double transfer until Link can run to Downtown for bus riders (2035 to much later) making a shuttle from SODO less effective, there is ample time to develop a consensus on what to do. It’s why yesterday that I suggested phasing the EIS — so the central segment can get underway and this area can be resolved later (maybe with a new funding source). I think there are many ways to “open the box” to define what’s affordable and useful for all of West Seattle — and alternate ideas won’t disappear from discussion for at least several more years.

  2. While the route to West Seattle has several geographical characteristics that are well-suited to a gondola, the drawbacks of introducing gondolas or trams outweigh the benefits. The geographic characteristics that favor a gondola include the water crossing, so the gondola saves on the construction costs of a bridge or tunnel, and the fairly steep hill which a gondola can easily climb.

    But… it is a completely different one-off technology that is incompatible with our high capacity transit. It fundamentally excludes the ability to extend the line without requiring transfers. So if the vision were to be that West Seattle eventually continues down to White Center and Burien, the gondola cannot do it. Not without building another line and more connections. Similarly it cannot continue to downtown Seattle. And if the existing Link spine hits capacity, we will still need a second line/tunnel in downtown Seattle. The existing Seattle tunnel has to serve both East Link and the south line if there weren’t a second downtown tunnel.

    The promoters seem to switch a bit between gondolas and trams. The photo shows a tram, which is a large cabin, potentially holding over a hundred people. Those systems just have two cars that move back and forth between endpoints, and generally it’s about a ten minute wait between cabins (if it’s an 8-minute run time) and you cannot have intermediate stops, just transfers. Gondolas tend to have much smaller cabins and run continuously. The terminals are quite expensive to build and operate and require quite a bit of maintenance as the cars are disconnected from the running cables to slow them down enough so that passengers can safely exit and enter. If you want intermediate stops, they are essentially double terminals, with twice the mechanical equipment that can break down, and they slow travel for anyone traveling through. Even with the slower passage, I’m not sure whether they are truly ADA compliant or if the system needs to shut down whenever a wheelchair user or other mobility-impaired passenger wants to enter or exit.

    The typical gondola cabin has a capacity of 4-8 passengers, and might have a cabin every 15 seconds. There is a sort of hybrid between the two types with substantially larger cabins that come less frequently – like the Peak to Peak tram/gondola at Whistler. It has all the mechanical complexity of a gondola system. Those cabins seem to come every minute or two, and the loading time becomes an issue.

    The capacity of most trams is based on standing capacity. Once you get beyond the 4-8 passenger size, it becomes unworkable to have everyone get seated. Gondolas are inherently not very stable and they will swing and sway. So it’s not a great solution for mobility impaired passengers, and to a great extent can preclude reading or working if you have to stand. It is also subject to slowdown or shutdown when there are high winds. This is especially true in areas where it is higher from ground and with long spans.

    Average speeds typically are not very high, particularly for models with detachable cabins, which are required for having an intermediate station or more than two cabins.

    A gondola is most suited to replace a short branch with known demand which would not continue further. I don’t think that fits West Seattle.

    1. The geographic characteristics that favor a gondola include the water crossing

      Yeah, but the disadvantage is that the alternative is faster. Imagine it is the year 2025, you are at The Junction, and want to get downtown. You check your One Bus Away App, and the C is due to arrive in a couple minutes. Do you take the gondola? Of course not. The C will go on the freeway and be downtown very quickly. Unless you just like the view, or just miss the bus, the gondola makes no sense. Keep in mind, this is for people who aren’t already on the bus.

      Then there is the load issue. What happens in the evening when all those train riders transfer to the gondola at SoDo? It backs up. Every 6 minutes, a bunch of people crowd into the station. Just managing the queue becomes a major ordeal.

      As I wrote up above, gondolas are like ferries. So consider the same situation with a ferry. You are in Bremerton, and need to get to Seattle. Someone offers you a direct ride to your destination. Is it better than the ferry? No. The ferry is just a much more direct route. It has a huge geographic advantage over the alternatives (which, by the way, we can’t say about any of the intracity ferries — either the ones being considered, or the West Seattle Ferry, which is a boondoggle).

      As you wrote, a gondola is most suited to replace a short branch with known demand which would not continue further. It has to offer a significant geographic advantage over the alternatives. It has to have strong end to end demand, without huge surges that come from acting as a transfer station to other modes (buses and trains). That really doesn’t describe West Seattle.

      The fact that the gondola idea has gotten so much consideration is not a sign of its strength, but a sign of the weakness of West Seattle Link.

  3. I feel like the Friday Harbor to Bellingham route might be seriously underestimating the number of tourists who will take that boat once its presence is known. I can easily see Bellingham chipping in money to get such a route up and running in the hopes of getting more boat related tourism moving in their harbor. Plus the time saving is simply enormous, nearly 2 hours, compared to every other route discussed. Though I do agree that ridership will drop like a rock once rough winter seas roll in. Honestly I expect five years after they build such a line the Friday Harbor residents will start to bitch about to many day trippers coming over on the boat.

    Tacoma-Seattle > I just don’t see it. Barely any time savings, plus once rough seas roll in that times savings is likely to all but disappear.

    Whidbey-Everett > Decent time savings, boat can be electric, congested existing ferry route. So maybe?

    Lake Washington routes. Maybe? Only the time savings on the Renton to UW route is truly big, 25 minutes. Would be the only way for Renton folk to truly bypass the Seattle Downtown core. I also suspect that route is under counting how many riders there may be in the future. Once such a route is up and running it would become more viable for UW staff and students to live in Renton thus driving up ridership in the long run. Dock placement isn’t as good as Kirkland. It’s close to their main mall, “The Landing” but not that close. Would require people to walk across a very busy intersection N. Southport Drive. So likely restricted to being just a commuter ferry. The possibility of the boats being electric is nice and would help control the fuel cost variable. Would also reduce maintenance costs somewhat.

    The Kirkland route seems to be the best out of the gate. The dock is right next to their downtown and residential is also close to. So potential of more than just daily commuters is there. Estimated ridership is decent. But time savings is fairly small just 15 minutes.

    Kenmore seems to be actively planning for a ferry route so less uncertainty there, possible cost chip in from the city. Highest estimated ridership out of the gate. Though unlike Kirkland their dock is not in the heart of their downtown. So it seems to be stuck as a commuter only type route. Time savings is the same 15 minutes.

    The additional hop to SLU doesn’t seem worth it. The boat has to slow down so much to get there most of the time savings is lost crawling through the cut. Even more so the light rail station isn’t horribly far from the UW dock so I would not be shocked if getting off the boat, walk to train, ride train, has a similar travel time.

    Out of all of these only the Friday Harbor to Bellingham route seems worth it to the state. The time savings is simply gigantic. All the other routes I think will need to follow the example of the Kitsap County Fast Ferry lines. In that the local county or cities will need to chip in some money to make it worth the states time. The Lake Washington routes also have the competing problem of simply adding more express busses to their existing networks that could deliver similar results for likely less money and certainly lower toll box fares.

    That all said ferries like trains have a certain “prestige” factor compared to busses. So some people who would never think the ride a bus will be willing to ride a boat. So if the objective is to get more butts out of cars they will do that.

    1. Friday Harbor – wouldn’t most of the visitors be coming from greater Seattle? Seems like Bellingham is out of the way, unless they are trying to capture the Canadian market? I’m confused on why the ferry doesn’t just go to Anacortes like the car ferries.

      To serve Seattle, there already is a private ferry that does Seattle downtown to Friday Harbor, so there’s clearly a market there. If there’s a role for public subsidy, perhaps it would be to expand the span of service of the current private ferry?

      1. Would it dock next to the Amtrak stop? I’d love to take Cascades up and walk on a ferry to Friday Harbor.

      2. Canadian tourists. Bellingham is very big on them. Their whole mall revolves around Canadians skipping across the border to buy goods at cheaper US prices.

        But Bellingham has for a long time been trying to attract more boat traffic to its harbor. Getting a ferry to Friday Harbor could help turn them into a hub for other San Juan island bound boats.

      3. @ Chris I

        Yes the Amtrack station is next to the cruise ship terminal, which they are proposing to use for this ferry as well. This is the terminal that the Alaska bound ferry docks at. Local bus also stops there, along with Greyhound.

      4. OK. Didn’t realize the Amtrak station was right there; having the rail station within walking distance seems very useful and a strong point in favor over Anacortes.

      5. I noticed that too. The catch is that the Amtrak runs just twice a day. If the ferry also runs twice a day, what’s the odds that the connections will be reasonably timed. Having the two pieces of the trip meet next door to each other does little good if you’re stuck waiting hours (or, worse, overnight) in between.

      6. How much would, say, three more Sounder round trips cost?

        ST3 includes a project for Sounder South increases. It’s been bogged down in negotiations with BNSF, with ST not saying publicly how many runs or what times it’s aiming for, because that would set a de facto price of how much ST is willing to pay per time slot and it would be harder to negotiate for a lower price. So it makes it hard to answer whether; e.g., three more runs would be coming anyway, at least in the pre-covid budget.


      The study included parking in downtown Tacoma and downtown Kirkland for people commuting to Seattle, which would be both a horrible use of prime urban waterfront and an illustration of how ferries do not scale well.

      And this point was made earlier, but the representative corridor for Whidbey-Everett shouldn’t be driving up to Deception Pass but a shuttle connecting to the existing ferry at Mulkiteo. It’s at least a straight shot here so the geography is favorable, but 1) most trips would be needing to head elsewhere in Everett, and 2) commuters from Whidbey would be outside the UGA so the PSRC shouldn’t be encouraging those commute patterns.

    3. A Bellingham – Friday Harbor – Victoria ferry would probably be wildly popular. I would love that although I am biased because I have family in all three places.

    4. The salt water routes run from $60-125 per trip. The Tacoma route is the least expensive but putting the millions into improved Sounder service is a much better value and a lot more environmentally friendly. The time savings aren’t real because the waterfront takes longer to get to/from than existing transit options. And these costs don’t even include the capital costs of buying the boats and building the docks.

      The Lk WA routes from Kirkland and Kenmore to UW come in at a pretty reasonable $12-16. Kirkland developed because of it’s waterfront access and as noted in previous posts rail is pretty much impossible and bus transit to Seattle has challenges. One thing that I didn’t see mentioned was a Kenmore-Kirkland-UW route. Capacity probably means some boats would have to be Kenmore-UW direct but there’s also got to be some Kenmore-Kirkland demand.

      I was surprised that Renton to anywhere scored poorly (high subsidy). Anyone know what the status of the private ferry/development plan?

  4. Question for office workers: would you go back to a transit commute and office work in any form (regardless of how many days/ week) if masks were required on transit and social distancing / masks in the office?

    Something I’ve pondered, as someone who would love to get out of the house and back to the office once I’m vaccinated. But the more I’ve thought about it, not having to wear a mask at home, saving money (no lunches out, bus passes), and not being able to meet people at the office makes it tough.

    1. There are two questions here: one is would you go back to the office once public health authorities report that enough people have been vaccinated to provide herd immunity. I think the answer to that is yes.

      But you seem to be asking if going back to the office is an option for you at some point prior to herd immunity. It’s a question that has only an extraordinarily personal answer, but I have no doubt that it would truly suck to get the vaccine, and then get sick and die because your vaccine was only 95% effective and your number came up in the unlucky 5%, and you were exposed because not enough other people had the vaccine.

      1. The scientists are saying that the 95% figure refers to any symptoms at all. In the trials with the five vaccine candidates, including the one that’s only 66% effective, nobody has died and only one person has been hospitalized. So the vaccines eliminate severe illnesses, even if they don’t completely block symptoms of a minor cold or flu. That would allow us to go back to non-distancing.

        A long-term post-covid result might be the US becoming more like Asia, where people voluntarily wear masks if they’re not 100% well or during flu season. And taking more time off if the’re even slightly unwell, and companies offering more sick leave. (The latter may be a pipe dream, but one hopes.) That would also dampen the spread of regular colds and flus.

      2. Truncating West Seattle link to just be 1 Delridge station means you’re effectively spending a couple billion dollars on a single, relatively low density station.

        Metro probably wouldn’t even re-route or truncate buses there because of the geography. For 120 riders, it doesn’t make much sense to force a transfer right before the bus gets on the freeway. It’s even worse for C or 21 riders. Genesee St is too steep for an articulated bus to climb, so a theoretical reroute and truncation would mean riding underneath the West Seattle bridge and looping through that horrible 5 way Chelan intersection.

        Ultimately you’d be left with ~2-3k walk up riders, making Issaquah link look like a cost effective light rail line.

      3. I agree with Jesse. It is hard to imagine a worse project. I mean that literally — I had trouble coming up with anything that bad. It took me a while, but I think I found something similar:

        Imagine they ran a line from downtown to Mercer Island, with no other stops.

        Or how about this: Add a bus lane on the Alaska Way Viaduct and ramps connecting it to the SoDo Busway. As a matter of fact — why wait? Just truncate all the buses there now.

        In all these cases, you add practically nothing for the rider. If Metro truncates, they are worse off. If Metro keeps running the buses to downtown, only a handful actually ride the train.

        At best you get extra frequency, but you can get that by simply shifting the money to service. The cost of light rail is enormous — it would pay for the increase in frequency for a very long time, if not forever.

    2. I might go back for brief meetings. But, as long as masks and social distancing are required in the office, I expect to do the vast majority of my work from home. I don’t want to wear a mask all day long if I can help it.

    3. What is this “back” of which you speak?

      My workplace hasn’t made any changes at all other than a few people are willing to wear masks. A few others wear masks when others are nearby.

      Since we had two cases already (work right next to each other) a few people are taking the mask mandate a bit more seriously, but most still don’t.

      I’m glad that there are some employers that are willing to let their employees work from home during this, but many aren’t.

      As far as the transit commute goes, in the early months of the pandemic there was a case in South Korea in which one Covid positive woman went into a Starbucks and infected some 200 other people, but the 5 employees (who were required to wear masks) did not get infected. This thing is highly transmissible, but the right masks, if used correctly, seem to be highly effective at stopping it – even in environments where the air has become extremely contaminated.

      I know there are medical workers that are getting sick and even dying, even though they wear masks, so it isn’t a cure-all. There is something more to it. However, experience overseas definitely seems to indicate that wearing masks helps a great deal.

      In short, I’m less concerned about being on a bus with everyone wearing a mask than I am in my workplace, with perhaps 30% mask use.

    4. The real question is “Would you go back to work if your employer demanded it?” You seem to think that you are the agent of your employment. Many people have thought that in the past and, to their discomfort, been succinctly disabused of the illusion.

  5. I get the feeling that transit writers like to avoid modal discussions. So far as I know, no one has written a modal comparison (other than the technical specs). Jarrett Walker occasionally dabbles, but it isn’t part of his book. He tries to make peace amongst the various factions in the modal wars, by making clear that each have their advantages and disadvantages. The problem is, there is a tendency for people to assume that one mode is just better. Making things even more complicated is the existing infrastructure. So even if one mode might offer an advantage in theory, the existing infrastructure may makes the alternative a lot cheaper. It makes more sense to buy a nice, solid, well built 2 bedroom house in a good neighborhood than a 3 bedroom dump next to the freeway.

    It is tough to recommend one mode over another, since the answer usually comes down to “it depends”. Yet there are certain patterns that emerge. Here is how I see it:

    1) Streetcar: Best when you can leverage existing infrastructure (an existing track). Also works well if you can’t afford to bury the line, but need the capacity. If you don’t need the capacity, and are just running on a street, you are better off with a bus. Works best when there is a strong, independent corridor.

    2) Ferry: Best when it has a big geographic advantage, to make up for its relatively slow overall speed (due to the slow docking time). Can handle very big loads, which is why it tends to make more financial sense if demand is large.

    3) Gondola: Best when it has a big geographic advantage, to make up for its slow speed. Can’t handle large loads, but has great headways.

    4) Grade Separated Rail (AKA Subway/Metro): Works best when there is strong all-day demand between a large combination of stops.

    5) Commuter Rail: Works well with peak hour demand from several stops to one location (downtown). Usually leverages existing rail (too expensive otherwise).

    6) Express Bus: Similar to commuter rail in terms of demand, but leverages freeway infrastructure instead of rail. Can serve the neighborhood before getting on the freeway.

    7) BRT: Similar to an express bus, but can also serve some of the same demand as grade separated rail, by incorporating a trunk and branch system (or “spine”).

    8) Ordinary buses: What typically carries most of the riders in most cities. Leverages existing infrastructure, although it can often be bogged down in traffic.

    Then you have to fit the various modes together. A large ferry, carrying lots of people, should not only serve a demand center, but also connect well to the subway or bus system. Vancouver does this really well, with the SeaBus. Express buses can serve downtown, but if there is a subway system with a good connecting station (and it has the aforementioned destinations found along it) then it makes sense to connect outside of downtown. Both Northgate and Lynnwood Link will do this. A BRT system can work alongside a subway — it operates much the same way. Likewise, ideally a commuter rail system works right alongside a subway — not just one station downtown, but several.

    References: (especially the “Update” section)

    1. I would add two more technologies:

      1. I think inclines, funiculars and other cable technologies on a track have generic possibilities too. Gondolas are not the only cable technology available. These other technologies can move faster than gondolas and seem to offer an easier and higher-capacity vehicle to address ADA concerns and carry bicyclists.

      2. Other partly or fully self-propelled rail modes. Electric technology seems to be able to offer self-powered motion at higher speeds, especially if FRA design requirements can be waived do that the trains can be lighter. Dual mode systems appear to be newly popular too (alternating between caternary and battery power on the length of a route).

      Expanding station catchment areas is not necessarily a technology but is a way to improve the usefulness of any mode that uses a station. Sometimes a good solution is to add overcrossings or moving sidewalks or pedestrian tunnels or diagonal conveyances like stairs, elevators and escalators rather than build expensive new lines or stations. The Northgate crossing to North Seattle College is probably a better investment than building a new rail line just to offer service to this area. Imagine an elevator tower with a bridge st the top to connect some of Queen Anne to a Smith Cove station, for example.

      Otherwise, this is a good basic list.

      1. I wouldn’t consider #2 a distinct mode. That would be like treating diesel buses as a different mode that trolley wire or battery operated buses. Yes, there are differences in operating constraints, but it’s still a rubber tired bus.
        Or take commuter rail – yes, it matters if it’s tradition diesel or a DMU, but either way it’s still commuter rail.

        I think the same logic applies to driver technology. For example, if Sounder was converted to driverless, there would presumably be some O&M savings, but the operating pattern wouldn’t change because the BNSF time slots are what they are, so it remains Commuter rail.

        So while Link would be a far more powerful technology if it was driverless and therefore could sustain higher frequencies off peak, I would still categorize it as the same mode.

      2. Maybe a distinction is needed for who owns and maintains the tracks. Sometimes it’s not the technology but control and profit when tracks are shared use between freight and people.

      3. Good point Al. I think the first is very similar to a gondola, even if the technology is very different. In both cases they make sense if you have challenging terrain, and a relatively short distance.

        This brings up an interesting point. Jarrett Walker commented the other day that cities tend to be mode focused when it comes to transit projects (e. g. where is the best place to put a streetcar?) versus problem focused (how can we get more people to ride transit?). I took the same flawed approach when writing that comment. It is just more fun to think of things that way. It is a lot like looking at a kids book of earth moving equipment — it is interesting to see all the different tools. But when approaching a project, you shouldn’t favor a machine just because it is cool, and really good at moving lots of dirt. A bulldozer is the wrong tool for planting a rose bush. Yet unfortunately we seem to be doing just that.

    2. Would you distinguish between a truly mixed traffic streetcar and a “tram-train.” A true streetcar only makes sense if it’s needed for capacity reasons, like in Toronto, while a tram-train might make sense if there existing rail ROW but short segments where slow at-grade operations are acceptable, like Long Beach’s downtown loop or Walker’s example of Karlsruhe.

      I would add two:

      9. Light rail! Could distinguish between a Stanbahn system like original Link or LA’s system post-downtown tunnel, and then more typical American systems with mixed operations downtown and at-grade elsewhere like SF, San Diego, or Portland.

      10. Arterial Rapid Transit (ART). I saw Yohan Freemark use this distinction. Something like RR-E, Swift, or Stride-522 would all be ART. True BRT would be Stride-405, or Melbourne’s system. Both ART and BRT can use trunk and branch systems to incorporate local or express bus modes, but ART leverages existing ROW to create high-quality bus lines, while BRT usually creates ROW to create a ‘subway on tires’. I would classify LA’s orange line as ART because the bus stops at major intersections, even though it generally has its own ROW; the orange line would become BRT after LA Metro grade separates most of the major crossings.

      1. The categories are very broad, especially within the modes that have the same basic technology (rail or rubber tire). There is bound to be a continuum between a subway system (like the Paris Metro) and a streetcar (like those found in Toronto).

        That is where I would put light rail. I agree, it should probably have its own entry, and be described in that manner (a hybrid of sorts).

        As I wrote up above, I’m not really focused on technology. In contrast, Wikipedia is. So they list mass transit systems as either “heavy rail rapid transit”, or “light rail”. I don’t like that separation at all. For example, Link is technically a light rail system, but for all practical purposes a subway. Some use the term “light metro”, but that’s still a metro. From a practical standpoint, nothing would change if we had used heavy rail instead of light. OK, maybe it would be faster on some sections, but that is really a minor difference, and more of an implementation detail. Commuter rail can be quite fast (as it is from Baltimore to D. C.), or it can be like our system. Either way I would call it commuter rail. (I supposed I could write a section about intercity rail, which again overlaps with commuter rail).

        Likewise, I wouldn’t call out Arterial Rapid Transit (ART), although I think the term is interesting. I’m sure you can find lots of examples, but it is simply part of that spectrum between express buses (with very few stops, typically focuses on getting people from a suburb to downtown), BRT (which has more stops, but little delays) and a regular bus (which has lots of stops, and lots of delays). In my opinion, the only thing close to a BRT system we are building is Madison BRT. All the others sit in between the triangle formed by BRT, express bus and regular bus. Swift is a little more express, and the 405 Stride is a lot more express. 522 is similar to the E — bits of express, along with bits of BRT and regular bus.

    3. I would add one thing. Express buses need lane priority so they can live up to their potential. Part of the push for rail is because buses get caught in traffic. The Seattle-Lynnwood bus corridor goes from 30 minutes to 90 minutes almost every day, and unexpected collisions a few times a month stretch that to two hours or more. The Northgate-Downtown corridor gets bogged down in traffic from 2pm to 7pm every day. Make buses as fast and reliable as rail and there will be less demand for rail.

      1. Yes, but that is true of every “mode”, as I’ve defined it. A subway needs to have good stops and run frequently. Regular buses need to run often, have short dwell times and appropriate stop spacing (international standard, not U. S.).

        Its not clear that express buses are hurt more by slow service than any other mode. If the bus is slow, then so is the alternative (driving). Riders of an express to downtown are usually headed downtown, and transit has certain intrinsic advantages (e. g. no parking). A bus like the 40 (which is not an express) is slower than driving (unlike those Snohomish County express buses) but quite popular into downtown. I agree with your overall point (express buses should be fast) but that is true of all modes.

        Make buses as fast and reliable as rail and there will be less demand for rail.

        The demand for rail is misplaced. It is like people who bring bear spray on a hike up to Mount Si. You aren’t gonna need it. You are better off focusing on the drive to the trailhead — that is the most dangerous part of the trip.

        What folks want is a fast way to get around using transit. For those in the city, this tends to involve trips to various places within the city. For those in the suburbs, it involves trips within that suburb and trips to the city (and those various places). There is also just a lot more demand in the city for transit. Thus the cost and expense of building — and even just operating — a subway makes sense in the city (with all of those urban stops). For the same reason, the suburbs should be connected to the end points of the subway system via express buses, along with plenty of regular buses serving the suburb itself (where the bulk of the ridership is). That is the best approach. As to whether it is implemented in an ideal fashion, that is another matter.

        There are always going to be particulars that complicate things. For example, you could make a good case for Northgate as the northern terminus. It is basically where urban demand ends. There will be very few people visiting any of the stations to the north of it from their home.

        But Northgate is an awkward location for buses from the suburbs. Not via I-5 (that could probably be solved by spending a relatively small amount of money on the freeway) but on either side. The SR 522 corridor (including Lake City) could muddle along with a 522 (or similar) bus, especially if they made various improvements. But Northgate is extremely difficult to access from the west (Bitter Lake). Thus it is quite reasonable to extend just a bit farther to 130th, and if you go that far, you might as well go to 145th.

        I think you could make a good case that the subway should have ended at 145th. You would have to spend a little on the freeway (to get HOV lanes both directions) but the station would connect well to buses from every direction. The extra money saved could be put into increasing bus service to the north. Without a doubt, that case would be easier to make if the HOV-2 lanes were changed to HOV-3, or buses had their own lanes (maybe using the shoulder).

        It is will always be a judgement call as to whether a subway line has gone “too far” into the suburbs, and they have simply chosen the wrong mode. I can see the argument for going as far north as Lynnwood. But going further is just a huge waste of money. I think Snohomish County will not have as good a transit system as a result.

    4. Someone I know that knows quite a bit about transit philosophy in Germany can’t figure out at all how we make our modal decisions.

      “Here, if you can’t make a rail line faster than driving, then it isn’t worth the capitol of building it.” This is true for streetcar (which is why they have a huge effort at making the lines not use the street any more), regional rail, etc.

      Also “Why in hell would you use two different trains for regional intercity and to move commuters? If someone were to propose what Sounder and Cascades is doing, especially with Sounder trains sitting around unused most of the day, they’d be thrown in jail for wasting public money.”

      1. Of course, most railroads in Germany are government-owned and passenger-priority. We couldn’t bother with either one. The BNSF slot fees are hugely expensive, and value is defined as not spending too much money on slot fees or running trains when they’re less than a certain percent full, rather than on not keeping the trains idle.

        On the flip side, the US has a stronger freight rail network than Europe. We ship more goods by rail, which uses less energy than trucks. So you may not be able to ride the train but your iPhone and bananas can.

      2. Unfortunately, many transit decisions in our region have been getting worse. ST2 was funding the best corridors and relegating the others to a “study”. Then ST3 came along on the heels of these studies and it turned into a populist package of projects so that funding would pass. A station here. A garage there. When ST couldn’t manage the project, the package promised lump sum amounts like a rich uncle with Christmas gifts to other projects without looking at their merits or appropriate funding needs.

        I roll my eyes about how we are sacrificing our precious freeway property for 55 mph Link trains yet all of these corporate leaders are talking about higher speed rail. I roll my eyes as to why the end stations for both TDLE and Everett Link have very little within 1:4 mile walking distance but it’s called a “spine” as if there is something weighty there. I roll my eyes at how the Sounder easements are so worshipped and we spend hundreds of millions in new garages to serve a limited number of train slots. It is indeed crazy making.

      3. Yeah, the commuter rail situation makes sense, once you realize we don’t own the tracks.

        As far as streetcars go, they only make sense in very dense cities. Germany already has lots of trams, so it wouldn’t really make sense for them to add them, especially since Berlin (the biggest city) isn’t that dense. In contrast, it makes sense for Paris – a city with millions living in high density neighborhoods, and not a lot of existing trams — to add them. But yeah, I can see why Germans think the U. S. infatuation with streetcars stuck in traffic seems stupid — it is.

    5. One thing I see far too often is people judging the quality of transit in a city or neighborhood by counting the number of “modes”, while ignoring basics like frequency, speed, or span of service.

      Take the First Hill Streetcar, for example. For a fraction of the price of building the tracks, Metro or Sound Transit Could have simply run a bus along the identical route (or, better yet, a route that went straight, without the zigzag to 14th). But, no, a bus doesn’t count because the area already has buses. But a streetcar is a big deal because it’s a different “mode”. Hence the justification of spending $150 million on a streetcar that sits in traffic on surface streets, without even bothering to run a bus along the corridor during all those years the streetcar was being planned and under construction.

      In past threads, it was discussed what could be done to increase peak frequency on the First Hill Streetcar, without the huge capital expense of buying more trains. I suggested, just run a bus with the words “First Hill Streetcar” on the headsign and alternate it with the actual streetcar. But, no – a bus that runs the same route and sits in the same traffic as the streetcar doesn’t “count” because the mode is “bus”, and it’s supposed to be “streetcar”.

      Similarly with the CCC. The only way the cost of it can possibly be justified is if you have some warped metric where the quality of transit between SLU and downtown is judged, not by the number of trips per hour or day, but by the number of modes. You can raise the frequency of the 40 and C-line all you want, but it doesn’t count because it doesn’t add a new mode. Only the CCC (and ST3 Link extensions) add modes.

      We, as a society, need to stop obsessing with modes and start thinking about what gets people from point A to point B most efficiently. Just as car drivers don’t care whether the bridge across Lake Washington is a floating bridge or suspension bridge, transit riders don’t care whether their ride runs on tires or steel wheels so much as that it runs often, is reliable, takes a direct route, runs fast, and runs throughout the day.

      1. We, as a society, need to stop obsessing with modes and start thinking about what gets people from point A to point B most efficiently. Just as car drivers don’t care whether the bridge across Lake Washington is a floating bridge or suspension bridge, transit riders don’t care whether their ride runs on tires or steel wheels so much as that it runs often, is reliable, takes a direct route, runs fast, and runs throughout the day.

        Exactly. I agree completely.

        But I also think understanding the advantages and disadvantages of a mode is important. There really are places where a streetcar makes sense — just not in Seattle. There really are places where gondolas make sense, and a subway makes sense. Understanding what each mode offers — the tradeoffs — make it much easier to see when one mode makes more sense than another. This reduces the chance that people will argue for a mode simply because some other place has them.

        Instead of a streetcar, I think First Hill should have got Madison BRT, and a similar (fast and frequent) line from South Lake Union to Beacon Hill (via Boren). Then send the 49 down Broadway to Mount Baker. That would transform transit for First Hill, with frequent service everywhere, much of it very fast.

  6. I’m curious if anyone will be increasing their public transit use because of a any recent news, like Phase 2, or falling new covid infections, or the partial reopening of restaurants, or some other news?

    1. I would like to. With capacity restrictions, I have been hesitant to ride major bus routes as I’m still seeing lots on buses that are “full”. It’s frustrating to wait for a bus only to have it then pass you by because it’s “full”.

    2. My ridership goes up and down with the positive case rate. King County has a dashboard with countywide and city-level trends. I focus on Seattle because that’s where I live and travel. Seattle is now 3/4 of the way down to its last trough in mid September. Pre-covid I had a $99 monthly pass and made some 80 trips per month. Now I put $40 e-purse per month and travel a couple times a week. When covid is low I travel 2-3 times a week to groceries, parks, and relatives; all outdoors except when in a stores. When covid is high I go down to 0-1 times a week and stick to groceries/parks within walking distance. (The one trip is a Costco run every two weeks.) Pike Place Market is good because the produce stalls are open-air. Of course I’d have to take the bus more if I didn’t live in central Seattle where a lot of stores and parks are in walking distance.

      I also avoid the most crowded bus times, like Costco after 2pm when the 131/132/124 get crowded. The emptier buses north and east of Madison Street have their advantages, although the corollary is their frequency has been cut more.

      1. FWIW I would probably start making routine use of transit for shortish trips (~15 minutes or less for a leg) when the King County 7-day rolling average gets down to 100 or so, or when buses both ways are very likely to be well below “COVID capacity” and the rolling average is a bit higher (maybe below ~150). Once 2 weeks past a second vaccination, I would probably raise the thresholds somewhat.

      2. I debated last week whether it’s time to start getting a pass again, because $20 covers only four Metro round trips, three ST Express trips, or four short Link trips. But I’ve been holding back mainly to see whether the virus mutations lead to another increase over the next month.

        I’ll increase my trips at some point but I haven’t decided exactly when; I don’t see the gradual reopenings per se having a role. I still see no reason to dine indoors. When I was going to the office and had an hour commute, it was nice to have a sit-down dinner on the way home, but when I’m not going in I don’t need it. I used to despise takeout and disposable containers, but now it’s nice to pick up a price fixe meal occasionally.

        Also, now that Link has gone up to a tolerable 15 minutes, I’m using it for most of my trips. It’s cheaper than Metro for trips up to Westlake-Rainier Beach, and it’s better social distancing. When it was 30 minutes I avoided it and almost never rode it.

    3. I haven’t been on a bus or Link since March. I don’t be again until after I’m vaccinated.

      1. Likewise. Even then I may wait until the numbers get down. The same thing can be said for going inside a public place (e. g. a store) in general.

      2. Gotta be really nice to be able to afford (financially and medically) to not take transit anywhere.

      3. I haven’t been to the doctor in a long time. So yeah, I’ve been lucky.

        I’ve been to the dentist, but his office is very close to my house (I just walk). I get all my food delivered. No reason to ride a bus, I just walk everywhere (I no longer see the people and places I used to visit).

        ♫ Don’t Get Around Much Anymore ♫

  7. Yikes, I made the mistake of reading the comments for the Seattle Times Vision Zero article. It’s just an echo chamber of people victim blaming the people hit and killed by drivers.

    Hell, one of the top comments is someone suggesting, with no evidence of course, that most or all of the people killed are homeless drug addicts getting run over on I-5 and then challenging other people to prove them wrong.

    I understand that’s one echo chamber of anonymous individuals, but that thinking is not uncommon around our city, state and country. People in cars are so isolated from the outside world, they no longer seem to view those outside the confines of their vehicles as fellow human beings, but rather obstacles that get between them and getting to their destination as quickly as possible.

    For Vision Zero to have success, our country’s drivers need a severe attitude check. Enforcement would work wonders, but I think forced obsolescence of human drivers, 20-30 years in the future, is the only hope for pedestrians and cyclists.

    1. The last two people I’ve nearly hit/seen nearly get hit were almost certainly homeless drug addicts: guy who shambled off the curb into the path of a bus on 3rd and came within a couple feet of getting run over (driver deserves a medal for quick reflexes) and guy I nearly hit on the NB5 to 90 ramp shuffling across carrying a bike frame on a dark rainy night.

      1. And all the deaths, injuries and near misses that happen during broad daylight, at marked and unmarked intersections? I nearly get hit everyday and witness just as many near misses to others, either by drivers not paying attention or drivers that don’t care to yield the right-of-way.

        I guess we’re just homeless drug addicts?

    2. I rarely see the Vision Zero effort talk about correcting bad design. It’s mainly about slowing down cars.

      How can Rainier Ave have a worse problem than MLK Way even though traffic on the latter tends to move faster?

      I don’t see discussion of these basic human factors:

      1. Mature street trees blocking sight distance of drivers and pedestrians. Trees have a life span and replacing them is inevitable anyway. A master landscaping plan should be part if any Vusion Zero project.

      2. Lighting placed up in the street trees that don’t shine onto the street. Pedestrian lighting would go a long way.

      3. LED streetlight quality combined with LED headlights. If you can’t focus on a light because it’s too bright and the brightness reduces visual perception, safety is compromised. That applies to all people regardless if they are a pedestrian, a bicyclist or a driver.

      4. Lack of barriers to discourage wandering pedestrians. MLK has Link and the sidewalks are generally further away from traffic. Rainier has almost no pedestrian channelization — a great design solution in areas where street trees restrict visibility and can’t be removed .

      The only way that Rainier got lower accidents was that drivers moved to other streets. The rate per vehicle was worse after the road diets in Columbia City — and SDOT won’t discuss this aspect in their own data.

      1. Another easy one is extending the no parking zones around intersections.

        Expand the field of vision for drivers and sidewalk users alike. Hard to see cars from behind a truck or suv.

    3. Seattle Times comments are a cesspool and I wish they’d just turn them off. It makes me feel better knowing they’re almost all definitely angry boomers in places like Sequim, Ellensburg, or Yelm who for some reason are weirdly obsessed with Seattle city politics even when it has zero impact on their lives.

  8. That Northgate platform looks very plain steel/concrete/gray. I hope it gets something more interesting to look at.

    1. Please include a “($)” in links to sites with a limited number of free articles.

      The article has elite bias, US-centrism, premature judgment, and sensationalist hyperbole.

      Thompson doesn’t look at any other countries. Transit ridership and service has not fallen as much in other countries, and probably their exodus from cities is lower or nonexistent too. The American exodus is is due to an existing American bias against cities and transit; covid simply pushed it over a threshold.

      75% of jobs are incompatible with telecommuting. Thompson thinks a lot of people are moving to suburbs and non-coastal cities, but it’s mainly people in his class. If Seattle lost a quarter of its population (770K – 181K = 543K), it would just return to its previous peak in the 2000s and 1950s. That’s if all the tekkies left, which isn’t likely. Some are perfectly happy living in central Seattle or Greenwood or West Seattle.

      San Francisco rents have fallen significantly but they still average $3000 if I remember. They haven’t fallen to Seattle’s level or below. Seattle’s rents have fallen 10% in some neighborhoods but not in others. They’ve fallen most downtown and at high price points (above $2000), where a limited number of people could afford them or prop them up in the first place. But if you have a $1500 apartment you’re probably not seeing a drop. Even if they fall 40%, that’s only losing the extraordinary gains they made in the past eight years.

      At the end of the article he mentions that if a lot of vacancies appear and rents go substantially down, that may attract another group of middle-class people and immigrants to the city who couldn’t afford it before.

      Also at the end he says he’s living in DC and he doesn’t think the city will empty out. That’s more along the lines of what I think, but it contradicts the title and the first three-quarters of the article, which is sensationalist hyperbole.

      For those who’ve forgotten, Seattle’s population peaked at 560K in the early 1960s, then went down to <490K in the early 1980s. Then it started going up again and reached its previous peak in 2000. By 2010 it had reached 608K, and it's now at 750K. So even if it loses 200K, it was like that in the 90s, and things then were going pretty well and it was grunge paradise.

    2. I think the article more accurately paints bleak future of commuter oriented transit. If CBDs collapse as job centers, then sure – a weakly centered metropolis usually has

      But I don’t see that happening, because rents will simply fall enough until downtown offices refill (or are repurposed). Landlords lose money, but ultimately trip patterns don’t move much.

      If a city lets vast amounts of offices to be built in a decentralized manner, like in most of the sun belt, then yes transit ridership will collapse. But that’s true whether people ‘flee’ the city or a booming city channels growth in a decentralized manner. Seattle’ office production continues to be highly centralized in two CBDs, which suggests strong ridership will return.


        This article from Politico was posted on The Urbanist. Here are two quotes I found interesting:

        “Transit ridership had been falling for years before the pandemic shut down much of the U.S. economy last spring, and it’s likely that the virus will only accelerate some of the trends behind that decline. Those include hastening the migration of jobs and people away from dense cities, where transit works best, as well as a newfound enthusiasm for letting employees work from home”.

        “Even a 5 percent decrease in commuters in a major metropolitan area is going to have massive impact,” said Scott Bogren, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of America. “That tends to be, from what I’m reading from economists, on the low side of what they expect to be ‘permanent.'”

        Yesterday Nordstrom announced it was closing 350,000 sf in office space on 7th and Olive, in a building it half owns (although it will still have 700,000 sf in office space downtown, for now). A lawyer friend of mine in a large law firm with an entire floor in the Columbia Center was recently offered a 23% discount in rent if they reupped for an additional five years past the expiration of their lease in 2 years.

        I don’t think the issue is so much commuter transit vs. all day transit. The issue is most mass transit systems in major U.S. urban areas can’t afford a long term 5% reduction in commuter transit trips. Yes, commuter transit can be reduced to meet the 5% decline, but the lost revenue filters down to all day service. The real issue isn’t whether 5% is low; it is that a 5% decline in commuters riding transit will have a devastating impact to transit service levels. I think this is what worries Rogoff, and why he is raising this issue now: there will almost certainly be at least a 5% decline in commuter ridership post-pandemic, and that makes ST 3 in most subareas unaffordable.

        The article doesn’t explain why transit ridership had been declining in the U.S. pre-pandemic (although not this region) for many years, although the one “trend” it does suggests is a pre-pandemic move from urban areas to suburban areas.

        Another interesting fact in the article is “meanwhile, as many people gain the freedom to work from anywhere, home sales in suburbs and small towns have risen to 85 percent of total sales, up from 80 percent before the outbreak.” The 5% increase didn’t surprise me, but the pre-pandemic 80% figure did (which could be due to the high rate of renters in urban areas, and I have always wondered about the percentage of urban property owned by investor landlords, and that effect on affordable home ownership).

        Ironically the “spine” ST has built may be its salvation, because it is rail, and it runs to ex-urban and suburban cities or areas (at great cost). There may be much less ridership into and out of Seattle on light rail, and much more “intra” subarea ridership, such as Bellevue to Redmond and North Seattle to Everett, although this is going to strain Metro, which looks like it will be significantly reducing levels of service for suburbs, and even parts of Seattle, based on its own funding issues. It looks like the park and ride will be the best first/last mile access after all.

        All of this would suggest funding rail to West Seattle or Ballard, or even a second transit tunnel, should be put off until the region sees how lifestyle, work and living patterns change, which will affect transit ridership, because there is going to be declines in ridership, we just don’t know where. I think that will take at least five years post-pandemic, although the writing is on the wall.

        It may be the Issaquah to Kirkland rail line will make more sense in 2041 than rail to Ballard or West Seattle in 2040, although I don’t see the eastside cities creating the overall density for affordable transit, certainly not rail, and it could be major U.S. cities like Seattle could see a rebound in population density.

        I wonder if we will look back and think upzoning remote ex-urban Seattle neighborhoods that are expensive to serve with transit was a mistake, or Kenmore, and all that (rental) density should have been focused on downtown Seattle, because transit needs density to be affordable. (As a suburbanite I have always found it ironic that the most committed Seattle urbanists prefer to live in mildly upzoned residential neighborhoods, like I guess everyone else).

        Commuting just helped magnify that population density that never really existed by people who didn’t want to live in a dense urban setting (which according to home sales is about 85% of America) and may not have to in the future, when if just 5% stop commuting the effect to transit overall is severe.

      2. “Even a 5 percent decrease in commuters in a major metropolitan area is going to have massive impact,”

        It really depends on the agency. Metro, for example, gets about 25% of their money from fares. At the same time, peak hour service is extremely expensive to operate. A lot of that express service is very frequent, which means that all other things being equal, would not see a reduction in ridership if frequency was cutback (they would avoid the cutback/lose ridership/cutback cycle). So if peak hour service is reduced, the loss of fare revenue would be a small hit. What greatly worries *most* of the transit agencies around the country is a loss of tax revenue. It is common for transit ridership to actually go up during a recession (people can’t afford to buy or fix their car) and yet service often goes down (less tax money). I’m not saying a long term loss of ridership is good, but to say it will have a “massive impact” is hyperbole, for *most* systems.

        But there are exceptions. New York is one of those. Due to lack of federal and state investment — in what really should be viewed as a key part of our national infrastructure — they are highly dependent on fare revenue, and have a huge backlog of maintenance work. Agencies like that really need federal (and state) help.

        Commuter rail systems would tend to get the double whammy. They are more likely to see ridership go down (if this happens) while also being more dependent on fare revenue. Caltrain, for example, would get hit really hard (they have a 60% fare recovery rate). The most fare dependent agency in the US is BART (70%). I could easily see agencies like BART and Caltrain see cutbacks in the form of fewer rush hour trips, and fewer trips to the farther extremities.

        I think this is what worries Rogoff, and why he is raising this issue now: there will almost certainly be at least a 5% decline in commuter ridership post-pandemic, and that makes ST 3 in most subareas unaffordable.

        I don’t think Rogoff is that worried about it. ST seems to ignore maintenance/service issues, and is most focused on new construction. A potential reduction in ridership is not a big issue for ST3 — tax revenue and increasing costs are. If those weren’t an issue, then they would build it, but run it less often, while declaring victory (“We built the spine — rejoice!”).

        Like so many aspects of ST3, I think people many of the problems were inevitable, but will be made worse if there is a long terms trend against commuting. If the train ever gets to the Tacoma Dome, I expect it to run every 12 minutes during peak, and 20 minutes in the middle of the day. It is just very costly to run a train that far with so few people using it. That was true before the pandemic, and will be true after.

      3. I don’t think this worries Rogoff. I think his major worries are likely how to keep certain elected officials happy do that they don’t question his leadership and decisions. Service could be cut by 40 percent and he would still get the same salary. In contrast, if the next mayor battles him, he’s toast!

      4. “Transit ridership had been falling for years before the pandemic shut down much of the U.S. economy last spring, and it’s likely that the virus will only accelerate some of the trends behind that decline. Those include hastening the migration of jobs and people away from dense cities, where transit works best, as well as a newfound enthusiasm for letting employees work from home”.

        That’s not it. Ridership is closely correlated with the amount/quality of transit service. In most US cities transit investment has been going down for years, so ridership has been going down with it. Seattle/Pugetoplis did the opposite — investing in transit — and ridership increased. In cities like New York and DC with great subway systems a related problem is occurring: they’ve neglected maintenance for decades and now the trains are breaking down or catching fire. That causes cancellations and delays, and that’s driving away ridership.

        Many Canadian cities have comparable density to American counterparts, but they have more frequent buses to more places, and more rail where appropriate, and that has led to higher ridership. The same could happen in the US.

        “most mass transit systems in major U.S. urban areas can’t afford a long term 5% reduction in commuter transit trips.”

        It’s the other way around. Extra peak-hour service is an extraordinary cost that transit agencies would be better off without. One-way peak expresses waste half their service hours deadheading empty. They are often the longest routes, such as Stanwood-Seattle, Federal Way-Seattle, and Duvall-Seattle, so dozens of miles of deadheading. Peak-only service requires hiring people for split shifts: three hours in the morning, off midday, three hours in the afternoon. That’s true for peak-only routes and extra peak runs on all-day routes. It requires extra buses that are only used a few hours a day. And since fares don’t cover 100% of operating costs, every run requires a subsidy, both less-efficient peak service and more-efficient off-peak service.

        Metro used to have a peak-hour surcharge that reflected this. And it had two zones: Seattle and the rest of the county. At one point it dropped the two-zone surcharge off-peak while leaving it peak. The reason was that off-peak buses had spare capacity so additional passengers wouldn’t increase costs. But additional passengers on peak buses that are already full required additional runs and buses and hard-to-recruit split-shift drivers.

        Metro’s response to the covid drop has been to suspend many peak-hour routes while keeping all-day service up. This is more cost-effective for Metro than the other way around. Basically, every neighborhood has a baseline frequency it should always have, and extra peak runs are added to avoid overcrowding. And to compensate for peak-hour congestion on the roads. The 15 pretty clearly compensates for peak congestion on 15th Ave W and the Uptown detour, because its travel time peak hours is the same as the D off-hours. Likewise, routes like the 218 are arguably necessary because the 554 slows down so much peak hours. (That and the 554 doesn’t have capacity for entire busfuls of additional riders.)

        As for ridership on East Link and the Spine evaporating compared to existing travel or population projections, that’s the same as saying Pugetopolis will no longer be a major metropolis. Or that everybody will stay in their subarea. That’s implausable. Seattle office usage may decline 5% and not be replaced, but there were plans for Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond rapid transit in 1970 when the population was much lower. Even if the post-1985 growth hadn’t occurred it would still be worthwhile, because it was already a significant metropolitan area, and German metros smaller than American ones have an S-Bahn, U-Bahn, or Stadtbahn with downtown tunnel. It’s the American resistance to robust transit and always-frequent trunk transit that’s the oddity.

      5. Case in point, Americans are fleeing transit over fears of getting covid, while the actual risk is similar to going to a big box store, and much less than going to a small cramped store or sitting next to a group of diners. And some American companies like Wall Street firms are forbidding their employees from taking transit to work. That’s probably not happening in other countries.

      6. The terminology around urban rail and BRT is vague and defined differently in different places. US and British railroad and automobile technology developed before the age of cheap instantaneous intercontinental communication, so they developed independent vocabularies. British “tram” evolved from a Dutch word for wooden beams used in coal trains. American “streetcar” is a calque of German “Strassenbahn” due to the large number of German immigrants. Both were applied to the streetcars of the day, which were usually street-running, with or without exclusive lanes and signal priority, when there weren’t many cars to get in their way, and when the streets weren’t paved and were muddy. “Light rail” is used to span those differences and for a post-1960s generation of lines with more right-of-way priority or grade separation than their predecessors. Different cities call their subway “subway”, “metro”, “underground”, or “el”. “BRT” comes from a bus network in Curitiba, Brazil, that’s designed like a subway, with exclusive lanes, very high frequency, and large stations.

        In the ST/Seattle/Portland definition, “light rail” is mostly exclusive-lane or grade separated, while “streetcar” can be substantially mixed-traffic and has smaller vehicles (usually 1-car). In other words, the Seattle/Portland definition of streetcar is what European cities had a hundred years ago and don’t build anymore because they’re too slow, inefficient, low-capacity, and high-cost-to-value. We should be as wise as that, and build only light rail and bus lines, not Seattle-definition streetcars.

        “BRT” has come to mean a very wide variety of infrastucture. Curitiba was like a subway or bus freeway. Some of Los Angeles’ BRT lines run on freeways, as does ST’s upcoming Stride. Swift is limited-stop along arterials, with stops a mile apart, and a local shadow for in-between stops. And Swift Blue has transit/BAT/HOV lanes much of its’ length. RapidRide is a variety with local stops (not limited-stop), and in some cases full BAT/HOV lanes (the A and E outside Seattle). There are perennial arguments over which of these deserve to be called BRT. The most useful approach is just to rank them on the BRT Standard of Gold, Silver, Bonze, and Basic, rather than arguing which ones are real BRT and which aren’t. The BRT standard isn’t perfect because each level is a hodgepodge of characteristics that don’t all apply to any particular line, and it’s a judgment call whether a line has “enough” of the characteristics, but it’s the best categorization I’ve seen.

    3. I take issue with a few of his assumptions, such as:

      1) This being a new thing. Working from home has been going on for a long time. The idea that there is a network effect is silly. It was always second rate, and continues to be second rate. Companies that were first to adopt it (for some of their workers) have built massive office buildings since it became commonplace. Some people like working from home, some people hate it. The same is true of employers. Some prefer it, because it reduces their costs; some hate it, because it reduces creativity. This might accelerate the trend, but I would not expect it to dominate, like the adoption of the telephone.

      2) Coastal cities are in trouble. This is laughable, really. Yes, prices have gone down — for apartments! Surprise, surprise, people don’t like being in a small apartment during a pandemic. Of course not. Every advantage of that little apartment is gone. You can’t just walk out your door and sit down at a nice cafe or bar. You can’t walk to a movie theater, or take a bus or train to watch a show. You don’t walk over to your friends place, and hang out there. Imagine the show “Friends” or “Seinfeld” during the pandemic. Pretty depressing as almost all of the regular activity is eliminated. Suddenly “Leave it to Beaver” looks appealing. Then you have the fact that we are in a recession, and those apartments are pretty damn expensive. Meanwhile, prices for houses (in cities like Seattle) are not going down.

      For a city like New York, for example, this will be nothing like the suffering it encountered during the 1970s. Likewise, I don’t expect to be able to get an affordable place in San Fransisco, like I could back in the day.

      3) The next Silicon Valley is nowhere. Sorry, no. The next Silicon Valley is Austin. Alright, not really — there will only be one Silicon Valley. But the next Seattle (the next city with a huge increase in tech jobs, and the good and bad that comes with it) is Austin. Lots of new tech jobs, and while prices for housing will increase, it will still be a lot cheaper than the Bay Area. The author seems to be ignoring all these companies that have made big construction plans *during the pandemic*.

      I remember talking to an architect towards the beginning of the Great Recession. He said everyone was out of work. First you need to finish what has been suspended (there were a lot of idle cranes). Then you have to build what has already been planned. Then you can start hiring an architect to build you something new. Does that sound like Seattle right now, let alone after the pandemic is over? Of course not. This has been a big hit, but since the economic recession has *not* been widespread, with some businesses doing great, and others completely wiped out, Seattle (and Bellevue) are just chugging along. I wouldn’t expect them to boom (like they did a few years ago) but I wasn’t expecting that anyway. That was one of those booms that are rare, and seem to happen once every fifty years (Klondike Gold Rush, WW2 and post-war Boeing boom, and now the tech boom, which dramatically changed the eastern suburbs first, but has spread to the city more recently). I expect a “soft landing”, not a huge exodus. I think the days in which you can buy a nice 3 bedroom house in Wallingford for the modern equivalent of 300 grand are gone, and gone forever.

      1. Anyone else find it interesting that the right wingers are heralding the end of downtowns due to working from home being “the way of the future”,, but are also demanding schools reopen immediately because “nothing other than in-person education works” ???

      2. @Glenn – no, not really. Probably only a lefty would find it interesting that someone would suggest that children and adults need to be treated differently?

        @Ross – I like Austin as the next Seattle. That’s a good comp. Unlike Seattle, in Austin the suburbs are already absorbing most of the growth. Austin really needs to find it’s “SLU,” or near urban neighborhood(s) that can absorb significant increase in density. They had a very successful upzone that transformed the area west of UT, but now need to find an urban home for the next wave of growth.

  9. RossB used the term continuum in the mode discussion above. That concept is key. Many of modes are arrayed on a continuum based on how much grade separation and service frequency they are provided. Modal agnosticism is a sound approach. Agencies should figure out their objectives and consider their budget and right of way constraints. Both steel rail and rubber tired transit modes can be used poorly or well. LRT is really a continuum between streetcar and Link when grade separated. Bus is really a continuum between a local route and Latin American BRT networks that have grade separation and fast fare collection. Some use the term “real” BRT; it has a continuum spread across different degrees of exclusivity and frequency. The methods to speed transit can be applied to both rubber tired and steel wheeled transit modes: fast fare collection, level boarding, signal priority, wide station spacing, short headway. A key advantage of rail is the ability to couple more than one vehicle together to achieve more capacity and still use a single operator. This is what the Seattle Streetcar does not do; in fact, their stations are only long enough for one car at a time. The whole movement has been quite dumb. Will there be a future when the 400-foot station length of Link will be constraining? SkyTrain is amazing. The Metros is Paris and Montreal have rubber tires, just to add to diversity.

    1. Curitiba has occasional level crossings I think. I didn’t mean it as a bus freeway in that sense. I meant its design makes it competitively fast in its corridor and it carries a lot of people. Pictures show dozens of people getting on at stations, with several doors and level platforms like a train, multiply-articulated buses, and another bus coming every minute or two.

      1. And Curtiba’s system has gotten to the point where they’re trying to convert it to Rail at this point.

      2. There is a nice picture on Wikipedia, and you can more or less see how it works:

        The stations are those iconic tubes, with little platforms for level boarding. Each platform goes straight to a door (it looks like 5 doors). To get into the station there are fare gates. The road part of the station area is wide, so that you can have an express that skips a station (similar to a subway system like New York’s). In between the stations it is one lane each direction, exclusively for buses (and service cars, as shown). At the same time, the bus has to deal with some cross traffic (although in this case it looks like most of the traffic is going with the buses).

        One of the keys is very short dwell times. You can see how that could be achieved. There is another picture on Wikipedia showing how you get from the bus to the station ( Buses also have very small headways (a couple seconds or less). I assume at bigger stations there are several platform areas, for local and express. I can imagine how things would get busy, with buses behind each other. But the short dwell time and the ability for buses to pass other buses keeps things moving.

        Wikipedia lists ridership for over 2 million a day, but I’m pretty sure that is for the entire system. Wikipedia lists BRT 6 lines, and 21 stations, but those are major stations that allow for transfers. There are probably a lot more. I don’t know if every stop is a station either (with those tubes) or if some stops are just on the street. For that matter, I don’t know how much, if any, the buses interact with traffic. In other words, is it completely closed BRT, or somewhat open. It also lists it as 81 km, but that is the amount that has dedicated lanes.

        Regardless, those numbers are very impressive (Curtiba isn’t that big). The usage rate is extremely high — 75% commutes and 55% of all trips are taken via the system, in the city with the highest rate of car ownership in Brazil. That is well above New York, for example.

        My guess is that it won’t be easy to transition to rail. They will likely get crowding unless they spend a huge amount of money. I guess if they keep the bus system and add an underground rail system it would work out (but again, that’s expensive). Those buses carry a lot of people (although not as many as Bogota). The big improvement comes from labor costs. Even though some of the buses are huge (biggest in the world) it still costs a lot to drive a bunch of buses instead of one very long train.

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