Link public art: history and review ($).
Jarrett Walker is writing a second edition of his book “Human Transit”, and is asking for input on what to include.
Population-weighted density, or, is Los Angeles denser than New York City? (Pedestrian Observations)
Video of San Francisco’s new Central Subway. (Stroll With Me)
The most important rail line in the world, Tokyo’s Yamamote ring line. (RMTransit)
Whistler is a walkable small town. (RMTransit)
Seattle is still seeking input on its comprehensive plan update. I still need to get my comments in. Public hearings are December 12 and January 10.
This is an open thread.
93 Replies to “News Roundup”
The videos I’ve seen of the new Central Subway’s Chinatown Station art work are visually stunning.
Prediction. Within five years, Metro, and possibly ST, will abolish fares. A movement to make public transit free is starting to gain traction in a few places across the nation, and if places like Los Angeles go fare-free, our area won’t be far behind. Even the Gov of Utah has recently been making noise that he want his state’s transit agency to be fare-free.
My number one priority that I care about is that the future of King County Metro, ST, and whatever other Seattle area Transit agencies is that they continue improving service, expanding routes, and making transit dependable
At farebox recovery rate of 25-30% on king county metro and a projected farebox recovery of 30-40% on Sound Transit system you would need to consider that money which is a vital stream of revenue for these agencies and how to account for it were it to be altered with. At the very least I think making up for this lost revenue by stagnating any future improvements or even possible cutting routes would an absolutely unacceptable trade off on par with what I’d dub a “transit death spiral”
That’s the challenge. If you get rid of fares, you have to come up with the money somewhere. Otherwise, the system gets worse.
The smaller the system, the worse the farebox recovery rate. Thus I could see Pierce and Snohomish County going with free fares before Metro. Metro would go with free fares before Link did, for the same reason. ST Express becomes a bit tricky, because they often provide what could be considered a premium service (since it goes a long distance).
An important question is how much, if any, would free fares increase ridership.
Traditional thinking is free fares would increase ridership, based solely on economics. Today a transit rider can get a non-subsidized ORCA pass for $99/mo. Is that cost a barrier for many potential riders, who presumably at that income level don’t own a car but must be getting around somehow. How many eastsiders today who no longer commute to work on transit and own a car are going to switch to transit — after driving to a park and ride — based on the cost of the fare? Transit is not the only mode in town.
On the other hand how much, if any, will the elimination of farebox recovery reduce ridership. It is unlikely general tax revenues subsidizing transit will be increased to fully replace the lost farebox revenue, especially in smaller and more anti-tax rural areas.
If revenue declines so does service — frequency, coverage, maintenance — and lower revenue means lower service levels, and that would be ironic if free fares increased costs due to increased ridership while total revenues declined.
Next who benefits the most from free fares. Not the wealthy, or work commuter who has an employer subsidized ORCA pass, or most on this blog who can afford transit, or poor riders with subsidized ORCA passes. The only folks who will possibly benefit are those too poor to afford a transit fare but for some reason don’t have a subsidized ORCA card.
The final consideration is what will the ridership experience be like with no fares. Will the service levels, cleanliness, and perceived safety on some routes discourage discretionary riders still riding transit today, and will those factors encourage routes to be Balkanized or segregated between safe and unsafe areas so I can assure those on this blog lax fare enforcement on East Link is a big safety concern on the East Side, and ST’s response has been the fairly high fare cross lake, likely $8 round trip in 2025, will discourage undesirable elements taking Link east.
If bus drivers today complain about safety and interactions with the public, and open drug use on buses, will eliminating fares so some buses become moving hotels discourage potential drivers even more.
If anything, I would start by asking drivers what they think about eliminating fares, while being honest total transit revenue will likely decline by eliminating fares.
LA’s new mayor, Karen Bass, who is also an LA MTA board member, wants free fares. If it happens in LA, it will happen here. Not making financial sense doesn’t matter. Something like free fares isn’t pushed by the accountants, it’s pushed by the demagogues.
“Traditional thinking” is wrong when it comes to many things.
Many Brazilian cities provide trash pickup for free. “Traditional thinking” would be that citizens would thus have an unlimited amount of trash to dispose of. Market economy, supply-cost-demand, blah blah blah. Reality is people can only afford to buy so much, and thus there is only a certain amount they throw away.
Public parks are free of charge, unless you are talking about the zoo, or certain parking areas near certain parks. You don’t see unlimited crowds at Golden Gardens, Discovery or Volunteer park.
Libraries are basically free of charge, but this is considered a valid public good.
Island Transit isn’t overrun with riders, even though they don’t charge a fare. Only so many people are willing to use the service on Whidbey Island.
I would much rather see better quality service, but you have to remember charging a fare costs money too, and under some conditions the cost of the fare is more than the amount of money provided by the fare. You have to have staff to repair fare collection equipment, verifying the income to make sure no internal theft happens, and in transit operations the fare costs money due to the time added per trip due to payment.
I’m not for or against free transit, but there are some very valid reasons to not charge, and many public facilities are already free of charge.
An important question is how much, if any, would free fares increase ridership.
All other things being equal, it is likely there would be some increase. There have been studies to support that idea: https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/effects_of_fare_changes.pdf. That study is old, but it is probably still accurate. Generally speaking, the agencies that are smaller are more responsive to fares. This is why many small agencies have seen overall ridership go up significantly when they go to free fares. So not only were they not collecting much money to begin with, but more people were willing to ride if it is free.
But it gets more complicated. We also know that ridership goes down as we cut frequency. It really comes down to whether we are ready to backfill the money lost. If so, then great. To a certain extent, that is why we’ve done with youth fares.
But if we cut service while making fares free, it is tough to say what will happen. We could actually end up losing riders. That has been the fear for a long time now. It is not just the short term, either. There is fear that transit will be seen in a more negative light if it is free. This is a political fear, if you will. This makes the push for free fares interesting, since it is coming from different directions. It is coming from smaller cities and counties, where it makes sense from a practical standpoint. But it is also coming from very urban areas that are confident that government will adequately fund transit. King County is somewhat in the middle. It leans left, but not as left as Seattle (or L. A. I assume).
Washington State is in a weird position. Our taxes are regressive, and funding sources are very limited at the city or county level. King County can’t just raise income taxes. The state relies quite a bit on user fees, however annoying and regressive. Fares can be thought of the same way — they are regressive, but the alternative is simply less service. It reminds me of this: https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/08/01/regressive-taxes-arent-the-worst-thing-in-the-world/. To quote that post:
All else being equal, progressive is better than regressive, especially in a state with the dubious distinction of having the most regressive tax system in the country. But getting more revenue is even more important.
I hope transit riders and transit drivers drive the decision whether to eliminate transit fares because they are the ones who will benefit or suffer. I really don’t think eliminating fares will draw many new riders. I would oppose however a general tax increase to make up for the lost farebox revenue, especially when transit is already so heavily subsidized and ST is so profligate.
I doubt many areas outside north Seattle will vote for or support increases in general taxes to replace the revenue from eliminating fares, and even then Seattle has some big future transit costs such as renewal of Move Seattle in 2024, and an unfunded $3.5 billion bridge repair replacement.
Hopefully Glenn is correct that at least in some areas the savings from eliminating fare collection equals or exceeds the lost farebox revenue. I know that in 2012 the ride free zone in downtown Seattle cost Metro $2.2 million/year.
All else equal (e.g. assuming, for the sake of argument, no impact on quality of service), I think free fares would increase ridership. I don’t think think the effect would be earth-shattering, but I think it would be enough to be statistically measurable.
Of the ridership that is gained from free fares, I think most of it will end up being mode switches away from walking, not driving. Without a fare acting as a deterrent, you’re going to have lots of people riding buses for one stop to avoid a 5-minute walk, purely because they just happened to see the bus coming (e.g. no wait) and they’re lazy. In aggregate, all of these ultra-short bus trips slow bus service down, and since they’re trips that would have been walked, they’re not actually accomplishing anything in terms of reducing the number of cars.
But, of course, in the real world, all else is *not* equal. If fares represent 20% of revenue, and you eliminate that, and are unable to raise taxes to make it up, then the inevitable result becomes a 20% reduction in bus service. A 20% reduction in bus service would be huge, roughly equivalent to eliminating all Saturday/Sunday service on all bus routes, systemwide. And service reductions of this magnitude would undoubtfully result in a loss of ridership.
Now, all this is not to say that free fares never make sense. I do think free fares are a very good idea for rural areas where farebox recovery is already so low that simply zeroing it would have no noticeable impact on level of service, especially when fares are not even bringing in enough money to cover the administrative costs of collecting them. For example, I support Island Transit being fare free, and I think other rural agencies, such as Kitsap Transit and Skagit Transit should consider it too, at least on some routes. But, for big-city agencies like King County Metro, or even suburban agencies like Pierce Transit or Community Transit, I don’t think free fares are a good idea.
Island Co. has free transit, beautiful roads, and Nichols shipyard to build ferries because the county is poor but has had powerful legislators in the past.
But by free transit I really mean a spine, up and down Hwy 20. First/last mile access is by foot, and there is very little housing along 20. We are talking a mile each way along rural side roads. I feel for the people waiting at a rural bus stop along a highway with terrible frequency when driving past with many with a thumb out. Life is not good if you are waiting for a bus in Island Co.
I am not sure free fare advocates want this level of service.
A few European cities have switched to free fares, most notably Tallinn, Estonia. There were concerns it would lead to overcrowding, but the actual increase was only around 2% or 10%.
On Metro many people already pay less than full fare. Youth under 18 now ride free. For the past five years Seattle school students have gotten free passes. Employer-paid passes are free to the worker. ORCA LIFT and the regional reduced fare permit give discounts to low-income, disabled, and elderly people. Social-service organizations get some bus tickets to distribute. Jurors get free bus tickets. Full-price monthly passes are priced at 36 trips (18 round trips); any trips beyond that are effectively free. Before covid I paid full price for a $99 pass ($2.75) and I made around 80 trips a month so my effective fare was around $1.25.
Some of these patterns have existed for decades, but others are recent. ORCA LIFT started in the 2010s, universal school passes started around 2017, and free youth started a few months ago. The government is gradually chipping away at fares. More and more people are exempt, low-income fares are getting lower or widening eligibility, and anyone can get a monthly pass.
When I have a monthly pass I do ride two stops sometimes because I can, like from Bellevue Avenue to 5th Avenue, or going up the hill. Often I’m transferring; other times I’m just going downtown or up to Trader Joe’s. It’s especially helpful when I’m carrying heavy groceries or am unusually tired. I’m not overcrowding buses; those routes usually have several seats empty. When I don’t have a pass then I debate whether it’s worth $2.75 to go a half mile or mile, and often I don’t. But really, everybody should be able to take their optimal number of trips, meaning as many as they want. That’s an ideal transit level. Riding a bus for one or two stops is better than driving across the street to get the mail (as in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy”).
This has been studied by dozens of fare-free agencies across the country. This includes several different times by Island Transit, because conservatives keep demanding they do so. Each time is the same result: it would cost them more to charge a fare and process the payments, deal with the cash, maintain the equipment and pay for bus operations to sit idle while people pay than those payments would generate.
Helion Bus on the Island of Hawaii will be free of charge soon for the same reason: it’s just not worth the cost.
I agree that better service would be better at attracting more riders, but if the fare costs more to collect than the revenue it generates, better service isn’t going to happen,
In the case of KCM, someone here once worked out that all anyone has to do is delay the bus some 27 seconds or some such while paying their fare, and they’ve wiped out the value. Thankfully, with ORCA, that’s not anywhere like the issue it once was. It’s also a big enough agency it probably doesn’t cost as much per day to maintain equipment.
For what it’s worth, this is the Corvallis summary:
Small towns and rural areas like Island County, and small college towns like Pullman or Athens, Ohio, are in a different category from large cities like Seattle or the Eastside. Small towns and rural areas, which can only charge a low fare like $1 or $2 because of limited service or poor residents, often find the entire fare revenue goes to the overhead of collecting the fare: having fareboxes, counting and depositing cash, drivers stealing money, lost time dealing with fare disputes and people asking for free rides, etc. Small-town and rural routes are often subsidized 90% anyway, so fares are bringing in only 10%. The corollary is, if you eliminate fares, you only have to subsidize 10% more.
Another issue with universal free fares is, employer passes and U-Pass would go away. That’s a substantial part of the transit agencies’ revenue. When it’s merely under-18 free fares and low-income discount fares, you can still charge employers for passes, and large employers must provide them as a car-impact reduction strategy. But with universal free fares, there’s no reason for employers to buy passes. You could make up for it with a “mobility tax” or such, but that’s another tax you’d have to pass and people would grumble about.
A new video on the Montreal REM Line has been made, discussing its benefits.
It’s driverless and will run every 2.5 minutes at peak. The engineers say it can handle 90 second frequency.
Does anyone else wish we were getting this technology for Ballard/SLU?
Al, great video not only about automated trains down to the fact that it will REDUCE operating cost by about 30% per rider mile but also how the project is financed and how quickly it has materialized and the fact that the Canadian pension fund wants to use the expertise they gained from this project and export it to other North American cities. Sound Transit may want to take a look at it.
Vancouver, Honolulu, Copenhagen, Rome, Milan and now Montreal use driverless technology, why would Sound Transit ignore this opportunity to reduce cost and increase frequency and operating hours for a new line?!? The short Eastlink line shows a need for 8 operators per train, that by itself will limit the frequency and keep cost high.
Sound Transit has trouble placing the stations along the way. Short automated trains would allow them to build much smaller/cheaper stations. It may allow them to place the stations right above Elliott Ave instead of next to it.
The least expensive and least carbon intensive solution would be an elevated line on Elliott, Mercer and Westlake Ave.
It would require a separate OMF though which could be built at the Armory, potentially with housing on top of it.
I will bring this up at the https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/news-events/calendar/west-seattle-ballard-link-extensions-interbay-ballard-open
Sound Transit presented tonight some more alternatives for Interbay: https://wsblink.participate.online/ including a single retained cut station option with much longer tunnels (both on the Seattle side and Ballard side) and a retained cut alignment straddeling under Dravus on 17th St.
I missed the Interbay meeting. Does anybody want to write an article about it or WSBLE’s current status? Or if you just have some notes you can email them to contact at seattletransitblog.com.
Thanks for the info Martin. A few thoughts:
From what I can gather, the elevated train to 15th still looks like the best value (of those looked at). It is cheaper than the elevated to 14th. It is the same as the tunnel to 14th, but closer to where the people are.
It is crazy that they haven’t looked at an underground option for 20th. If you look at the planned tunnel for 15th, it starts by going east of the bridge. It initially is right under the PCC building, but then as it goes closer to the surface, is next to 15th. I see no reason why the tunnel couldn’t turn west, go under Leary, then under 20th. You could be going under fairly short buildings (https://goo.gl/maps/r9t2pPeWehsVjfMt5) which presumably aren’t very deep. At that point, the tunnel is fairly deep anyway. The tunnel would get closer to the surface as it went under Leary and 20th. The curve from Leary to 20th is very easy. You could close 20th on the far side of Market to build the actual station, in much the way they dug up Brooklyn to build the U-District Station (20th is a minor street, unlike 15th). There is a parking lot just north of Market as well (again, similar to Brooklyn). There might be other potential issues, but none that are obvious. They just haven’t actually studied it. The powers that be gave up way too early on it.
Alas, while we discuss changing ST3 to save a few billions by doing things like introducing shorter and more frequent automated trains or using the original DSTT, ST sees the only possible change involves very slight adjustments to the original project. It’s disheartening.
Meanwhile, ST believes that New Starts funding in the 2030’s will be a big chunk of funds — even though there are only a few other projects outside of our region and LA which takes the eagerness to fund the program away with a majority share of Congress.
As far as the Interbay (i. e. Dravus) station is concerned, it is harder to figure out what is best, as it comes down to station details. The main purpose of the station is as a bus intercept. The buses will serve various parts of Magnolia, and then turn on 15th. Most of those will head north (to go the UW) although it is possible a few go south. I think it is highly unlikely the bus keeps going up the hill.
Elevated 15th straddles Dravus. If there are entrances from both the east and west, it would be ideal, as riders could easily get to the bus stops. If it only connects from one side, then riders would have to wait for the light going one direction (https://goo.gl/maps/aXZAEE89VArmxnycA).
The elevated 14th would be just a bit north of Dravus at 17th. This is less than ideal, as riders from Magnolia would have to cross Dravus and walk to the entrance. Still, it doesn’t look too bad. The tunneled options look similar. The station would be in a trench, not too far north of Dravus. Either way, it would be a walk, but not a huge one. The biggest drawback is having to cross Dravus. In that sense it is similar to the 130th station. Ideally the station would have straddles 130th. But the walk from a bus stop to the closest elevator/escalator is not that far. The biggest issue is that riders must wait to cross the street if they arrive from the west (or are headed east). The same would be true with these options.
You can’t be elevated between Queen Anne and Elliott, but otherwise, yes, elevated would work uthrough LQA and SLU.
ST is too timid to propose it, though.
Tom, can you elaborate?
Do you think Mercer is too tight between Elliott and QAAve or is it the elevation difference you’re concerned about?
These’s a bit of talk about a proposal to make Washington DC bus service free of charge. There will be a final vote on it in the DC Council later this month, probably around the 20th. Fare free service would start in July.
If passed, DC would become the most populous city in the USA with free bus service.
It isn’t clear at this point if it would include the DC Metro.
Unfortunately the article about this in Mass Transit Magazine isn’t part of their searchable article database, that I can find anyway. A web search will turn up a few articles in a few publications, however.
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, didn’t George Bailey build the suburban single family home subdivision of Bailey Park so people could have the option of buying their own home and not have to live in town and pay high rents to an evil landlord? Wouldn’t it be fair to say Mr. Potter was an urbanist? Remember, Pottersville was much more vibrant than Bedford Falls.
(The filming location for Bailey Park in the movie is today’s La Canada Flintridge, which is a couple miles northwest of Pasadena).
Bedford Falls had a walkable downtown, as all cities did. Pottersville to me was most notable for having a casino and gaudy neon lights to get people to shop. I don’t remember more multifamily housing, although there may have been. “Urbanist” doesn’t really apply to pre-WWII towns or the vestiges of them in the 1950s; that was just normal town design. Or as Not Just Bikes said, in the Netherlands there is no word for “transit-oriented development” because it’s just “Development, stupid!”, or the only sane way to build. (He didn’t actually say stupid.) So both Bedford Falls and Pottersville were walkable or urbanist in that sense.
And I’m beginning to switch to the word “walkable” instead of “urban/urbanist” because it’s more unambiguous. “Urban” has the problem that while inner-city areas are urban and farmland is rural, suburbs can be urban or suburban in different definitions. By the “urbanist” measure, most of Bellevue or Mercer Island is suburban because it’s low-density, single-use, car-dependent. But by the “urban area” measure, it’s urban because it’s inside the urban growth boundary and denser than rural. Jarrett Walker and Christopher Leinberger noted both of these definitions, and still use “suburban” to mean non-walkable, but it is ambiguous. So I’m leaning toward just saying “walkable” and “non-walkable” instead. I still don’t know what to substitute for “urbanist”: “walkist” is too cumbersome.
Some high school/college classes study “Back to the Future”, which shows the same town in the 1950s and 1980s. It wasn’t an urbanist movie; it just showed a typical city for the time. But the 1950s Hill Valley has a park in the center of downtown, and most of the shopping and soda fountains are right around the park. In 1980s Hill Valley, the square is a parking lot, and retail is at a car-oriented shopping mall outside downtown. McFly’s 1980s suburban house is, in the 1950s, empty land outside the town, with a sign saying a subdivision is coming.
Lots of great points.
I wonder if “pedestrian” can take the place of “urbanist” as a self-descriptor, if the focus is on walkability instead of urbanity.
Good point Nathan. It seems silly to use the term “urbanism” to describe say, Strong Towns. They often talk about towns (it is right there, in the name). It really gets down to focusing on pedestrian experience, rather than focusing on cars. Of course “pedestrian” has another meaning, so I’m not sure it is ideal. Maybe “pedestrian-oriented” would work. Terms like “pedestrian oriented development”, or “pedestrian oriented growth” sound about right. I want a city that is pedestrian oriented, not designed around cars. Yeah, that works.
Calling yourself a “pedestrian oriented person” is a bit of a mouth full, though.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is more popular than those pedestrian works; first, because it’s slightly cheaper; and second, because it has the words “DON’T PANIC” in large friendly letters on the cover.”
Pedestrian just means “someone walking on a road or developed place” – the negative connotation is basically just classism. My idea was just to use “pedestrian” as a self-descriptor instead of “urbanist”. since calling yourself a Pedestrian, to me, has all the implications around preferences towards walkability as opposed to implying that everywhere needs to be as “urban” as the popular imagery suggests.
The word “pedestrian” clearly has two meanings. As a noun it means a person who walks, from the Latin “pedester”. As an adjective it means “lacking inspiration or excitement; dull”. Hard to say how that came about. This look at the word suggests it goes back before there were cars: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/pedestrian-word-history-usage-dull-commonplace. The theory is that riding a horse is faster (and thus more exciting) than walking. I don’t think it was necessarily classist, although I could see how it could be. Noblemen rode chariots — the common folk didn’t. In any event, it is hard to see how using the word now evokes classism.
Anyway, my point is that depending on how you use the term, it can easily be interpreted the second way. You can even have both (“This walkway is boring. This is a pedestrian pedestrian-bridge”).
Regarding the 1950s, it should be noted that it was different than most people assume. As Christopher Leinberger outlines it, pre-WWII towns were walkable by default.. But construction stopped between 1929 and 1945 due to the Depression and WWII. Futurama, the 1939 World’s Fair exhibit by General Motors that extolled a highway/low-density/car-dependent vision like The Jetsons, captured people’s imagination but it wasn’t their reality. Even in the 1950s most people lived in pre-WWII walkable towns, because it took decades to build up the car-dependent suburbs. Only in the 1980s did the majority live in suburbs like the Eastside and South King County. My generation, GenX, was the first generation where the majority of kids grew up in it, living in car-dependent neighborhoods and shopping at malls. “Leave It to Beaver” and “Bewitched” showed what people aspired to, not what they lived in. That generation longed for the suburban dream. But my generation, who grew up in suburban hell, started the back-to-the-city movement.
For me it started by reading children’s books in elementary school in the 1970s, books about kids who could walk to the library or store or all their friends’ houses, and there was always a streetcar/bus stop nearby to get across town. So different from my experience. I did have an hourly bus that went across Bellevue and to downtown Seattle, but it was hourly. I was lucky to have that because most parts of the Eastside didn’t. The nearest supermarket was a mile away. A 7-11 was a half-mile away up a hill all alone. Those were the only closest businesses; everything else was houses. The arterial started getting some apartments around that time, but they were only apartments, nothing to go to.
In junior high I visited a friend who had moved to the top of Queen Anne, and found another world. Buses every 20 minutes! Silent trolleybuses! A grocery store a few blocks away! Easy to walk to his friends’ houses! Other pedestrians around! Seattle Center just down the hill, where the kids would go Friday or Saturday evenings. Easy to get to downtown or the U-District for other shops and things.
I went to a small junior high school located at Bellevue High, so for high school I just continued there, and by 11th grade my dad had moved to downtown Bellevue so I could walk to school, and Bellevue Square, and all the other stores and friend’s places, and buses were half-hourly instead of hourly. That was the most urban experience I’d had, and it was so much better than the darkest suburbia I grew up in. Even though Bellevue was still only 1-2 stories in the early 80s. When I turned 18 and could live where I want, I moved to the U-District.
Yeah, human events don’t fit neatly into decades. Large social movements overlap. For example, when talking about civil rights protests, it is easy to focus on the 1960s, but they started well before then, and ended well after. The same is true with the suburbs.
The automobile-based suburb is an American concept. From what I understand, it has its roots in Detroit, which makes sense. It is Motor City, after all. The city was doing well before automobiles. It was a major shipping port, and had plenty of manufacturing. It also had plenty of wealth, with gilded age mansions. It was called the “Paris of the West” for its grand avenues and newly electrified Washington Boulevard.
But Detroit really boomed with the automobile. The population went from around 250,000 to 1.5 million in only thirty years (from 1900 to 1930). That has to be one of the biggest growth spurts of all time in terms of total population added. By then it had become the fourth largest city in the country, behind New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Much of this growth was based around the automobile. If you look at various neighborhoods, you can see that they are auto-oriented. This has played a major part in its downfall. But of course, it got worse.
In the 1940s, the world’s “first urban depressed freeway” was built in Detroit. Many eventually followed. At the same time, Detroit became a major hub for the great African American Diaspora in the post-war period. This increased racial tension. These two influenced each other. To quote Wikipedia:
As in other major American cities in the postwar era, construction of a federally subsidized, extensive highway and freeway system around Detroit, and pent-up demand for new housing stimulated suburbanization; highways made commuting by car for higher-income residents easier. However, this construction had negative implications for many lower-income urban residents. Highways were constructed through and completely demolished neighborhoods of poor residents and black communities who had less political power to oppose them. The neighborhoods were mostly low income, considered blighted, or made up of older housing where investment had been lacking due to racial redlining, so the highways were presented as a kind of urban renewal. These neighborhoods (such as Black Bottom and Paradise Valley) were extremely important to the black communities of Detroit, providing spaces for independent black businesses and social/cultural organizations. Their destruction displaced residents with little consideration of the effects of breaking up functioning neighborhoods and businesses.
Thus you had a very negative cycle. Urban neighborhoods were considered blighted, and the freeways made things worse, while also encouraging wealthy people to commute from outside. Detroit was not alone. This was happening in one form or another all across the country.
There was push back against this type of suburbia right as it was beginning. Consider the R. H. Thompson freeway. While it has its roots in the 1930s, it wasn’t officially planned and funded until the late 1950s. But, wary of the destruction another freeway would have, citizen activists rallied for a fierce, decade-long fight to stop the R.H. Thomson. It was a diverse coalition that included University of Washington students and faculty, the Black Panthers, environmental activists, concerned neighbors and more.*
It wasn’t just the freeways either. Suburban tract housing was mocked in the “Little Boxes” song of 1962. Malvina wrote the song, but Pete Seeger sang it. (Seeger is an example of how periods overlap. While well known as a 1960’s civil rights protester, his career goes way back.) It is quite understandable how kids, growing up in a suburban environment, would rebel and question their surroundings.
But experts questioned these things as well. On the one hand, you had Robert Moses, who worked hard to destroy New York City the only way he knew how — lots and lots of freeways. Jane Jacobs fought not only his specific proposals, but his entire approach to cities. This happened in the 1960s. While Moses lost plenty of battles, overall, his way of thinking won in most of the country.
I do believe there was a social turning point in the late 90s, which coincides with the time Mike mentioned. To quote a headline at the time, cities don’t suck. It seems absurd, of course, but for a long time, that was the message. It helped propel not only sprawl, but the Reagan Revolution (and the Nixon victories that laid the groundwork for it). The idea that cities suck became a self-fulfilling prophesy in some areas, and is responsible for much of what ails this country. By the 1990s, lots of people were calling bullsh** on that idea. I think TV had a big impact, with shows like Friends.
I may be giving TV too much credit, but consider Joe Biden’s famous remarks about Gay Marriage. It is important to understand how audacious this was. Biden is a very experienced politician. He knew exactly what he was doing. Obama was a centrist. He had straddled the line on Gay Marriage for a long time, officially being against it (while saying his opinion on it was evolving). Biden’s remarks forced his hand. By supporting Gay Marriage, he made it clear that Obama had to follow. As others at the time put it, he was forced to “evolve faster”. In Biden’s comments, he referenced the TV show Will and Grace. These things influence public opinion.
We now live in an era of stratification. Cities have been reluctant to change, given their newfound popularity. This has lead to very expensive homes in the city. At the same time, the suburbs have stratified. Popular suburbs are very expensive. Others have become slums.
“I do believe there was a social turning point in the late 90s, which coincides with the time Mike mentioned. To quote a headline at the time, cities don’t suck”.
The revitalization of urban cities began in the 1990’s when new policing methods and drug addiction and crime were made top priorities by a new breed of mayor and police chief (and don’t forget Biden was co-sponsor of the 1984 and 1994 federal crime bills, with the 1994 crime bill being the template for new city policing methods and very long prison sentences for drug dealers and violent criminals). From around 1970 to the mid 1990’s the main reason people left the city for suburbia was public safety and crime (with schools being another important reason). The city was much cheaper to live in during those years.
The second big factor was demographics. The Millennials were entering the work force but not ready to marry, and unable to afford a SFH in the suburbs. They were young and had no kids and not surprisingly preferred the excitement of the city, especially as urban crime had decreased and cities were becoming vibrant, and now there were more eyes on the street.
I am no different. I was raised in suburbia, left for “the city” (UW) when age 18, and stayed in Seattle until marrying when in my early 30’s. Seattle was certainly more exciting than Mercer Island, which I couldn’t afford anyway. By the time my parents (who were born and raised in Seattle but moved to suburbia in 1970) were in their early 30’s they had three kids with another on the way.
Now things are swinging back. From the early 2000’s to around the George Floyd protests and pandemic U.S. urban cities had a real renaissance. But public safety declined, crime increased, Millennials got older, got married, and then with the booming economy could afford a SFH in the suburbs. We now see a decline in retail vibrancy in urban cities, especially with the loss of the work commuter. So now the pendulum has swung back a little.
A recent article in The Seattle Times noted that the slight decrease in Seattle’s population in 2021 was not the story, it was the outflow of older residents and the inflow of younger residents that was the story, which is quite common. Young, unmarried, single people naturally prefer the bright lights of the city, depending on crime. When they get married, can afford a SFH in the suburbs, and start thinking about children they move out of the urban city, and new younger kids move in.
The decline of Detroit was about much more than the car, because some cities did well during the same period, while others also declined. In the end it was crime that hollowed out Detroit, and for a period even NY City in the 1970’s to early 1990’s.
Ideally both thrive: the urban city, and the suburbs, and in a city like Seattle where does the suburb begin (West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Laurelhurst, Blue Ridge, Madison Park) and where does it become “urban”. They are not mutually exclusive, although the loss of the suburban work commuter is a huge blow which is hurt Detroit badly.
If ST has made any mistake it is not understanding the place where the suburb begins and the urban ends is not based on geography, and that the folks living in suburbia like it as much as those living in the urban core like that, and have no intent of changing their zoning and neighborhood. I always believe that if you don’t have kids you can’t understand suburbia, and neither did I even though I grew up in suburbia like Mike (but enjoyed it) until I got married and had kids.
People in suburbia are not rooting against Seattle. Just the opposite. Nor are they saying they won’t meet their GMPC future housing allocation targets. Which is why the Seattle City Council driving Seattle into a ditch when the city has so many advantages is so maddening, although I am glad to see council members beginning to state the plan to retire. I live on the north end of Mercer Island. I use to work and play in a bright, vibrant up and coming city across the lake. Now I work on Mercer Island and play in Bellevue or suburbia. Does anyone think I like that? Hell yes it makes me angry. So don’t blame suburbia or the car. Seattle had 460,000 cars in the 2000’s just like it does today and it was a great city.
“The revitalization of urban cities began in the 1990’s when new policing methods and drug addiction and crime were made top priorities by a new breed of mayor and police chief”
The motivation began earlier. People didn’t just wake up one day and decide “I want to live in central Seattle” and the next year the condos were built. It was growing in the 70s and 80s. It was a reaction to the ultra-suburbanization is the 60s. The 50s introduced new concepts, but the 60s was the turning point where Seattle lost the most population, and the 70s was when the majority were living in the suburbs. Downtown Seattle’s decay started — it was before my time so I’m not sure — but it was entrenched in the early 70s when my elementary school took a field trip downtown for an anti-cult movie. That was when the county started planning the downtown tunnel and a retail renovation. The tunnel in 1990, the condos in the 80s, and the budding urban villages in the 1990s were the result of that. Around 1980 I attended a councilor on 15th Ave E on Capitol Hill. She said she liked the neighborhood “because it’s so cosmopolitan”: many things to walk to, diverse people, etc. That was the kind of attitude that grew into the back-to-the-city movement.
There were no visible homeless in the 1970s or early 80s. That was a “New York City issue”. The homeless started appearing gradually after Seattle closed the SRO hotels (=microapartments), and the federal government closed the inpatient mental-health facilities and the replacement outpatient services never materialized.
Still, housing was cheap in Seattle because the population had fallen and left 10% vacancies, so anyone making minimum wage could get an apartment. Drugs were not as much an issue in the 70s and 80s. They existed and you could buy them on the Ave, but there weren’t as many social problems with them. Crime, well, people thought crime in downtown Seattle was high in the 70s, and there were hundreds of prostitutes and ready drugs, but I’d say assaults on middle-class office people and shoppers weren’t that high. The big crime wave with gangs and drive-by shootings came later in the 1990s, and by 2000 it was already falling again.
The perception of crime was greater than the reality, and it has persisted for decades. Much of the suburban migration in the 50s and 60s was due to the Civil Rights Act, end of Jim Crow, end of housing discrimination, and beginning of desegregational school busing. Americans were already fond of the Futurama vision (a Bewitched-like house and car in a modern subdivision), but desegregational busing convinced more of them to leap over the school-district boundary to lily-white suburbs beyond the juristiction of city-school desegregation. It wasn’t just because of actual crime: it was far more because of imaginary crime and actual prejudice. Rainier Valley’s crime rate peaked in the 1990s, but still there are suburbanites who think if they spend five minutes in the valley they’ll be shot. Simultaneously other people like them are moving into Rainier Valley’s new apartments and condos and old apartments and houses, and loving the neighborhood’s diversity and walkability, and are not being shot.
The pandemic and the aftermath of the Floyd killing shook things up, and we’re still picking up the pieces and figuring out what it all means, and I’m trying to figure out how it compares to the downtown decay in the 70s. So some problems are new, some are worse, some are more of the same, and some are imaginary but motivate people on NextDoor.
I don’t know a lot about Detroit and have never been there, but from what I gather Detroit was heavily dependent on a single industry and three major companies. The companies were vertically-integrated, unlike the plethora of Boeing contractors in the Everett industrial center. So when they started sending jobs overseas, and Japan ate America’s lunch in car reliability, all those non-contractor departments disappeared by the company’s decision rather than independently shifting to another business model. Meanwhile a lot of blacks moved up from the South for good-paying jobs and to escape Jim Crow, but soon after they arrived the jobs started disappearing. The large influx of blacks scared whites, so they suburbanized more than in other cities. Detroit got an unusually large number of freeways, which decimated neighborhoods as RossB described above. All that left Detroit with a weaker economic base than other cities. The loss of jobs meant a lot of people were unemployed and in poverty, and that creates instability and crime as people become desperate. Suburbanites refused to invest in the city to maintain infrastructure and create opportunities, moreso than in other cities. The state even took away some of the resources it had, like imposing a city manager over the elected government, and forcing it to sell the art collection, and I think something about pensions. (I’m not sure how much of that happened or was just going to happen.) So Detroit’s problems were much more than just people reacting to a reasonable fear of crime. And they could have reacted by improving the city to bring the crime rate down, rather than fleeing and pulling out the rug behind them.
Speaking of the Detroit example, I was a grade-school kid in 1970s Michigan. However, I cannot give you any information on what Detroit was like then, because my parents refused to go there. And considering my father is from New York, one of the most “intense” cities in the world, for him and my mother to avoid taking the family there certainly has a lot to say about the state of 1970s Detroit. (I remember constantly asking, “Dad, can we go to a Detroit Red Wings game?”, and him answering, “No, we’re going to a Kalamazoo Wings game.”) The only times we touched Detroit were to go to the airport (outside the city limits), or to go through it on the freeways to visit the Greenfield Village theme park or family friends in Toronto.
What current Detroit is like compared to the apparent sad state of 1970s Detroit, I wouldn’t know, as we moved to Seattle in 1978.
Going back to the guerilla crosswalk that was painted at E Olive Way and Harvard Ave E, while there have been a few improvements in the past decade, SDOT needs to rethink the area around Capitol Hill station- and especially west of Broadway- to make it safer for pedestrians, transit riders, and bicyclists.
Problems I see pretty much every day: Drivers (sometimes multiple) running red lights at Broadway and E John St/E Olive Way- this probably occurs at least half of all light cycles. Drivers parking in bus stops on Broadway. Drivers speeding on the side streets parallel to Broadway. Drivers blocking the crosswalks while trying to turn onto East Olive Way. Plus the original issue of driver not yielding to pedestrians trying to cross East Olive Way.
Are there point to point travel estimates for ST3? Curious about TDLE to Westlake. Boy is their website difficult.
As far as I’ve found, the only time public travel estimates are what each extension website has bulleted (until they finish the DEIS).
TDLE’s site says 35 mins from TD to Seatac; currently, it’s about 35 mins from Seatac to Westlake, for a total travel time of 70 mins. That’s about the same time it takes Sounder to make the same trip, according to schedules.
If, for fun, you add that to ELE’s 60 estimated minutes from Everett to Westlake, and you’re looking at a full 130 mins + at least one 0-5 min transfer to travel the whole Spine.
(caveat being that Sounder goes to King Street, not Westlake, obviously)
That matches my recollection: Westlake-Federal Way around 55 minutes, Westlake-Tacoma Dome 75 minutes.
Honestly, that isn’t as bad as I had suspected. Definitely slower than driving, but hopefully more reliable.
I’ve read conflicting numbers. Years ago, this blog posted a page with estimates that included these two tables: http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/10143005/Screen-Shot-2015-08-09-at-9.07.39-PM.png, http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/14151500/Screen-Shot-2015-08-14-at-8.12.45-AM.png. That goes as far north as Lynnwood, as far south as Federal Way, and as far east as Redmond Technology Station (not downtown Redmond).
But I think these are rough estimates. I believe the numbers have changed since those tables were created. To get numbers beyond this, you can look at the estimates from the web pages, as Nathan suggested. According to the official schedule, it takes 33 minutes to go from I. D. to SeaTac. If it takes 35 minutes to get from the Tacoma Dome to SeaTac, that would be 68 minutes. According to the official schedule, it takes Sounder 62 minutes to make the same trip, thus saving 6 minutes. The savings aren’t huge, but I think many would still prefer the big train just because it is more comfortable.
The schedule for the bus varies depending on what time of day it is. It is also less consistent. But according to the schedule, a midday run takes 46 minutes to get from the Tacoma Dome to Fourth and Jackson. This is a savings of over 20 minutes compared to Link. If the bus is running every 15 minutes, and that schedule is accurate, it never makes sense to take Link. The bus also serves downtown Tacoma, which for many means one less transfer. In short, the alternatives to Link are faster. When Sounder is running, take it. When it isn’t, take the bus. It really doesn’t make sense to take Link from Tacoma to Seattle unless they truncate the buses (which I expect them to do).
Thus Tacoma to Seattle travelers may see their travel time get worse, but they will have better trips to Fife and Federal Way.
Just a note that Sounder just gets a rider to King St and not Westlake. The extra six minutes would be needed to get from King St to the IDC platform — making Sounder from Tacoma mostly awash in time unless the rider is going somewhere close to King St.
And, the 46 minute figure, itself, already includes some amount of traffic padding. A more accurate estimate is using Google to calculate the drive time between these two stops (following the bus route). This estimate comes out to be 40 minutes, which means a bus that leaves 4th/Jackson on time and encounters no delays will arrive at Tacoma Dome a few minutes early.
Link on the other hand, because everything is so much more regimented, will never get to Tacoma Dome 4-6 minutes early. If the schedule says 70 minutes, 70 minutes is what it’s going to take every hour, every day, and not one minute faster.
@Al — Yes, Sounder gets you to King Street, which I consider to be comparable to IDC, which is why I used those numbers. To transfer between the trains takes around 6 minutes according to Google. This is the exact same amount of time saved by Sounder. Imagine if Link leaves the Tacoma Dome at the same time as Link. You could take Sounder, then transfer at IDC, and catch the exact same train you would have caught in Tacoma. That would make sense if you were headed to Capitol Hill, or places north (https://goo.gl/maps/juryq7uwzxvMBo9h8). If you are headed to Westlake, though, you would probably just ride the bus. That is what Google recommends: https://goo.gl/maps/SndFQSA67SvrxTE78. If you are going beyond Westlake, then a bus is definitely the better option. If you are going short of Westlake (to say, University Street, or Pioneer Square) then walking or the bus is again the better option. Thus it is only a wash if you are headed to Link destinations north of downtown (Capitol Hill, UW, etc.). The rest of the time Sounder saves you time. Depending on your destination, a little or a lot.
I think the big selling point is that it will simply be a lot more comfortable. Sounder is a big train, while Link is a subway car. It would be nice if the transfer from Sounder to Link was better.
TDLE is an investment in lieu of better bus priority on I5, with the central assumption that congestion on I5 will continually get worse, so the speed & reliability of the bus will continue to get worse, both with peak congestion worse and the time span of congestion expands into more of the day.
Remember that Sounder runs during peak hours, when traffic is bad. From the Tacoma Dome, it is competitive with Link, if not faster. It is much more comfortable, although it might require an extra transfer.
I think we are assuming two things. First, that we will never change the HOV lines from HOV-2 to HOV-3. Second, that traffic will get considerably worse for most of the day. Not during peak (when Sounder runs) but in the middle of the day.
I think TDLE actually makes the first one more difficult politically. There is a very strong case for changing the HOV lanes. It would dramatically speed up transit trips for thousands of riders, while saving various agencies a huge amount of money. But as long as there is the belief that Link will run that far, little is being done. Thus TDLE is not only based on two assumptions, but helping to make the first one more likely. TDLE is not only a huge waste of precious transit spending, but it actually makes things worse for transit riders.
You could probably say the same thing about West Seattle. By my estimation it would cost around 100 million or so to dramatically speed up bus travel times from West Seattle to downtown in the morning. But no one is interested, since Link will eventually get there. Likewise, there has been no effort to connect the HOV lanes of I-5 to the SoDo Busway, despite being a WSDOT project for years now. Sometimes perfect is the enemy of good. Other times a big, expensive imperfect is the enemy of better.
Yes, if you are at Tacoma Dome, Link to Seattle isn’t much of an improvement over Sounder at peak and bus rest of day. But I don’t think anyone in Tacoma proper is looking for Link to improve on trips to Seattle; Tacoma & Fife want a better connection to everything between Tacoma and SeaTac, for which Sounder is irrelevant. This is why Pierce shouldn’t be concerned about how slow Link is between SeaTac and Seattle CBD, as Sounder is more relevant for most Tacoma-Seattle riders. When Sounder isn’t running, Link will indeed be slower but that is offset by Link having much higher off-peak frequencies (supported by the strong ridership in North King) and many useful intermediate stops (the classic trade off between high frequency regular service and lower frequency express service).
Also, I5 congestion is spreading into a longer period of the day than Sounder runs. ST would basically have to spend TDLE size budget to expand Sounder’s span of service to stay ahead of where I5 congestion will be in 2040 (assuming status quo from WSDOT).
I agree the case for HOV3 on I5 is dramatically eroded. Both Snohomish and Pierce have chosen to pivot away from relying on I5 as central to long haul transit, whereas King is doubling down on 405 as a bus spine, which will make for an interesting comparison.
At least on I-90 west of Mercer Island there is a chance the HOV lane converts to a general-purpose lane since no buses will cross the bridge after East Link opens, and dedicating an entire lane of I-90 in each direction for only the few HOV’s is a waste of freeway space.
The FHWA expressly approved converting the HOV lane into a general purpose lane in 2017 (or HOT lane), but I think Seattle objected at the time. The reality is the configuration of I-90 from MI to Seattle does not allow any enforcement of the HOV lane, and in my daily commute I routinely saw SOV’s use the HOV lane, until traffic congestion disappeared during the pandemic. Even today buses don’t use the HOV lane in the inner roadway of I-90 because it is a hassle to enter I-90, move to the inner HOV lane, and then move to the outer lane to exit onto MI once across the bridge when congestion overall is low (as is bus ridership).
If I-5 goes to a 3+ HOV configuration — which is unlikely — because then you will likely overload other parallel roads I think the better approach is a HOT lane approach that allows a driver to pay to use the HOT lane, or allows 3+ to use the HOV lane for free, like 405. But I agree with Ross that it will be very difficult to sell I-5 HOV lanes on 3+ when there is both Sounder and Link from Tacoma to Seattle, and one could argue those buses should be truncated at Link rather than duplicating the route even if Link is slower. I thought bus truncation was the whole point of Link. One big advantage of shared rides like Uber or a taxi is they get to use the HOV lane, and they won’t want to lose that.
The real issue is the terrible design of I-5 through Seattle which causes so much of the congestion. I-5 narrows due to the convention center, and then you have Mercer St. exiting and entering from the wrong lanes, (same at 65th going south) with a quick jog over to catch 520, plus the narrowing over the bridge. There is probably 25% additional capacity on I-5 if the design were simply changed and improved to be more linear in its stops. Unfortunately, I don’t think any more lanes can be added like they are adding on 405, which also rules out any kind of rapid ride.
“But I don’t think anyone in Tacoma proper is looking for Link to improve on trips to Seattle; Tacoma & Fife want a better connection to everything between Tacoma and SeaTac, for which Sounder is irrelevant. ”
I think this is true for politicians who don’t ride, or think deeply about transit. I don’t think it is true for those who currently ride transit or those who might, if we don’t F it up, ride transit in the future.
The vast majority of folks in Tacoma are completely transit-niave. There hasn’t been transit to ride in Tacoma since the greatest generation were toddlers. Tacomans that I have talked to about Link are completely clueless about the details. They think “I hear a train might make it down here some day. That will be neat.” That’s it.
The HOV lane on I-90 isn’t just about Metro and Sound Transit buses. It’s also about carpools, vanpools, and of course all those private shuttle buses from Microsoft, Amazon, etc. If you make the HOV lane general purpose, then all of these vehicles get to sit in traffic.
“The HOV lane on I-90 isn’t just about Metro and Sound Transit buses. It’s also about carpools, vanpools, and of course all those private shuttle buses from Microsoft, Amazon, etc. If you make the HOV lane general purpose, then all of these vehicles get to sit in traffic.”
The issue is without any buses in the HOV lanes does it make sense to dedicate an entire interstate lane in each direction to the relatively small number of HOV’s? Especially today when so many HOV’s never really use the HOV lane because traffic congestion is mild and the HOV’s don’t want to migrate four lanes over to the HOV lane and then migrate back.
Some argue that by making the HOV lane general purpose — considering it is nearly impossible to enforce, at least across the bridge span — it benefits HOV’s because the traffic congestion in the outer lane in which they must enter and exit I-90 would be less.
In any case, the lack of congestion on I-90 (at least until you reach 405 or I-5) has made this issue kind of moot. Anyone who wants can use the HOV lane if they want, and most HOV’s don’t because congestion is too low to make it worth the hassle of moving across four lanes of traffic and back by the time you get to the 405 or I-5 entrances whne traffic speeds are the same in all lanes. Essentially today the HOV lane serves as a general-purpose lane.
If traffic congestion returns, and buses still run in the HOV lane because East Link can’t or can’t run at full capacity or more cities fund dedicated buses like the 630 across the bridge, then that might be a different issue. But without traffic congestion the debate over the HOV lane is immaterial, and although a hot topic in 2017 (along with tolling I-90) no one cares today.
Tacoma & Fife want a better connection to everything between Tacoma and SeaTac
Wait, what? Seriously? How many people are taking trips like that? I often point out that relatively few people travel between Tacoma and Seattle (way more ride within Tacoma). But the people going from Seattle and Tacoma dwarfs those riding from say, Fife to Federal Way. The 500, which does go to downtown Tacoma (and makes many more stops on the way between Tacoma and Federal Way than Link will) carried only 1,000 riders a day before the pandemic. ST runs the 574 express, which connects downtown Tacoma (and the Tacoma Dome) to Federal Way and SeaTac. It got about 400 riders from the Tacoma Dome (or 800 round trips a day). Yes, I know, the service isn’t great. But there is a reason for that. Hardly anyone rides these buses.
To put things in perspective, the 590 had about 1,500 riders from Tacoma headed to Seattle. The 594 had around 650. That right there is telling. The 594 only runs outside rush hour. When both the 574 and 594 are running, they both run every half hour. Yet the 594 got more riders than the all-day 574. Meanwhile, Sounder had another 1,200 or so from the Tacoma Dome. Clearly there are way more people taking transit to Seattle than the places along the way.
But again, most Tacoma riders just ride within Tacoma. The 1 alone gets over 5,000 riders. Link will do nothing for them. I don’t see even see a beneficial restructure (unlike say, Community Transit, which can cancel all those express buses to Seattle once Link gets to Lynnwood). Pierce Transit will still have to run the 500. It is only ST who will cancel buses, much to the detriment of existing riders.
“The issue is without any buses in the HOV lanes does it make sense to dedicate an entire interstate lane in each direction to the relatively small number of HOV’s?”
Again, other countries do it. Not HOV lanes, but BRT lanes or rail tracks. Each bus is equivalent to fifty cars. And if you make the buses more frequent, the lanes won’t be as empty and more people will ride the bus.
“TDLE is an investment in lieu of better bus priority on I5, with the central assumption that congestion on I5 will continually get worse, so the speed & reliability of the bus will continue to get worse, both with peak congestion worse and the time span of congestion expands into more of the day.”
Are you serious? WSDOT controls I-5. No city or county politician or Sound Transit can add two lanes to I-5 or convert HOV2 to HOV3. Most of the state thinks transit is a nonviable alternative. So a better sentence would be, “TLDE is an investment because we can’t get bus priority on I-5.” The 405 HOT lanes came with adding new lanes, not converting existing lanes.
“on I-90 west of Mercer Island there is a chance the HOV lane converts to a general-purpose lane since no buses will cross the bridge after East Link opens,”
When WSDOT converted the center express lanes to light rail, it added two outer lanes by squeezing the existing lanes. At the time there was concern that the lanes were too narrow for safety. Since I don’t drive I can’t tell whether they’re too narrow or not. But it so, WSDOT might eliminate the HOV lanes and restore the other lanes to their original width.
What buses Mike? When East Link opens there will be no cross lake buses. That is the whole point.
The other point I made is it is irrelevant today. There is little congestion on I-90 and there is no enforcement of the HOV lane. Buses and HOV’s use the outer SOV lane and SOV’s use the inner HOV lane. One of the big benefits of WFH is the reduction of peak hour congestion.
RA-8 has been great. At first I thought the four lanes in each direction would be too narrow but it has worked well (until you reach the backups for 405 or I-5). Fewer modern cars break down so the narrow shoulders are rarely used. The main thing RA-8 did is eliminate areas where the lanes narrowed that caused the most congestion. The one downside is the bike/pedestrian lane was narrowed and the shoulder between traffic and the bike lane eliminated. I don’t know why WSDOT won’t install a better windscreen. I find the bike lane on The East Channel bridge terrifying on a bike. WSDOT needs to install a better windscreen.
When I take the 550 westbound in the PM peak it gets bogged down in traffic. Sometimes the left lane is faster but for some reason the bus stays in the middle slower lanes. Can’t it use the HOV lane and get to the exit?
HOV traffic is more than just people carpooling to work. Every parent taking their kid to school is HOV traffic, at least in the direction where the kid is in the car. Every couple going to a concert downtown together is also HOV. And that’s not even getting into the fact that peak commute hours feature a lot of tech company shuttles and a lot of vanpools, plus other special purposes buses such as the Snoqualmie Casino shuttle and Greyhound. I have also been in hiking carpools on weekends where we encountered traffic on I-90 on the way back, and being able to use the HOV lane saved considerable time.
Metro and Sound Transit buses are a small fraction of the vehicles that use the I-90 HOV lane today, and there will be plenty of justification for keeping it HOV in the future, even without such buses.
Yeah, if I do end up finding some an avenue for influencing transit planning and spending here in Tacoma locally, I was simply looking for some numbers to make the case that perhaps TDLE would not be worth the money, given that it would make current transit trips worse for all but trips between Tacoma and, what? TIB?
So I appreciate the numbers, however rough.
“Completing TDLE will increase the transit commute to the central Seattle business district by approximately 20 minutes, compared to the status quo.”
Here’s my impressions, although they may not cover all factors.
Link from Westlake to Lynnwood and Everett will be in the midrange of ST Express.. Link from Westlake to Bellevue and Redmond will be faster (by 5-15 minutes). In contrast, all Link south corridors are slower off-peak and — this is new — catch up peak. Link from Westlake to SeaTac is 37 minutes, Federal Way 55 minutes, Tacoma Dome 75 minutes. The 194 Westlake-SeaTac was 28 minutes without traffic. The 578 Westlake-Federal Way is 37-54 minutes. The 590/594 Westlake-Tacoma Dome is 59-87 minutes . Let’s look at the latter more closely because I couldn’t believe it. The 594 at 12:20pm is 59 minutes. The 590 at 2:36pm is 88 minutes. The 590 at 5:02pm is 75 minutes. So by those numbers, Link to Tacoma is 16 minutes slower, 13 minutes faster, and exactly the same.
The board kept saying traffic congestion would get gradually worse, and eventually Link would catch up to it even if it’s initially slower. It looks it has reached that point now. Are there any Tacoma commuters who can confirm the bus travel times?
Pierce/Tacoma’s stated priorities for Link are to improve access to the airport, and to attract jobs/workers/visitors to Tacoma. So, for workers/visitors coming from Seattle (transferring downtown), Link is comparable to existing transit peak hours, and 16 minutes longer off-peak. (There’s also the transfer to the T-Line, and the platforms reportedly being not next to each other, while the 590/594 continue to downtown Tacoma.) For workers/visitors coming from Rainier Valley, Link is shorter and they’ve never had an express bus alternative.
I assume a sleeper market will be South King County to Tacoma. For that the 574 is comparable. Link from Tacoma to Federal Way is 20 minutes, SeaTac 36 minutes (20+12+4 for FW-Angle Lake-SeaTac). The 574 to Federal Way is 17 minutes, SeaTac 40-42 minutes. So Link is 3 minutes slower to Federal Way but 4-6 minutes faster to SeaTac. The bulk of the population lives east of downtown Kent, in Auburn, and in Renton. It takes them half an hour just to get to a Link station to go to Tacoma. So will they flock to Tacoma jobs and museums? Maybe a little. Link will have four advantages: three times the frequency, a longer span, immunity from traffic, and future Stride 1 and RapidRide 165 and 181. Stride 1 will get people from downtown Renton to TIB faster than the F (although it will still be a transfer from the residential areas). RapidRide 162 will get people from downtown Kent, East Hill, and 132nd. RapidRide 181 will get people from downtown Auburn and to GRCC.
Will companies locate in Tacoma because of the airport connection and the larger South King County worker base? I have no idea. Will their buildings be transit-oriented so riders can get there easily after they get to Tacoma Dome? That I’m more pessimistic about, looking at the examples in Tacoma now, and in Kent, Auburn, and Renton. Companies and governments still don’t get transit’s potential if they’d only design their buildings and industrial areas like in Europe. So I don’t see why they’d start in Tacoma.
“The 590/594 Westlake-Tacoma Dome is 59-87 minutes.”
I was about to correct you, because 594 nearly always has been under 45 mins for me, off- peak. Then I realized l always get off in SODO, and either hop on link, or hop on my bike. It must crawl to Westlake.
Google puts it at 53 minutes: https://goo.gl/maps/EfsJKL9ELqXbNvY5A. They put a trip from the Tacoma Dome to SoDo at 40 minutes: https://goo.gl/maps/5aowfrdawAPpebh4A. So yeah, it takes about 13 minutes to get from SoDo to Westlake if you stay on the bus. It is 9 minutes on the train, but that doesn’t count the time getting to and from the platform. I think it is just surprisingly far from SoDo to Westlake (2.25 miles). The train averages 15 mph, while the bus averages about 10. Both are quite respectable for going through downtown.
TDLE is an investment in lieu of better bus priority on I5, with the central assumption that congestion on I5 will continually get worse, so the speed & reliability of the bus will continue to get worse, both with peak congestion worse and the time span of congestion expands into more of the day. Reliability is important – the Google Maps time maybe right 80% of the time, but 20% of the time there is total gridlock. Link should break down much less often than I5, so the ride is much more reliable. Immunity from congestion not only makes regular trips better, but makes transfers much more palatable, inducing 2-seat trips with various KCM or Stride routes. (unlike the comment thread about 8 vs 7.5 minute frequency in Seattle, )TDLE running at a 12 or 15 minute clock face schedule off-peak will be a clear improvement over express buses trying to achieve the same frequency.
Robust growth in TOD in Pierce & SK will be essential for TDLE to be successful. But it is more than just commuters – schools like Highline & UWT should be solid trip generators, and Tacoma Dome merits high capacity transit for major events just like the arenas & stadia in Seattle.
I’ve seen some mention of shoulder-running express buses on ST3 website.
An additional problem with 75 minutes Dome to Westlake, is that is almost always going to be only 1 leg of a two-seat ride. There are a couple modest TOD projects near the Dome, but at its heart, it’s bounded by I-5 and a heavy industrial area and, barring a serendipitous lahar, that isn’t, and shouldn’t, change.
So very, very few people will be walking to the Dome. So one leg will either be a bus/streetcar to get you to TD station, or a park and ride leg.
“An additional problem with 75 minutes Dome to Westlake, is that is almost always going to be only 1 leg of a two-seat ride.”
Or, for anyone that doesn’t live right by a 1-line Link station, a 3-seat ride. Bus to Link, Link to Tacoma, bus/street to Tacoma downtown. For most on the eastside, it would be a 4-seat ride (local bus->Link->Link->streetcar or local bus->STRIDE->Link->streetcar).
Sumner is working on providing it’s own bus service to link the Sounder station to commercial areas:
(This may be worth a separate posting.)
It sounds like it’s not a bus service but something limited to participating employers, and employees would have to use an app to book a ride. I’d rather have something that runs at scheduled times, doesn’t require an app, and accepts everybody.
Yeah, they opted out of Pierce Transit years ago. Now they are trying to build a duplicate, privately contracted service.
It’s not duplicate and it’s not to commercial areas. You won’t be able to take it to retail districts or to home. It’s to an industrial area like northwest Kent or western Issaquah. “Workers who walk or bike a mile or two each day from the Sumner Sounder Station to the city’s manufacturing and industrial center soon will be able to take a shuttle instead. There are about 16,000 workers in that part of the city, which has companies such as REI, Amazon and Costco.”
I rode my bike through that area this summer. It’s mile after mile of riverfront destroyed by warehouses. It’s increased the ratio of my bricks and mortar to online purchases substantially, now that I understand what that impact.
You are right, not duplicate, because there is no service at all. I have no idea what service existed before then wanted their three-fifths of a penny back. Probably not much, given the warehouses looked pretty new.
This Sound Transit video of an Everett Link discussion came out today and might be of interest to some of you
“The meeting included discussion around the stations, routes, and operation and maintenance facility locations being considered.”
I’ve started an article on this. More in a couple days. Thanks for the link.
(The Pierce County transit article will be sometime after it.)
Oh, good! I watched about half of it, but it was more interesting than I thought it would be. I like how they laid-out the advantages and disadvantages of the various alternatives. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say on it.
I suscribe to ST’s YouTube channel, so I see when they put something new out. They don’t post much to their YT channel, maybe two videos per month on average, but it’s a good place to see things like this meeting, Link extension flyover videos, the video of the Redmond pedestrian bridge being put in, etc.
We need somebody to monitor ST’s board meetings and committee meetings and project updates. I used to be involved in board meetings and am on a few mailings, but I’m only hearing about the East Link stub or Interbay alternatives or Everett alternatives when somebody happens to post them here or it’s in the newspaper. We also need more regular monitoring of Metro, CT, PT, and ET. Is anybody doing this or can somebody do this, and either put it in articles or send notes or links to the contact address?
Interbay Open house from Dec 12. These are the “concepts” they handed out to us at the door. https://wsblematerialsstorage.blob.core.windows.net/20221209interbayopenhouse/2022_1212_IBBOpenHouse_ConsolidatedBoards_ReducedSize.pdf?sp=r&st=2022-12-09T23:54:29Z&se=2024-01-01T07:54:29Z&spr=https&sv=2021-06-08&sr=b&sig=YCWPzhOSVYLnHXi6hp01qr8lSmR8rgyf%2FLk30Uq5ajg%3D
Concept A: SIB-1 is basically just what has already been proposed but the Smith Cove station is now jammed further north to straddle the Galer St. Flyover.
Concept B: SIB-3 same thing except now they abandon any pretense of having a station for Expedia workers and move the Smith Cove station to the Armory/Wholefoods complex as an elevated station.
Both keep the Magnolia station as a partially recessed station under the W. Dravus St. railroad bridge. There was some chatter that there is some sort of ground clearance issues with avoiding sewer lines in this area (though none are shown on the maps they provided).
Concept C: One station to rule then all. Abandons the Magnolia station and keeps only the Smith Cove now moved much further north to the Armory/Wholefoods complex location. Presented as an all tunnel with recessed station along 15th. Not shown on maps but chatter was this saves on property costs, especially if the tunnel exit ends up being on W. Republican St. Which blows right into the back of an apartment building and requires taking out a 2nd apartment building or crossing the street and taking out an office complex. They try to frame this a saving small businesses but really this makes no sense as they simultaneously predict TOD development at the Armory location, which obviously the city could just arrange for a land swap or preferred lease rate. But I don’t think they want to because while the city claims they want light industrial at this location but I seriously suspect they are planning on just expanding the Wholefoods complex and making a larger strip mall, maybe a University Village open air mall at best. I have very low expectations for any real TOD at the Armory. Last public meeting I attended about it showed very hostile reception from the public about putting any real residential there.
There is an online survey. https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/7137052/IBB-furtherstudies?utm_campaign=pu-westseattleballard-20221212&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
Next meeting on Jan 11 should be about the Ballard approach and station location specifically.
They are small adjustments to the existing proposals, no considerations on a better transit experience, but how to reduce road impact such as reducing the number of crossings of 15th Ave or land acquisitions. Mercer, Elliott, and 15th are fairly wide, why not just run in the middle or take out a lane on one side?!? No proposal bringing the schedule closer to the 2035 date they had promised voters though this would be possible if ST would focus on SLU/Ballard and skip DSTT2.
All concepts assume a ship canal tunnel so at this point a tunnel seems to be a given. Entering a tunnel gets more challenging if you enter from an elevated line. A sunken station at Dravus along 20th Ave makes it easier, I like that, but the walkshed on 20th is smaller than on 15th, buses along 15th would need to stop at the Armory station and walk a bit.
The single station concept would not connect to Dravus and miss major bus connections.
Let’s see what the ship canal tunnel proposals they came up with in January, I hope they will include a proposal with a station on Market Street.
Throwing this out to the horde, Ballard light rail in 2039, do you bet before or after?
After, if by Ballard light rail you mean WSBLE.
After. The recent Downtown light rail projects in LA and SF took about 9-12 years from groundbreaking . That would require final design and property acquisition and building removal done by 2027-30. That is assuming the money is line up — and FTA won’t hand out money without a full funding strategy which ST is going to have to supplement.
It means the Ballard part of the project. The opening date is affected by the rest of WSBLE, but the immediate issue is not specifically about West Seattle.
I think it’s useless to predict when things will be finished, because it depends on future factors nobody knows, and we’re not engineers or accountants with inside knowledge on the project. Nevertheless, the factors blinking red are stronger than the factors blinking green, so there’s a more than a 50% chance it will be delayed by at least a year. Land prices are trending up, as are labor and materials. A higher bridge would cost more. Contractors don’t always do things right. Unexpected engineering issues may appear. Most other difficult projects have come in late.
But there’s a more important issue in the video. One citizen said he expects it will reduce the number of cars in Ballard. That’s not likely, and people need to understand that. Any reduction in car trips will be replaced by other car trips as people see empty space to drive in. Maybe the trips will shift from paralleling Link to other trips. I predict the number of car trips will remain the same AND transit ridership will increase.
The reporter is also clueless when she asks whether Link will increase property values. Of course it will, because it makes Ballard more convenient to live in and easier to shop in. But that’s not the point. The point is passengers having greater mobility. Did the reporter forget to ask about that? Why did they waste time asking whether property values would rise instead of asking whether people would ride it and how it would affect mobility options in the neighborhood and access to the neighborhood?
I’ve been reading through some older (and recent) STB comment threads and an idea that is really sticky is: why does DSTT2 exist? It seems like many of the issues we talk about now (construction impacts, bad transfers, deep stations) are a result of DSTT2, which is pretty expensive and likely challenging engineering to complete on time/budget. Would anybody who understands ST3 and Seattle better be able to write an article comparing DSTT2 as proposed with sharing DSTT1 for WSBLE? I would love to read it!
Spam, please delete
Two questions to answer.
1. Does DSTT between Westlake and ID have enough throughput capacity to handle all the trains at peak?
2. Can you build a junction at Westlake to still serve SLU & Denny?
Meant as a response to Cole.
Those do seem like the core concerns.
1. It seems like on a technical basis the signaling system can handle a train every 90 seconds. That doesn’t mean ST can operationally do that. They are currently planning for a train every 3 minutes in the tunnel at peak which would mean less than 6 minute frequencies on all lines if the tunnel was shared. However, if they could operationally get the gap between trains down to say 2.5 minutes, that’s 7.5 minute headways on each line. Not terrible and the benefits may outweigh the lower frequency (much less time in transfers, much less time in station egress).
2. That’s probably the unanswerable question from most of us armchair transit people (or aspiring armchair transit person like myself). I would say it should be studied, because if it is possible then it is likely far cheaper than DSTT2. But even if it is ruled impossible, what if Ballard line was a spur that connected to a new platform at Westlake (which wouldn’t need to be as deep). Still seems better than DSTT2 even if all of those people have to transfer.
Yes, those are the basic concerns. To put it another way, the argument for interlining (and against the tunnel) is based on two assumptions:
1) That we can run the trains frequently through downtown.
2) That it is cheaper to interline than build a second tunnel.
Both issues should be studied. Both will require more detailed analysis. These are not “yes” or “no” questions. For example, the trains may be capable of running every two minutes through downtown, but no better. That could lead to bunching (and delays). It is also possible that building a branch at Westlake (or before) would be very disruptive. These would be options that we would have to weigh.
What is clear to lots of people is that this is more than just a money thing. The new stations look fundamentally worse than the old stations, and the transfers look bad. This will result in a transit system that will be worse for many people, and not nearly as good as it could be.
Another consideration is whether it makes sense to build something entirely different, at a later date. For example, ST may respond that they don’t plan on running any of the lines more often than every 7.5 minutes. But they might also imagine running more often in the future. If so, then maybe we could build something else — something with more downtown coverage — in the future.
Cole, I think you are spot on about understanding the problems on DSTT2. It’s deep which makes it awful for short trips and awful for transfers. It’s expensive and disruptive to build, especially in the ID. The West Seattle demand will almost assuredly never require planned six minute trains (10 an hour with each train having the capacity of 6-8 articulated buses). With 6 trains and hour for West Seattle, 8 for the Eastside and 10 for Tacoma/ RV/ Airport, the current tunnel can carry trains every 2.5 minutes.
What does 2.5 minutes look like in reality? Well look at SF Muni Metro or thé DC Metro part that has three lines, or the NYC Subway. You go to the platform and wait for your train. If you are going anywhere between SODO and Northgate you can take any train. Waiting up to 10 or 11 minutes for a train (West Seattle) isn’t very long. In contrast, DSTT2 will make every passenger take lots more time to go deep. If for some reason a train gets held up, it may though arrival times off — but with a train every 10 minutes to anywhere it’s a minor inconvenience and probably won’t be noticed by a rider.
Ultimately, ST will have to right-size the train frequencies to the ridership anyway. That’s because drivers cost money. If ST went automated, they could promise those frequencies, but unlike Vancouver, Honolulu, many new systems in Asia and Europe, Montreal (under construction) and Toronto (planned), ST won’t even study it.
This is the basic problem: The very attitude of ST. They will not question any of their expensive assumptions. No automated trains. No use of DSTT only. No assessment of needed train frequencies. They stick their fingers in their ears and say “this is what the voters approved” in the 2016 ballot measure — even though the cost estimates presented in 2016 for WSBLE were off by at least 50%. No one on this ST Board will admit to the voter deception about cost.
So the problem is political. Not until the structure or culture of ST changes will anything change. As has been noted by most regular commenters over the years, technical improvements to the project can save billions. But the board doesn’t care or they are afraid to speak up partly in fear of being criticized or losing their political future.
It’s like watching a Trump supporter. No matter how much logic gets presented to the contrary, they simply refuse to publicly believe that there is anything wrong.
and the latest: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/12/14/mercer-island-abandons-long-legal-fight-against-sound-transit/
My next articles may not be for another week or two because I’m busy with something that must be done by the end of the month. This open thread still has 60 comments left to go before my target maximum of 150. The ST2 Link article has blown way past that to 260, but I think the threads are organized enough and straightforward that it’s not much of a burden to find topics, so I’ll just let it keep piling up. Maybe Ross can have an article in the meantime.
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