Convention Place is Still Needed

(Disclaimer: The items expressed here are not an exact science, I have tried to figure out what the current capacity for downtown buses are and have not come up with a decent method to determine that. I have based the over capacity currently on frequent observations on a Friday night when I visit downtown Seattle when I see 522s, 590s, and other buses that should be more spread out jammed together. If I ever figure out how to come to a capacity I will update later.)

Convention Place Station at night
Image from SounderBruce

Starting in 2018

1) The Alaskan Way Viaduct will begin to be torn down, meaning the waterfront is going to be under construction.
2) Work on the City Center Connector will begin, bringing construction to First Avenue and eventually to Stewart Street.
3) Convention Place Station will close and buses will be surfaced from the tunnel, adding more pressure to an overcrowded surface
4) Madison BRT, Rapid Ride G will begin construction.
5) Colman Dock will begin construction for it’s brand new terminal building along with the Alaskan Way Waterfront.

Sequencing large projects is already a challenge, having them all occur at once is bound to create some serious constraints that paint and light re-timing won’t solve. By that time, buses coming from I-90 will be rerouted off the D-2 roadway. Downtown Seattle already has almost 200 buses per hour during the peak of peak and bunching still happens throughout. Once on a Friday evening, I saw 4 590s within 3 blocks of each other on 2nd Avenue. Bus bunching and reliability is already an issue  and with a lack of redundancy, something needs to give way. Out of the decisions to be made, the easiest from the surface view would be to delay the Convention Place station until Northgate Link is ready to run. This would accomplish the following.

1) 41 and 550 continue to run in a reliable right-of-way.
2) Downtown throughput would be maintained given Link is nearing capacity southbound during pm peak at current headways.
3) Layover space for Metro that is becoming a premium in downtown would be maintained.

Right now the surface is constrained having almost 400 buses during the peak hour travelling to and from. While truncating to one end of downtown or the other sounds great, if travelers are suddenly having to transfer to reach their destinations, transit ridership could decrease from adding inconveniences to transit riders.

Here is the current bus numbers for downtown.

Some bus priorities should be implemented regardless

1) 3rd Avenue’s bus only restriction should extend into Belltown at least to Wall Street to keep the E line and other routes moving.
2) 3rd Avenue should be bus only from 6 am-8 pm 7 days per week at a bare minimum.
3) Extend the 2nd Ave and Stewart Ave bus only lane restrictions to 10 am during the morning rush.

Just to measure drawbacks if the 3rd Avenue bus restriction is extended into Belltown, you would lose around 80 on street parking spaces and potential loading or unloading zones if it is an outright restriction.

What do we have now and why do we still need the bus tunnel until at least 2019 if not 2021?

Currently, Link has 2 and 3 car trains running. If we look at 1/3 of trains being 2 car and 2/3 of trains being 3 car at 200 crush load, you come to 5,400 passengers per hour in the tunnel.

The current buses in the tunnel are typically 60 foot artics that can carry 104 people. (source) With as many as 39 buses per hour, that adds up to 4,056 passengers per hour.

If you cut to Link only before you have new cars and more headways, you cut underground throughput by more than 1/3rd let alone deliver unpredictability to current tunnel routes. Based on this, new Link cars would be needed to maintain current through capacity in downtown that will already be curtailed from construction elsewhere from Alaskan Way and 1st Avenue. When the new cars are ready you would be able to increase the capacity in the tunnel to about 6,000 people per hour at current headways crush loaded. If we look at the 2017 SIP for Sound Transit the PM peak shows a bit of an issue getting close to capacity during PM peak. While it sound great to have more filled trains, any breakdown in the system will cause ripple effects. AM peak has more room for more people but PM puts an already delicate system one incident away from disaster.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1pPOTVLoYzjipBSwVCtOFJJx-Mm_ys_nuCm7J8NX80S4/edit?usp=sharing

For Routes 101,102,160, 150 and 255 the inconvenience is put off until later, 550’s misery will be delayed for two years and hopefully East Link will be ready sooner rather than later. 41 would then naturally truncate or simply end. 255 takes up to 23 minutes from Montlake to Downtown during PM peak but most other times it is around 15 minutes or so. By the time you add in the current slogging through to Husky Stadium, transfer penalty, and vertical circulation you could potentially add travel time to many people’s commutes. The Montlake Phase of the SR 520 project will be under construction as well until 2023. Given construction restrictions there, SR 520 truncation is not a good idea at this point in time until bus priority and better transfers can be guaranteed at UW station. In most cases, travel times would increase given the poor transfer environment at UW.

Conjecture and Hypothesis on Layovers
If there is one feature I notice during rush hour in downtown, many buses deadhead during rush hour. If the buses do not layover in downtown, they likely have to travel to somewhere else through traffic choked areas. Truncating might help in this but truncation may end up backfiring from reduced downtown through capacity in the bus tunnel and on the surface. The reduction in one seat rides for peak hour buses may simply lead people to choose driving themselves into downtown to reduce the inconvenience.

I have not seen a decent answer yet as to where will all the buses go that do not layover in IDS and Convention Place? Where do you send buses laying over and do you add to the traffic that is already present in downtown or do we keep the buses closer to their origins?

Forcing the truncation of routes has to come with benefits which the UW truncation requires time for vertical circulation. With the Montlake situation and lack of desirable transfers at Husky Stadium and no prioritization for improvements, this truncation I would strongly advise against. Without dedicated bus lanes or signal priority and quick access to the station, I believe many will simply give up on transit.

Conclusions

  1. We can play a gamble of truncation but my personal bet says it would produce unintended consequences of people simply giving up on transit.
  2. 3rd Avenue should be a transit mall during the main portions of the day from at least 6 am to 8 pm daily. The bus only zone should extend into Belltown specifically Wall Street for all the Aurora Buses coming in and out.

SB 5001: It Won’t Work

  • [Note: The opinions expressed below are those of the author alone.]

SB 5001, a bill that would change Sound Transit into an 11 member elected board will be making its way to the House Transportation Committee soon as promised by Judy Clibborn according to The News Tribune

BART of course has the favorite 2003 extension to SFO Airport. An airport connection has political will and motivation given the wide benefit to users. At the time the project was billed at $580 million, by the time construction started, it was closer to construction in 1999, the cost escalated to $1.167 billion and ended up costing $1.483 billion by the time 2003 came. The schedule at the time had completion in 2001. The project was overbuilt given 3 terminus tracks for less than 10 minute frequency on the ends of each line, and forcing transfers from Milbrae to SFO between BARTs Red Line, Yellow line and then to the SFO People Mover if heading to a domestic terminal. See BART to SFO Study for more information. The Oakland Airport Connector played out similarly with a starting cost that is low and ends up costing 3 times as much by the time construction comes around with a fare much higher than the existing options for little to no benefit.

Warm Spring In Trouble
The Warm Springs extension is only 5.4 miles for one additional station. It was initially supposed to open in 2014 and supposed to cost $890 million. Now the opening date is unpredictable with a target of Winter of 2017. The San Francisco Chronicle stated BART’s aging infrastructure with power lines and communications system and tying new and old into each other has been the biggest difficulty and they cannot determine when it will be open. These issues should be planned around with extensions due to rapidly changing technology. As Link extends into the next decade, I hope Sound Transit has considered these possible challenges of tying into existing systems and will plan this into any capital program.

BART over the years has enjoyed great voter support and the Bay Area understands the need for frequent reliable transit. The system however has fallen upon aging times and just recently asked for maintenance dollars. Sound Transit at least planned that into Sound Transit 3 for maintenance.

In reality, this makes Sound Transit’s U-Link extension look pretty decent given the preferred alternative in 2002 dollars was projected at $830 million to $1.1 billion. Using an inflation calculator, the cost was about $350 million over the projected range given inflation to today. At the time of construction in 2009, the schedule was to open in September 2016 and was beat by 6 months.

To add onto everything eBART to East Contra Costa County was supposed to open up in 2015. Now it is projected to open in 2018. There has been a trend with BART even as an elected board which transit critics have come out after Sound Transit for with Sound Move. Over budget and behind schedule have been the trends at BART and continue to be so even with an elected board. It is difficult to determine if the Metropolitan Transportation Commission plays a large role in this or aging systems but one thing is certain. An elected transit board does not change the factors Republicans point to with projects. Many of the complaints are coming from suburban and rural constituents who do not use transit on a regular basis and have chosen to live further out. There are three Democrats who supported SB 5001 within the ST District being Bob Hasegawa of the 11th District, Guy Palumbo of the 1st District, and Steve Conway of the 29th District.

BART as an elected board has had a history of cost overruns with projects behind schedule and still does. California might be a different animal, but an elected board does not create immunity from poor leadership decisions. If the Republicans really want to help things out and ensure all citizens of this state receive a better bang for the buck with transportation costs, maybe it would be better to evaluate what delays and holds up projects and having a conversation on both sides of the aisle of what do we want to prioritize? There are only 3 directly elected transit boards in the country. BART is one, RTD in Denver is the second.

Going Forward

Given the evenly divided legislature and the bill receiving bipartisan support in the Senate 29-20,  there needs to be a push in the House Transportation Committee. Knowing history and Mary Margaret Haugen, the chair of the Transportation Committee is a very powerful position.

I would recommend the following.
1) Allow rural Pierce County that isn’t within the Pierce Transit PTBA and have regularly voted down Sound Transit packages to annex out of the district. There needs to be some reasonable standard to allow the rural areas to be outside the district given rural King and Snohomish Counties are not inside the district.
2) Reform the way vehicle depreciation is done. Get rid of the current state formula and implement something that closely follows Kelly Blue Book values. It was one reason voters likely voted in I-695 and significantly reduced transportation funding throughout the state. If taxes are more reasonable that may dial the pressure back.
3) Allow for better citizen participation in some form or another. The Citizen Oversight Panel should have a bit more say at the table rather than a rubber stamp on proposals. I personally would be open to having citizen appointments to the board with up to and no more than half the members. Citizens would get to know elected representatives with experience. Given Senator Liias’s and Conway’s remarks in the Senate Floor debate, change will need to occur.  see 50:00

There are many routes this bill could go

1) Inslee could veto the bill given there isn’t a 2/3rds majority in both chambers to override the bill given the current vote totals.
2) The bill ends up not making it out of the House Transportation Committee given Democrats have a majority there.
3) The bill ends up not making it out of the House Rules Committee for a hearing on the House Floor.
4) The bill makes it out with or without numerous amendments and to the House Floor for a vote.

I would not count on Democrats to hold a party line on this vote.

I would follow through on discussion with voters in order to bring the temperature down. We want to ensure taxpayers are receiving what they asked for in a cost effective manner.

If transit expansion is important to you, I would contact your legislators and tell them that a full directly elected board will not bring about the changes desired and may hinder the ability of Sound Transit’s work on system expansion and project delivery.

Community Transit Commuter Restructure in 2023

Sounder Bruce – Flickr

[Editor’s Note: the author is not employed by Community Transit, and the restructure ideas presented here are entirely his own.]

Community Transit currently has 19 routes that serve Downtown Seattle and the University District during peak commuter hours. In 2023, Westlake-Lynnwood travel times on Link will be 28 minutes with trains coming up to every 3-4 minutes. While one-stop service is nice, Snohomish County will be transformed with realigned service for Link to downtown Seattle.

The goals of restructure would be the following:

1) Continue to serve existing ridership with one transfer to Link.
2) Consolidate commuter routes to reduce overlap and create one corridor with increased service span and frequency where needed.
3) Create a frequent transit network (FTN) connecting to Link.

Details are after the jump.

Continue reading “Community Transit Commuter Restructure in 2023”

Seattle-Everett RER

Let’s be honest, the spine will get built in one way or another with rail from one end to the other. However, we are continuing to focus on poor light rail alignments and using a technology not suited for the distances. So what do we currently have?

Sounder: North Line currently has a run time of 59 minutes with two stops at Mukilteo and Edmonds. These stations connect ferry commuters and locals in the area but ridership simply does not fill the trains. The reliability during the fall and spring leads to many cancellations therefore fewer people ride it. It does serve a different purpose than a Link
Express Bus Routes: If you look at current travel times from Lynnwood to Seattle and Everett to Seattle not just during rush hour but from rush hour until 7 to 8 pm at night. The 512 still takes an hour to travel downtown but reliability is affected by freeway performance and traffic on Seattle’s streets. After utilizing the 545 from Redmond yesterday, we were allowed to deboard before Pine and I made the decision to use the bus tunnel to avoid all the traffic at the surface on 5th.  One accident is enough to increase travel times to more than 60 minutes from Lynnwood. Many times on Twitter, you will see alerts for buses being delayed from accident and congestion.
What Is Needed:

1) Reliable travel times-rail does this having a fixed guideway system and grade separated.

2) Frequency-a fixed rail link during the day need to have departures at least every 15 minutes or better, for this corridor, we should aim for every 10 minutes.

3) Travel time reductions from current modes. It is possible to reduce travel times; there can have a 110 mph alignment in the I-5 corridor with one overpass bridge and a few short tunnel segments. Tunneling from Northgate to Seattle would be required unless part of the I-5 express lanes were utilized. However I am not assuming WSDOT will allow that usage without concessions.

What is Proposed: (in the Hopper)

There are three LRT options with two likely ones being Paine Field and I-5. I-5 has the shortest travel time at 22 minutes from Lynnwood-Everett. Ridership is projected at 32,000 to 43,000 with no TOD potential except around Everett station. This would allow an hour or less travel time into downtown Seattle every trip, but it serves existing ridership that uses park & rides. The cost would be $2.36-$3.19 billion. Part of the new issue is the plans for 1,000 new parking spaces at the station. This takes away valuable TOD land for more cars.

The Paine Field alternative adds an entire 11 minutes onto overall travel time. The purpose of this alignment is to serve Paine Field and Boeing, the base ridership has 4,000 more than I-5 and 1,000 more than an SR 99 alignment, but it tops out at 50,000 riders. It is not faster than the current 510-513 buses that travel the corridor currently from the diversion to Paine Field. I have strong reservations of serving Paine Field for the extra cost of at least 190 to 230 million dollars, especially given Boeing and tax breaks from a political sense. From a transit sense, airports and industrial areas do not produce the ridership justified for fixed all day rail transit. Paine Field also has NIMBYs to contend with, limiting potential airport ridership.
Unfortunately, County politicians are opposed to an SR 99 alignment with TOD potential, 4 minutes less travel time, less cost, and much more TOD potential along the corridor to redevelop. It will be a matter of time but the questions become the following.

My Proposal: Sounder Regional Express

Proposal Map

Sounder Regional Express would extend from DuPont to Marysville/Tulalip. The goals are the following

35 minute travel time express from Everett-Seattle with stops at Lynnwood, University District, Westlake/ SLU, and King St. Station
45 minute travel time local with stops at Everett Mall, Ash Way, Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood TC, Mountlake Terrace, Northgate, U-District, Westlake/SLU and terminate at King St.
60 minute travel time from Marysville/ Tulalip with all stops.

Why Travel Time?

This one question always had me stumped. As someone who lives in the bedroom community of Bremerton, I do have a bit of travel time perception given any Seattle venture outside of downtown involves transit. As someone who recently once went over to Redmond by car, I absolutely hated it due to driving the 405 and being stuck in congestion versus taking a ferry and bus. The travel times are about the same, just a matter of walking up to 3rd Avenue, get to Convention Place, the 545 over and with an ORCA card, makes it easy. I honestly regretting taking my car but because I missed the boat due to my fault with parking selection (connecting transit doesn’t usually work out and I save only $1 versus convenience of having a vehicle available upon my return). Fact remains is when transit is easy and convenient, I am more likely to take it.

When it comes to the geographic reach of infrastructure, the faster it is in this section, the more it can reach. This does go against trying to have more people live in downtown Seattle but also realizing the fact that there will be people that choose the suburbs and having an option that makes it attractive to leaving their car for local trips and reducing the pull to use it on I-5 to travel to downtown Seattle it becomes important. Everett Link if it goes via SR 99 or Paine Field will take an hour plus each time. During the weekend when traffic isn’t as bad in downtown Seattle and parking is cheaper and more available, keeping travel times competitive is important in making a decision, especially if transfers are involved.

Why Rapid Rail?

Comfort. You are likely to have a seat on a rapid rail train for the entire time. With the ability to have power and USB ports and the vehicles meant to support the function of sitting for the ride, there would be draws for commuters who instead of driving can utilize travel time to catch up on sleep, check e-mails on their laptops. There are likely Link commuters that do this but being on a one hour trip really makes the conveniences go the extra mile.

In terms of infrastructure, this potentially would benefit a new high-speed connection to Vancouver, BC and Bellingham. This would cut off 20 minutes from the current travel time between Everett and Seattle alone. Given the straightness and limited curves between north of Bow, WA and Mount Vernon along with Mount Vernon-Everett, the 20 minutes reduction would make trip times by rail more competitive by adding this one high-speed segment.

Also, this would allow through service from Tacoma with a regular frequency, making more trips possible to the north of Seattle

Station Locations

There have been dilemnmas given most of the north stations are located along I-5. At the same time, it will be cheaper to use the WSDOT right of way rather than tunneling for 28+ miles between the two cities. The first vision was to re purpose the I-5 express lanes for rail although those negotiations would not be as easy as it was for I-90 and the current express lanes on I-5 carry much more traffic at 46,000 AADT at the Ship Canal midspan versus I-90’s 14,000 AADT at midspan. The other idea was connecting UW to a regional rail spine given the large employment base versus forcing a transfer at Northgate. This would require another tunnel between Northgate and DT Seattle but also an interline at Westlake or downtown seems needed since bus commute routes currently go into the tunnel, get off at Steweart, or Cherry and Columbia. Having everyone travel to King Street to go north makes the rails less attractive hence the thought of a stop at Westlake. I would consider a potential stop at SLU but whether geography will allow, I do not know. SLU does need more fixed rail transit than just the trolley.

North however many locations do not have that great locations to go without making a massive tunnel over to 99. (Aurora Subway)

In the end

I think this is much better than Link and I know this would be expensive depending on how much tunneling would cost. That is likely the make or break cost. It is hard to determine if a two track railway along I-5 would cost as much as light-rail but if using California’s estimate of $100 million per mile, for an extra $1 billion you get to Marysville. I would say use Tacoma-Everett as Phase 1 of the regional rail spine, extend to Marysville and Lakewood as Phase 2, and Phase 3 would go towards DuPont and potentially Olympia later. That is a discussion for another day.

For now though, I would welcome station consideration on why or why not for all stations if there would be some recommendations for the northern stations being further from I-5, for stations in downtown, why or why not SLU and Westlake? I would like to see one location or another in the northern section of downtown with feeder traffic from somewhere.