Sunday Open Thread: The Cambridge Guided Busway

The Cambridge Guided Busway is the world’s longest with 16 miles of guided sections. The guidance allows buses to run on a very narrow right of way (typical of many former railroad lines). It’s greener due to the vegetation that grows between the grooved concrete slabs which contain the wheels of the bus.

Running the buses on a narrower footprint leaves more space for a busy bike/walking path alongside.

The Eastside Needs Better Choices

ST Express 545 arriving at Evergreen Point. The busy SR 520 corridor is not on the draft priority list for high-capacity transit investments

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Executive Board reviewed a proposed draft project list for the Sound Transit 3 ballot. On May 28, the full Board will consider and perhaps amend this list. After June 4, the public will be asked to comment on the draft project list, and the subsequent comment will guide the Board in further whittling down the list to a feasible proposal for ST3.

Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick explained yesterday that the public outreach will “ask people’s views about the priority level for each project on the draft list, and to identify projects they think should be added or deleted”. The public will not be specifically asked about projects that are not on the draft list. So while the door is not closed to members of the public who may point to their own priorities, the presented options will be the “starting point for the Board and public’s conversation”.

Predictably, the draft project list for Snohomish, Pierce and South King is focused on completing the spine. All of their projects are just alternate alignments for doing so. Snohomish’ goals will be hard to achieve without large revenue transfers from elsewhere. The draft list includes costly projects such as alignments to Everett via Paine Field and a further extension to North Everett.

North King has ten projects to consider; all are light rail and would serve West Seattle or Ballard. Mayor Ed Murray would like to add Madison BRT to the list. The quality of the eventual outcomes in North King will depend on how these goals are balanced.

East King has just three options on the draft list. These are (i) the Eastlink extension to Redmond, (ii) I-405 BRT from Lynnwood to Seatac, and (iii) a light rail line from Totem Lake to Issaquah via the ERC and I-90.

The first two are highly likely to be in the final plan, and I endorsed their inclusion along with the BRISK BRT network last week. The last cannot, because even the maximum revenue authority sought by Sound Transit won’t support all three. The high-end cost estimate for Totem Lake to Issaquah rail is $2.67B (vs. about $900M each for East Link and I-405 BRT). With Eastside revenues well under $4B, Sound Transit could build to either Totem Lake OR Issaquah, but not both. Depending on the size of the final revenue authorization and competing demands from Everett, they may not build either end.

Continue reading “The Eastside Needs Better Choices”

Making “BRISK” a Reality

This week, I’ve sketched out an Eastside package Sound Transit should consider for ST3 funding. A key element of that is the BRISK network that would connect the Eastside with fast, frequent and reliable HCT service. Today, I’d like to discuss what it might cost and what needs to happen to make it a reality.

Assuming a $15 billion dollar ST3 package and subarea equity, all of the lines described can be built. The complete portfolio of capital improvements described may, depending on the accuracy of the cost estimates, is roughly in line with the projected east subarea revenue. The cost estimates are based on Sound Transit’s corridor studies, augmented with guesstimates for additional capital investments not in their corridor studies. Those estimates are derived from actual costs from comparable projects elsewhere in the region, but some of those estimates are necessarily speculative.

No funding from the cities, WSDOT, or the Federal Transit Administration is assumed. However, Congress has shown interest in supporting high-quality BRT services as part of ongoing Federal Transportation Bill discussions, so it’s possible future funding may be available.

While the projects are somewhat differently arranged, all of the corridors proposed have analogues within combinations of corridors studied by Sound Transit in 2014 (plus the East Link extension). BRISK matches Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan with HCT or BRT as an identified service for all of these corridors.

Their mid-point capital costs from Sound Transit’s corridor studies are:

ST Corridor Study Alignment Capital Cost ($ 2013)
East Link from Overlake to Redmond $760M
I-405 BRT (Alternative A3B, I-405 Study) $800M
UW to Totem Lake (Alternative B1a, UKR Study) $210M
UW to Redmond via 520 (Alternative C1, UKR Study) $55M
Totem Lake to Issaquah + Highlands Extension (Alternative B1, B1a, KBI Study)


By Sound Transit’s numbers, that would mean a total capital investment of $3,230M. Arguably $200M or more of I-405 BRT costs should be assigned to Snohomish County, commensurate with ridership. The remaining $3,030M would fit very comfortably within a fully funded ST3 package. However, network I’ve described is more robust than the corridor studies assume. Major additional elements include direct access ramps and inline stations to improve access and travel times. These add incremental capital costs could add roughly $820M, for a total of $3,850M. That’s slightly over one-fourth of ST3 projected revenues, so just on the edge of what’s possible.

Continue reading “Making “BRISK” a Reality”

Describing “BRISK” in More Detail

Orange Line - Los Angeles, CA
Orange Line in Los Angeles Source: EMBARQ Brasil

In this post, I’ll provide more details on the BRISK (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Seattle, Kirkland) network, which is one component of a ST3 package that I hope Sound Transit will consider over the next few months. Sound Transit has studied each of these individual corridors, but there are areas where STB readers would probably like additional details as well as areas where enhancements to Sound Transit’s concepts are desirable. The goal of BRISK would be a full-featured BRT system meeting these standards:

  • Right-of-way: Buses would generally operate in right-of-way which has been prioritized over general purpose traffic. This could be done using busways (at-grade or elevated, similar to the LA Metro Orange Line), HOV3+/HOT lanes, or median bus only lanes. Avoiding lower quality solutions like HOV2+, curb bus only lanes, or BAT lanes would be desirable.
  • Service Frequency: Buses would come frequently, all-day long. High frequency service is key to reducing total travel times, particularly for trips that include a transfer to/from Link.
  • Stations: Stations would be fully equipped with off-board fare collection and level boarding much like Swift. Station spacing will vary by corridor and segment with regional travel in mind.
  • Vehicles: Lines would use articulated buses with 3 full-width doors, passive restraint systems, easy to circulate interiors and in-bus bike storage. Again this is much like Swift.
  • “Open” System: In addition to the core BRT routes, parts of the system could be be used by local Metro or ST Express buses to maximize the usefulness of the capital investments.
“BRISK” BRT Network

Community Transit’s Swift and LA Metro’s Orange Line are good examples of BRT lines which meet some of these standards. The Orange Line is a particularly good example for ERC segments since it too was a former railroad corridor and has a multiuse trail along it.  The descriptions below build off of Sound Transit’s existing studies, adding features and modifying routing.

Totem Lake – Kirkland – UW (Purple)

  • Sound Transit’s B1a route from the University District-Kirkland-Redmond Corridor Report is very similar to this route. On average 8,100 daily transit riders used buses in this corridor during 2014.
  • This line would likely replace the current 255/540 and would mostly travel along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland P&R. From the ERC, buses would access the SR 520 HOV 3+ lanes. After crossing SR 520, buses would access UW Station via a new Montlake crossing and an off-street bus-rail transfer station.
  • Like existing successful services on this corridor, this route serves the more transit-oriented neighborhoods in the city, but delivers better travel times between those neighborhoods than the often-congested 108th Ave NE corridor and surface streets between downtown and Totem Lake.
  • Downtown Kirkland would be served with a deviation from the ERC because the ERC skirts the edge of the downtown. There are a variety of ways this could be achieved and Sound Transit should study the options, with the goal of minimizing mix-traffic operations and balancing coverage while also minimizing out of direction travel. Routing options through downtown include 6th Street/Central Way or via the Transit Center on 3rd St.
  • The routing in Totem Lake would exit the ERC near 124th NE crossing that street on an elevated alignment. It would then continue via bus lanes to the transit center and onward to the freeway stop at NE 132nd. This would be a useful connection point to I-405 BRT. The line would reach within easy walking distance of much of the urban center, promoting transit oriented redevelopment in the area.
  • A trail along the corridor would be protected and improved. Capital investments in bus-way facilities should be leveraged to improve the pedestrian/bike experience. For instance, an elevated crossing at NE 124th St could also serve trail users, reducing or eliminating many of today’s conflicts with cross-traffic.

Continue reading “Describing “BRISK” in More Detail”

Piecing Together an Eastside ST3 Package

Last week, I presented some goals that I and several others have considered for ST3 on the Eastside. While there are a range of opinions on specific routes, certain messages came through in comments very clearly. ST3 needs to deliver improved connections across the Eastside. While commuter express service is important, improvements to the core network between urban centers are key.

So where does this all take us? To start this discussion, I’ve pulled together a package of investments that I hope Sound Transit will consider over the next few months as it develops a ST3 package. The package includes:

  • Extending East Link to Downtown Redmond. This is the most logical next-step on the Eastside.
  • Investing in I-405 BRT. I-405 BRT isn’t a win for walkable, mixed-use communities, but it’s the only real solution to address the mobility challenges of the suburban I-405 corridor. Option A3a from Sound Transit’s I-405 Corridor Study is a service-focused BRT concept with a four route “trunk-and-branch” service network and new direct access ramps. Option A3b is a single route that runs up and down the I-405 corridor. These options don’t include all of the bells and whistles, but they advance the corridor in a meaningful way while not over-investing in a corridor that will always be auto-dominated. I-405 is one true “Eastside” corridor and a ST3 package that doesn’t provide improved mobility along it, albeit a commuter focused solution that is contingent on HOV/HOT lanes, will not resonate with Eastside voters.
  • Investing in a 5 line, full-featured BRT network along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), SR 520 and I-90 corridors including:
    • BRT from Issaquah to Totem Lake via the I-90 HOV lanes, Richards Rd, Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. I’ve assumed this would operate as two lines but it could operate as one line. Sound Transit has studied this (Alternative C2) but improved high-quality connections into urban centers are key. I’ll have more on that and what I mean by “full featured BRT” and “high-quality connections” in a later post.
    • BRT from Totem Lake to UW Station via Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. This too has been studied by Sound Transit (Alternative B1a) and would leverage the investment made for the project above. High-quality connections between SR 520 and UW Station are key. More on this later.
    • Upgrading key Metro and ST Express routes to full-featured BRT. The most important routes are 542/545 (Redmond-Seattle), 271 (the Issaquah-Bellevue portion), and 554/212 (between Issaquah and Mercer Island). This would be achieved by leveraging the investments of the projects above in addition to new in-line freeway stations, bus-rail transfer facilities (at UW Station and Mercer Island Station), arterial bus only lanes and other capital investments to allow buses to operate separately from general purpose traffic.

For ease of reference, I’ve nicknamed the list group of projects as BRISK (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Seattle, Kirkland) BRT network. So why do I think this package of investments makes sense? Here’s why: Continue reading “Piecing Together an Eastside ST3 Package”

What Should be the Goal of an Eastside ST3 Package?

LRP Map – Eastside Detail

More so than our neighbors to the north and south, a range of transit expansion options are before the Eastside. ST3 would almost certainly extend East Link to Downtown Redmond, but the Eastside is likely to have the revenue authority to do a great deal more. Unfortunately, a lack of consensus exists among elected officials, the transit community and the general public about what to do after completion of East Link. To a certain degree, this is reflected in the wide variety of projects studied by Sound Transit for the Eastside and SR 520 corridor.

To help unpack this question, several of us have been bouncing around ideas on what we think the overarching goals of a ST3 package should be. The possibilities include:

  • Continue with Sound Move/ST2 projects including I-405 BRT and Link to Redmond. Advancing what has been started is important for the region. Redmond has been waiting for light rail since East Link planning began. I-405 is a central transportation corridor for the Eastside with a long-standing transit master plan. These long-anticipated transit investments need to move forward.
  • Develop a high-capacity transit (HCT) network that strengthens the connection between all of the Eastside cities and Seattle. HCT needs to serve all Eastside cities including urban neighborhoods throughout each city. The cross-lake corridor is the strongest transit market on the Eastside and completion of East Link doesn’t obviate the need for improved transit service over SR-520.
  • Leverage the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) for HCT service. The ERC, particularly between Kirkland and Bellevue, could be an exceptional resource for the Eastside. Sound Transit has an easement permitting transit use along this corridor and ST3 will likely be the best opportunity to use this corridor for HCT. The ERC, however, has a “last-half-mile” challenge: it does not penetrate the walkable urban cores of either Bellevue or Kirkland.
  • Deliver meaningful HCT improvements within the ST3 time frame, including near-term congestion relief. Over and over again the voters have shown their support for transit, including near-term service improvements and long-term capital investment. Making sure ST3 provides timely benefits across the Eastside is important, particularly against a backdrop of double-digit increases in regional car travel times.

What do you think about these guiding principles? Do they resonate? And what’s the best way to achieve them? Sound off in the comment thread.

Transit Isn’t Working in the Regional Growth Centers

TransitModeShareRegional Centers Monitoring Report - 2013 Edition

Sound Transit’s planning emphasizes connections between Regional Growth Centers. The PSRC’s VISION 2040 growth strategy distributes the largest share of growth to cities with designated regional growth centers that are connected by major transportation corridors and high capacity transit.

So how are the regional growth centers doing? Are they effective hubs for regional transportation?

PSRC data reveals that 76% of commuters in the region drive to work alone. (The PSRC region comprises the four counties of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish). The RGCs do better with only 61% driving alone. Transit mode shares show 18% ride transit in the RGCs vs. 10% for the PSRC region.

So far, so good. But the average numbers are skewed by Seattle. The six RGCs within the city of Seattle (red bars on the chart) all have transit mode shares higher than the region. All but Northgate are at or above the RGC average. Most other centers are far behind.

Continue reading “Transit Isn’t Working in the Regional Growth Centers”

Right-Sizing Parking

20150414-2015-04-14 21.35.06
10PM on a Tuesday Night. Typical Residential Garage in Downtown Kirkland.

In 2012, Metro sponsored a study of parking ratios for multi-family developments in urban King County. By counting vehicles parked overnight, the Right-Size Parking study created a model of current parking needs and demonstrated that parking is 40% oversupplied.

Several pilot demonstration projects were developed in partnership with various cities. However, only one, in Kirkland, made recommendations for changes in policy. It hasn’t gone well. The challenges encountered point to the difficulties in reducing suburban parking requirements.

Fundamentally, right-size parking is a conservative approach. It does not defer to developers to build what the market requires. (Suburban cities are too concerned with spillover parking to be comfortable with that). Neither does it look forward to a less car-dependent future. It only brings parking minimums into line with current use.

Kirkland’s base parking requirements are high, far above even comparable suburban communities. They’re so dated that nobody remembers how they were derived. In downtown, 1 stall per bedroom is required, with a 1.3 minimum per unit. Most other neighborhoods have a 1.7 requirement per unit. Up to another 0.5 stalls per unit are required for guest parking. But overnight parking counts found just 1.27 parked vehicles per apartment. Indeed, the average multi-family unit only has 1.57 residents, so the code requires more parking than there are residents.

Continue reading “Right-Sizing Parking”

Vanpools are a Success Story

Metro VanShare at Tukwila Sounder Station

Bob Pishue, of the Washington Policy Center, has a recent piece highlighting the growth and improved economics of Metro’s vanpool program. He notes that Metro’s vanpool program is now running a farebox recovery rate of 107%. Other programs in the region are also doing well. Pierce Transit’s vanpool program is at 73% and Community Transit is at 70%. All of these numbers have been trending up.

Ridership is up too, outpacing other transit modes. In the ten years to 2013, Metro’s vanpool ridership grew 96%, and the program is now the largest in the nation. All other Metro modes grew 25% in aggregate. Operating costs per rider have fallen from $3.10 in 1996 to $3.02 in 2013, a 34% decrease in real terms. Pishue credits reduced operating costs to increased ridership. While scale efficiencies may play a part by spreading the burden of administrative overhead, shorter average trip lengths (down from 27 miles to 21 miles) have also reduced mileage-related costs.

These are great numbers, although Pishue goes too far in arguing they make the case for reducing investments in bus and light rail. Martin expanded on that point in response to a previous Washington Policy Center advocacy piece in 2010. It’s interesting, however, to look at why vanpools are successful and to understand their limitations.

Continue reading “Vanpools are a Success Story”

Parking and Suburban Transit

Puyallup Station. Image, Sound Transit

Sound Transit is pursuing improvements to station facilities at Puyallup and Sumner to accommodate growing Sounder ridership. These include the addition of several hundred parking stalls at each location.

At Sumner, the improvements include a 400+ stall parking garage to complement existing surface parking. At Puyallup, the agency plans a garage with up to 400 stalls, and another 300 surface parking spots to be built or leased at two other locations. The area around both stations will also see pedestrian and bicycle improvements. These include pedestrian bridges over the station railroad tracks. The improvements are to be completed by 2020.

The $94 million price tag was reported on these pages a few weeks ago, and wasn’t universally applauded. Why is a transit agency spending so much on parking? Shouldn’t we be investing in transit service over car storage? Why can’t we charge for parking on city streets to manage spillovers? Aren’t there alternate investments to improve transit ridership without enabling sprawl?

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Senators Agree to Transportation Package with ST3 Authorization

A bipartisan group of Senators yesterday announced that they had reached agreement on most elements of a transportation package that included authorization for Sound Transit 3. The authorized tax levels were lower than the Sound Transit request, which limits the potential size of the package and increases the reliance on sales tax. However, the agreement would still allow the agency to proceed with a package roughly the size of Sound Transit 2 (ST2).

The Senate agreement would permit up to $11 billion in tax revenue over 15 years. There is some confusion resulting from there being two different $15 billion sums in the discussion. The original Sound Transit request is for $15 billion, would provides room for the Board to explore which tax types are least unpopular and find the optimal package size.

The second $15 billion is a potential overall capital project package size, which ST staff used in an exercise and Martin speculatively mapped to projects. Staff picked this number because it was the same size as ST2 and therefore considered politically practical, but the ST board has not decided on the package’s size. Due to bond financing, a $15 billion package requires about $9 billion in taxing authority.

Continue reading “Senators Agree to Transportation Package with ST3 Authorization”

Sound Transit Updates the Long Range Plan


On December 18, the Sound Transit Board approved updates to the Long Range Plan, last revised in 2005. The corridor map saw 13 additions. There were also several text amendments. Most were uncontroversial, particularly those that were bringing the LRP up to date with other policies adopted since the last LRP update in 2005. Some, particularly those that seemed to have implications for ST3, were more challenging for the board.

I’ll describe the text amendments first, and then the map changes.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Updates the Long Range Plan”

Cost-Effective ST3 Options on the Eastside

A ST 535 waits to re-enter I-405 (WhenEliseSings/Flickr)

What would Sound Transit do in East King County if it were trying to maximize the effectiveness of the ST3 package? How many transit riders could be served within the constraints of a likely ST3 package?

I’ve borrowed Martin Duke’s calculation of a $2.6 billion “budget” for East King. Martin estimates this from the $15 billion request to the Legislature, converted to $10 billion in 2014 dollars (to align with the corridor study cost methodology). With $800 million committed to completing East Link to Redmond, that leaves $1.8 billion for other projects.

The approach is to calculate cost per rider (using the mid-range of estimates from the corridor studies). The options are ranked and the best are selected, unless they duplicate an already selected option. Many of the options are close substitutes, so it makes sense to select only one. For instance, 405 BRT occupies three of the top six slots, but only the highest ranked of these is selected. I ignore other options which were not reviewed in the corridor studies (such as the bridge to Sand Point).

Continue reading “Cost-Effective ST3 Options on the Eastside”

Building Transit on I-405

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

In recent weeks, Sound Transit has released several corridor reports for the Eastside.  These were previewed in meetings in May and June, but I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the options for Sound Transit on the Eastside. The reports offer quite a bit more detail, and some occasional editorial comment. First up, I-405.

Sound Transit has a long-held commitment to BRT on I-405, dating to Sound Move in 1996, and updating the I-405 master plan in 2002. The master plan envisioned all-day service with 10 minute headways along the length of the corridor. Since then, Sound Transit has built a number of HOV direct access ramps on the highway and transit center projects serving local and regional service along the corridor more generally. Most of those are toward the north end of the corridor, in places such as Totem Lake in Kirkland. Practically speaking, this has translated to a set of express services on the highway that are low-frequency outside peak, and subject to reliability issues in the increasingly crowded HOV lanes.

Continue reading “Building Transit on I-405”

Showcasing BRT on the Eastside.

Sound Transit has an under-appreciated opportunity to build a world-class BRT on the Eastside.

Train service faces well-known geometric challenges in East King. Cities are not linearly aligned, so high quality rail service means many rail lines. But the Eastside urban centers are mostly much smaller than potential stations in Seattle, requiring large investments in either feeder bus service or park-and-rides. Either way, conspicuously high costs per rider are inevitable.

The one obvious linear corridor for rail service on the Eastside, Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond, is already mostly funded, and the line will obviously be completed to downtown Redmond in ST3. So what should be the next priority for East King?

If the goal is to build something for the cities that were left aside in ST2, that suggests Kirkland and Issaquah. So naturally, thoughts turn to a Kirkland-Issaquah rail line. But Kirkland and Issaquah are not a significant trip pair. Not even enough to warrant a Metro bus today. So it makes sense, if at all, only as a portion of a network connecting all the major Eastside cities and Seattle.

Continue reading “Showcasing BRT on the Eastside.”