News Roundup: Everything But 501

April 9, 2015 - Fremont salutes Pontoon F!

Unsurprisingly, regional and national transportation news has been dominated since Monday by the tragic Amtrak 501 derailment. Because many of our readers are following the news of that accident via traditional or social media, and every outlet is working with the same (small) set of facts, I elected not to try and summarize all the 501 coverage, but to focus on other things that happened this week. STB’s reporting and commentary will continue in other posts.

If, nonetheless, you have room in your brain for one more 501 story, make it this KNKX interview with All Aboard Washington’s Lloyd Flem, who knew two of the deceased, Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre, through their transit advocacy. “I can say with clarity, on behalf of both men […] that we do not believe the future of transportation is an infinite amount of pavement so everybody can drive alone, all the time, everywhere.” Words to live by.

The roundup:

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Casualties in Point Defiance Bypass Derailment

Amtrak Cascades #501 south from Seattle derailed this morning, while crossing over I-5 in the vicinity of Mounts Road, west of Dupont. There are at least three casualties, many injuries, and some carriages are a total loss. Our thoughts are with survivors, and the families of everyone on board. No root cause has been established, although there are no grade crossings on this section of the line.

I-5 will likely be closed for hours, so avoid freeway travel in this area and expect major disruptions.

Seattle Times is actively covering this disaster.

Update 10:28: “Per the Pierce County Sheriff, if you had a loved one on Amtrak Cascades 501, there is a family reunification center now at the Dupont City Hall. Please go there, NOT to the scene. The Amtrak number to call if you have family members on the train is 1-800-523-9101.”

Update 2:02 PM: Statement from WSDOT

Update 12/19 9:47 AM: New York Times: “The National Transportation Safety Board said at a Monday night briefing that the train had been traveling more than twice the speed limit before it derailed, or at 80 miles per hour instead of the allowable 30 m.p.h.”

Also, a detailed summary from Sandy Johnston at the Itinerant Urbanist discussing PTC, Amtrak, and much more.

Update 12/19 11:02 AM: Zack Willhoite, Pierce Transit employee and frequent STB contributor (MrZ) and Jim Hamre of All Aboard Washington, died in the accident.  Our thoughts are with their families and the communities they helped to build.

News Roundup: Toronto Wins

Streetcar Wires, Toronto

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News Roundup: ITDP Gold

Busway - Bridleway Crossing

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News Roundup: Obvious Ideas

104-07 OTF354M battery powered National

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News Roundup: Substantive Differences

King County Metro 2004 New Flyer DE60LF 2805

  • Denver RTD cuts weekend frequency on two suburban lines to 30 minutes. Examples like this should, but probably won’t, preclude the argument that rail services are uniquely immune to cuts, in the face of low ridership and fiscal constraints.
  • car2go replaces ($) its Smart Cars with Benz sedans. They’ll be harder to park on Capitol Hill, but you’ll look like a baller when you step out.
  • Times’s David Gutman discusses ($) transpo issues in the 45th race. It’s pretty well reported, unlike the Joe O’Sullivan hack job from last week.
  • Brooklyn’s Prospect Park goes car-free forever in the new year.
  • The Urbanist surveys some of the best architecture Seattle has to offer.
  • Skanska plans apartment tower on Fourth Avenue in Belltown. This project will “have a particular focus on the retail and ground-floor experience in this location;” I hope their architects look at the retail layout in Via6 down the street.
  • LA Times ed board likes Metro’s proposed mini-transit service.
  • North Broadway extension, and the highly desirable bike infrastructure that would have come with it, appear to be dead.
  • Submit comments in favor of ADUs.
  • If you don’t like paying ST’s car tabs you can go buy ($) yourself a three-ton truck.
  • Incoming Floridians ($).
  • Schedule tweaks for the Bremerton fast ferry. Two mid-day runs begin Nov. 13th.
  • San Antonio is a dangerous place to be a pedestrian.
  • BC Transit hiring.
  • A single, coordinated access system helped house ($) many of Houston’s chronically homeless.
  • SeaTac airport raises their TNC charge by $1 ($) per trip. Maybe this will let them design a passenger pickup area that’s not a total s***show.
  • Times op-ed proposes ($) a cross-sound car tunnel. That’s obviously nuts, but the PPP model of funding infrastructure seems to work very well in Europe and Scandinavia, and I would love to know why it never seems to happen in the US.
  • Five ways to tackle Melbourne’s worsening peak-hour traffic.
  • When the Mayor also drives for Uber.
  • The TNT doesn’t get in to great detail, but both candidates in the Tacoma mayoral race seem to want better transit, while exhibiting substantive differences in how to accomplish that.

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News Roundup: Suquamish

MV Suquamish under construction

The MV Suquamish, photo by SounderBruce

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News Roundup: Natal Creeks

POTD 02/7/07 - Future city

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News Roundup: Analytical Chops

Capitol Hill

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SODO Connections Project Focuses on Alternative Service

tracks

A couple of months ago, I blurbed a survey for King County Metro’s Community Connections project, which was seeking input from people who work in Seattle’s SODO district, a mostly-industrial and commercial area immediately south of downtown. I noticed that the SODO Connections project seemed very focused on alternative service — i.e. not fixed route bus service — and I had some questions about that. Here are my questions and the answers I was given; I have some comments at the end.


Seattle Transit Blog: One of the approaches mentioned on the page — flexible-route service — is typically used in low-density suburban or rural environments, which don’t look much like SODO. The other — on-demand ridesharing — seems already to be covered by a thriving private market.

Scott Gutierrez, King County Metro: These are just some of the options Metro has developed as part of the Community Connections program. Our main program website has information on the kinds of services we’ve developed so far as well as current pilot locations.

We’re still early in our outreach process for the SODO project, so we have not yet determined what specific services we will pilot there. Based on the results of our outreach, we might propose something similar to services we developed in other communities, or we might come up with a transportation pilot that is completely new to Metro.

STB: What’s the niche Metro is trying to fill with these alternative service methods?

Metro: Community Connections focuses on partnering with communities to meet unique transportation needs that fixed-route transit isn’t able to serve. When the City of Seattle applied for this Community Connections project in SODO, they described gaps in the neighborhood as follows:

  • SODO is a significant employment center, including the highest concentration of manufacturing and industrial jobs in the city. The drive alone rate for employees in SODO (66%) is far higher than the rate in Downtown which lies immediately to the north.
  • Employees who travel to the target area have schedules that do not correspond with when transit service is running/frequent (e.g. during the weekend, or early in the morning/late and night).
  • A lack of east-west mobility options exists in the neighborhood.
  • A difficult pedestrian environment combined with diffuse destinations makes accessing the existing transit service difficult

Before we determine what specific niche we can best serve, we need to better understand these transportation gaps and barriers that exist for workers in SODO. The information above, and feedback from a stakeholder group, informed the survey we are asking people to take. Results of this survey will help our stakeholder group to articulate a set of transportation needs for our Community Connections pilot to address. Those articulated needs in turn will inform our solution design.

More interview and commentary after the jump

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News Roundup: Incompatible Charging Systems

KCM 4602 (Proterra) charging at Eastgate P&R

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News Roundup: Rise and Fall

Sounder Cab Car 327

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News Roundup: Frequency in Tri-Cities

Ben Franklin Transit system map

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Spokane Transit Begins Implementation of STA Moving Forward

The Empire Builder at Spokane WA. ( 4 Views )

STB hasn’t written much in-depth about transit in Spokane since the passage of their scaled back STA Moving Forward initiative in November of last year, which followed the failure of the original package in 2015. To catch up on the Spokane Transit Authority’s progress in implementing Moving Forward, I reached out to Director of Planning and Development Karl Otterstrom. What follows is a lightly-edited transcript of our email interview.

Seattle Transit Blog: What parts of STA Moving Forward have been implemented or are currently in progress? I know there’s been some service improvements, you’ve got new artics on the way, and you’ve broken ground on the West Plains Transit Center.

STA Moving Forward is a ten-year plan for more and better transit service. It is phased to avoid debt and make implementation more manageable. As part of the effort behind the second ballot measure in November 2016, the STA board directed us to accelerate elements that could move forward sooner. Part of our response was introducing new service at both the May and September service changes. In future years we intend to make STA Moving Forward service adds just once in a calendar year, devoting other service changes to timepoint adjustments and other minor revisions as necessary.

IMPLEMENTED: During the May service change, we added the following service:

Continue reading “Spokane Transit Begins Implementation of STA Moving Forward”

Metro Survey for SODO Commuters

King County Metro has a survey up, aimed at people who work in the SODO area, which the agency defines as between Royal Brougham Way and Lucille Street. This is part of Metro’s Community Connection program, “in which Metro works with local governments and community partners to develop innovative and cost-efficient transportation solutions in areas of King County that don’t have the infrastructure, density, or land use to support regular, fixed-route bus service.”

I have several questions in to Metro about how these alternative services might be applied to SODO, and whether any changes to SODO’s fixed-route service could be possible. While I’m waiting for answers, I wanted to get this survey link out, as the deadline is tomorrow, the 27th, so if you’re a SODO commuter, go fill it out.

Open House: Northgate Pedestrian Bridge

Northgate Ped/Bike Bridge Project Area map
On August 3rd, SDOT is hosting an open house for the Northgate Pedestrian/Bike bridge project:

At the open house:

Join us

Thursday, August 3
5:30 — 7:30 PM (drop in any time)
Hampton Inn & Suites
9550 1st Ave NE, Seattle

This project is a culmination of years work by transit and walkability advocates, elected officials around the region, and people who live in the neighborhood. It will directly connect the region’s transit spine to an a college, a park, a business district oriented around medical services, and a still-relatively-affordable neighborhood with lots of multifamily housing. If you live nearby, or will use this bridge, show up to show your support, and to make sure the design will work for you.

Boise Puts “Cool Factor” ahead of Mobility

Suppose you were in charge of an Inland Northwest city of about 215,000, an island of vibrant urbanity frozen in a tax- and transit-hostile hinterland. Now suppose your city had a transit system about on a par with Wenatchee, Washington — population 35,000 — with buses running at best every 30 minutes to 10 PM on the weekday, minimal Saturday service, and exactly no service on Sundays. What kind of transit investments would you make? Well, if you’re the Mayor of Boise, you look to a $111 million, “T-shaped” streetcar alignment, with a projected 2040 daily ridership of 1,400 souls.

The only official information I can find from the city doesn’t include minor details such as headway, transit lanes, or signal priority. One independent writer, who obtained a trove of data via disclosure request, writing in December, suggested that transit lanes are yet to be decided, and headways are likely to be 15 minutes. It’s difficult to quantify distance and travel time advantage on a T- (really, J-)shaped alignment, but some eyeballing of the map suggests that the furthest-separated pair of stations are about two miles walk apart. For an able-bodied person, the circulator would be worth waiting for only between a handful of station pairs.

What makes this poignant is that Boise’s same size sibling up north is a canonical example of what they should be aiming for. The Spokane Transit Authority recently passed (albeit on a second attempt) STA Moving Forward, a major package of improvements in service quality and quantity, whose banner project is a high-frequency, six-mile, $72 million battery-bus corridor, that is not at all J-shaped. Moreover, Boise appears to be trying to do the right thing with a rapid bus treatment on State Street, one of its principal suburban arterial connections, so it’s clear that someone there actually knows what effective medium-size city transit service looks like.

If Boise actually builds this park-and-trundle service, they are liable to find what every other “placemaking” streetcar has found: dispite cherry-picking only the densest, most-walkable parts of the urban area, these services have a very low ceiling. In February, Portland’s much-vaunted streetcar system bragged of serving a record 16,300 daily riders. This might sound impressive, until you realize that the rest of the transit system moved 317,000 people per weekday in same month, with MAX light rail and boring, uncool bus service doing the heavy lifting at 123,400 and 188,300 riders respectively. Of those 16,300 rides, a considerable fraction are surely cannibalized from walking, bikeshare, or transit service on adjacent streets, rendering them at best a wash if you care about cost effectiveness, energy consumption, or the quality of the downtown urban experience.

With the benefit of 15 years’ hindsight, perhaps we can generalize a little and say that cannibalization has been the theme of the American mixed-traffic streetcar “revival”. Every mayor, every body politic, has a finite amount of attention to devote to the issues of the day. Time and effort spent building slow streetcars is spent solving a non-problem, while real problems fester. Most local dollars that could be raised for a streetcar could be raised for other, more effective uses in the common good; meanwhile, the federal transit funding outlook is grim. Perhaps we can take this as an opportunity to refocus on things that actually work.

Upcoming SDOT Transit Spot Improvements

Sounder Bruce (via Wikimedia)

It’s been a while since we checked in with SDOT’s Transit Spot Improvements program. This is a small pot of money for SDOT engineers to make minor improvements to transit operations and rider amenities, which would not otherwise be funded as part of a RapidRide corridor project, an arterial repaving project, or a larger state or federal grant. Some improvements are fully SDOT funded, and some are cost-shared with Metro.

Here’s what SDOT has on the docket for 2017. I’ve omitted a few projects that are purely maintenance of existing facilities, important though that is.

Location Schedule Description
Olive Way & Boren Q2 Install EB queue jump (saving 87 sec/trip).
Broadway & Yesler Q2 Upgrade signals to improve streetcar turning movements (saving 130 sec/trip).
Olive Way, Terry to Minor Q2 Install EB peak period transit lane.
Aurora Ave, 115th to 145th Q3 Refresh transit lane markings.
15th Ave NW & Market Q3 Install rear bus pads for RapidRide D.
Railroad crossings, TBD Q4 “Exempt”/”Tracks out of service” signs to allow Metro buses to avoid stopping at RR crossings.
Various, TBD Q4 Install protected left-turn signals
Various, TBD Q4 Install channelization, signs and markings to improve operations.
Lake City Way & 125th Q4 Install bus bulb.
Blanchard St, east of 3rd Q4 Install BAT lane (saving RapidRide C 4 min/trip); new RapidRide stop at 6th.
15th Ave NW, Leary to Market Q4 Install BAT lane; install ped signal at 53rd.
Westlake, Blanchard to Fairview Q4 Install red painted transit lanes.
Route 60, TBD Q4 Provide rear door pads for various route 60 stops.
Broadway, Pine to Marion Q4 Install SB transit lane, subject to traffic analysis and outreach (saving 55 sec/trip).
Terry, Republican to Mercer Q4 Rechannelize to improve streetcar operations.

I don’t have too much to say about the project list overall, other than that everything sounds great, and I want more of it, faster. I’m especially happy about the 15th Ave NW ped signal, which will provide benefits far beyound transit. Perhaps missing from the list are heavily-used stops in the Fremont area, and speed and reliability improvements on the Uptown couplet.

One thing, in particular, I’m interested in hearing about in the comments: suggestions for left-turn pockets and other signage and channelization improvements. I’ll collect suggestions that seem feasible to me and forward them to SDOT.

Kitsap Transit Looks to Rethink Service and Revive Ridership

Process and timing (image: Kitsap Transit)

Late last year, Kitsap Transit made news with the passage of its foot ferry initiative, which provided the funding to fulfill a long-standing dream of fast, cross-sound passenger service. For those paying attention to the less-sexy, workhorse transit modes, however, news across the sound has been bad for years. Like every sales tax-dependent agency in Washington, KT took a haircut in the great recession, beginning in 2008.

In 2009, the agency responded in many of the ways familiar to those of us who remember King County Metro circa 2010-2013: raising fares, deleting routes, reducing almost all the remaining routes. Unlike Metro, KT never took the high-pain, high-gain opportunity to rethink the structure of the bus network, leaving riders with a network of mostly circuitous, infrequent routes and some incomprehensible schedules.

The intervening eight years have not got well for KT, or their bus riders. After a predicable initial decline from the cuts and the recession, annual ridership has been stagnant since 2010. Much more worryingly, this stagnant ridership comes on increasing levels of service, as sales tax revenue has crept back up; the productivity of the bus network is declining, which suggests the bus network is structurally failing in some way.

While Kitsap county has not experienced anything like Seattle’s residential or employment growth, it’s a part of our booming city’s commuter belt, with a natural advantage to non-car modes: even without considering the upcoming foot ferry service, it’s much cheaper and easier to walk on to a Seattle-bound ferry at Bainbridge or Bremerton, than it is to drive on.

While the analogy is not perfect, the agency’s situation most reminds me of Pierce Transit in 2011: a tax-hostile electorate, a benefit area dominated by transit-hostile land-use patterns, and increasing costs have put the agency in sustained decline, at a time when it should be growing. Fortunately, KT’s leaders seem to have realized the severity of their case, and are going to the public with an outreach effort that sounds quite fundmental in scope:

Kitsap Transit is conducting a comprehensive analysis of our current bus service that will incorporate:

  • Community input gathered at in-person workshops, an online open house and an on-board survey
  • Data on current ridership patterns
  • Projected population growth in Kitsap County

The purpose of the analysis is to understand how our buses currently connect riders to neighborhoods, city centers, social and community services and ferries. We want to hear from a broad group of transit users and community members, including people who might not use transit now. We are also committed to working with those in the community who are dependent on transit.

More after the jump.
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Pragmatism, Efficiency, and Who Shares

Atomic Taco (Flickr)

On Sunday, the Seattle Times wrote up ($) SDOT’s Employer Shared Transit Stop Pilot program, which started a week prior. It’s a good writeup, although transit nerds probably won’t learn too much they didn’t already know. From SDOT’s page:

The City of Seattle and King County Metro are collaborating with Seattle Children’s Hospital and Microsoft to conduct a six-month pilot that will allow these participating organizations’ employer-provided shuttles to temporarily share a select set of public transit stops with King County Metro buses. This pilot was carefully developed over the last two years. The pilot project will test the feasibility of allowing employer-provided shuttles to use public transit stops while minimizing impacts to public transit operations.

As someone who both cares a lot about public transit, and the space given to public transit, and also someone who uses an employer shuttle occasionally (not one in this pilot), I have a few reactions.

First, I applaud SDOT and Metro for spotting a growing trend, and proactively experimenting with a pilot program to get real-world experience in managing it. Rule changes are generally easy to reverse if they don’t pan out, and I’ll take data over endless process and waffle any day.

Second, I think there will be mixed operational results from the stops chosen (you can see a full map on the SDOT page). Some, like SB 15th Ave E @ Mercer, seldom see more than a bus every ten minutes, and an additional shuttle using the stop is unlikely to cause delays for public transit riders. Others, like SB Queen Anne @ Harrison, are very heavily trafficked. That traffic includes RapidRide D*, on which SDOT and Metro have spent a lot of money in the name of speed and reliability. A noticeable level of conflict between shuttles and transit in the peak period seems inevitable, and any resulting delays will undermine the effort and money spent on the RapidRide program.

Of course, this variety of stop profiles will yield more interesting data, and may have been an intentional part of the pilot’s stop choices, although SDOT doesn’t call it out as such.

Finally, I note the dead hand of America’s great cognitive bias in street space allocation: when a new actor arises and asks for street space, the first people whose interests are traded off are all those who don’t drive and park their own car in the public right of way. Particularly depressing is the suggestion quoted in the Times article, that “if more loading zones are freed up, officials eventually could change some of those loading zones to public parking.”

Curbside parking (as distinct from loading) is, in general, the least valuable use of space, on a busy thoroughfare in a dense neighborhood. If the primary motiviation for a permanent shared stop program is to eventually add a couple of dozen parking spaces to SDOT’s street parking inventory across the entire city, then that is a fatally worthless premise. If, on the other hand, the purpose is to make each street function better overall (e.g. can we please have a bike corral by the pilot stop at Ballard & Market?), and any negative feedback on transit conflicts is taken seriously, then this program may prove meritorious.

If you have your own scaldingly hot take on this pilot program, please share it with us in the comments, and then email it to sharedstoppilot@seattle.gov.

My email Q&A with SDOT, lightly edited, is after the jump.

* UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the D Line skips this one stop in Uptown. Nevertheless, it’s a busy stop for all the routes coming southbound out of Queen Anne, and SDOT and Metro have spent a chunk of money on making those routes faster and better, so I think the point mostly stands.

Continue reading “Pragmatism, Efficiency, and Who Shares”