Lander Overpass Gets Full Funding, Needs Improvement

View of Sounder train from existing Lander St crossing
Today’s pedestrian view at the Lander crossing. Photo by Peter Lewis.

For many years, SDOT has sought to build an overpass separating cars, trucks, and buses on Lander Street in Sodo from crossing train traffic.  Last time we checked in, the project was included in the Move Seattle project list and had secured a $45 million federal grant, but was still $40 million short of full funding.  On Wednesday, the city announced that it achieved full funding, thanks to a combination of a $17 million lower cost estimate after final design, additional appropriations from the City Council, and an additional $10 million contribution from the Port of Seattle.  Construction is expected to begin next year, for completion in 2019.

The project has been controversial among local urbanists, because it is expensive and intended primarily for vehicular traffic, especially Port of Seattle truck traffic.  I think the concept of the overpass has more merit than is often acknowledged, because it would improve bus reliability and has the potential to make walking to transit safer.

The benefits to bus reliability already look promising.  Lander is the primary transit-accessible route between the West Seattle Bridge and Sodo destinations.  Today, it serves one major frequent bus route (5/21), one infrequent local route (50), and a few commuter routes.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that train crossings at Lander are responsible for a substantial portion of overall delays on routes 5 and 21, especially northbound route 5 service.  In its long-range plan, Metro expects to expand service on Lander further, upgrading the frequent Sodo-West Seattle route to RapidRide (while changing its routing) and adding a pair of routes that would provide frequent service to South Park and Tukwila.  A Lander overpass would improve reliability of all of these services substantially.

Continue reading “Lander Overpass Gets Full Funding, Needs Improvement”

Sound Transit’s Full Plate

Sounder loco 910 at TDS
This Sounder train will have positive train control operating next year. Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

On Wednesday, Sound Transit quietly released a draft of its Annual Report and 2017-2022 Transit Development Plan.  The TDP, which state law requires ST to complete each year, operates at a higher level than the Service Implementation Plans released in the fall.  While the TDP offers less granular detail about the agency’s plans than the SIP, it gives us a glimpse farther into the future.

This year’s plan doesn’t break any major news, but underscores how much work planners at ST and its partner agencies must do as the system expands.  During 2017 alone, ST is working on four separate planning processes, almost totally centered on bus service:

  1. the ongoing SR 520 bus service restructure effort;
  2. a plan to keep routes 550 and 554 moving once the dedicated bus roadway parallel to I-90 closes for East Link construction;
  3. a plan to help ST Express buses navigate increased surface bus traffic once all buses leave the downtown tunnel in 2019; and
  4. the start of the planning effort for the ST Express network that will operate once Lynnwood Link, East Link, and Federal Way Link open.

2017 TDP listed items

The last of these is a long-term effort that will continue from now until 2022, and will take place in cooperation with similar planning efforts by Metro and Community Transit.  We likely won’t see too much about it in this year’s SIP, but it will be major news as the early 2020s draw closer.

The TDP delivered a couple of other minor news items.  First, ST and BNSF remain on track to complete Positive Train Control hardware installation on the South Sounder line this year, with the technology becoming fully operational next year. PTC is a safety technology designed to prevent trains from entering already-occupied track segments even if an operator fails to observe a red light, and likely could have prevented several of the USA’s worst train accidents.  Second, ST continues to eschew fleet standardization for ST Express, with double-decker buses, commuter motor coaches, and articulated hybrid buses all slated to come on property within the next few years.  Buses that entered service in 2005 or earlier, including ST’s original order of hybrid buses, should be replaced in 2018-2019.

Transit Can’t Work Without Pedestrian Priority

Man walking from sidewalk toward Community Transit bus
This man is a pedestrian, too! Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

At last Thursday’s Growing Seattle candidate forum, moderator Erica C. Barnett asked the six participating mayoral candidates to perform a simple but revealing exercise: rank transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers in order of priority. The candidates’ answers varied widely. The answers of Jenny Durkan and Sen. Bob Hasegawa are notable, though, because they illustrate a common and fundamental blind spot about successful transit.  Let’s have a look:

1) Transit
2) Bikes
3) Cars
4) Pedestrians

1) Transit
2) Cars
3) Pedestrians
4) Bikes

Both candidates put transit on top. But neither seems to think walking deserves much attention. That is inherently contradictory.

Especially in the city, where very few riders drive to transit, almost every transit trip requires a walk on public streets. Very few riders are lucky enough to have a bus stop outside their door on both ends of their trip.  So every transit rider is also a pedestrian. And if the walk to or from a transit trip is impossible or unsafe, that transit trip doesn’t work well as a whole. Riders with poor pedestrian access are less likely to ride transit instead of driving, more likely to be unsatisfied with transit when they do ride, and more likely to suffer injury at the hands of car drivers.

For all those reasons, walking safety and comfort are an integral part of building a successful transit system. It makes no more sense to say “transit deserves more priority than walking” than it does to say “make the pizza better, but don’t worry about cheese quality.” Transit doesn’t really have priority over car drivers unless pedestrians do too. Ms. Durkan and Sen. Hasegawa would render many transit trips less workable, and undermine their own stated preferences for transit, by putting pedestrians at the back of the line.

Metro Wants Out of James Street Gridlock

Map of the proposed James/Yesler switch.
Metro proposes to move the James segment (double line) to Yesler (yellow).

Together, Metro routes 3 and 4 form a critical bus corridor connecting the Central District, First Hill hospitals (including Harborview), downtown, Belltown, and Seattle Center.  The segment between downtown and Cherry Hill is one of the highest-ridership parts of the Metro system, with standing-room-only buses running every 5 to 7 minutes during the day.  Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less reliable segments, almost entirely because of traffic delays on the short part of James St that the routes use.  That part of James includes a major interchange with I-5, and suffers from gridlock during most afternoon peak hours.

For years, Metro has studied moving routes 3 and 4 from James to much less congested Yesler Way, only between 3rd and 9th Avenues, to address the problem.  (Our own Bruce Nourish suggested the move in 2011, and Metro staff were already on it then.) The move wasn’t practical, though, until SDOT completed its Yesler Bridge Rehabilitation Project, after which the bridge will accommodate trolleybus overhead.  Now that SDOT’s project is nearing completion, Metro is formally proposing the move, and has provided a survey to complete.

Metro’s own analysis indicates that the move would save up to four minutes per trip during afternoon peak hours.  Notably, this is average saving per trip, which masks some much longer delays (to which I, a semi-regular route 3 rider, can testify).  Bruce’s chart below, based on historical Metro data, shows how much more consistent Yesler was in 2011—before recent increases in I-5 traffic.  The very worst trip on Yesler was more than six minutes quicker on average than the worst trip on James, and several other trips on Yesler had a similar advantage.  Today, the differences would even be greater, given higher volume on James.

Comparing Yesler to James
Comparing Yesler to James (2011 data from Metro). Chart by Bruce Nourish.

Moving routes 3 and 4 to Yesler would be a huge benefit to Harborview, First Hill, and Central District afternoon commuters.  It would also substantially improve transit service to Yesler Terrace, which is expected to add around 5,000 residents (including over 1,000 net new low-income residents) and several employers within the next few years, but has only a half-hourly bus to downtown.  The move does have one downside, though.  The stretch of James Street that would lose service includes several of the steepest arterial blocks in the city, and access to some destinations along James could get more complicated.  Although only two stops would lose service, at 5th and 8th Avenues, each serves some major destinations.  The stop at 5th serves core King County and Seattle government buildings, including Seattle City Hall, King County Administration, and King County Jail.  The stop at 8th serves the Jefferson Terrace public housing complex, with about 350 residents, and Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank.  We have already heard objections to the move on the basis that the walks from 3rd or 9th Avenues to these destinations are too steep for some users to manage.

These objections are overblown, and do not justify subjecting the great majority of riders to long and unpredictable afternoon delays.  Most of the James Street destinations remain accessible.  Between them, the King County Courthouse and King County Administration buildings allow a flat, fully accessible passage from 3rd to 5th Avenues, which in turn allows access to the other government buildings along 5th.  There is also transit access to 5th and James along very frequent Sound Transit routes 512 and 545, with fully accessible connections in both the Westlake and International District areas.  Jefferson Terrace has an elevated, accessible entrance along Jefferson Street that provides easy access to 9th Avenue bus stops, which will continue to be served.  The only major destination of concern is the Northwest Harvest food bank.  It would be worthwhile for Metro to work with Northwest Harvest to determine how many food bank customers are unable to walk from 9th Avenue bus stops, and find a solution for those users (for example, a routing change for Solid Ground’s free circulator on days when the food bank is open).

If you use routes 3 and 4, we encourage you to take Metro’s survey and help Metro implement this time- and hassle-saving change.

The Mayoral Candidates on Transit and Housing

Crowd waiting on southbound Westlake Station platform
The Mayoral candidates line up for a photo-op. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

As of last Friday evening, it was official: no fewer than twenty-one candidates formally filed for the 2017 City of Seattle mayoral primary.  As usual, most of this unprecedented crop are unlikely, single-issue, or perennial candidates.  But Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual assault encouraged a bumper crop of serious and credible candidates to throw their hats in too.  In that category (in alphabetical order) we would place former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, former Mayor Mike McGinn, activist Cary Moon, and attorney/organizer Nikkita Oliver.

Our focus on transit is obvious from our name, but we are also deeply passionate about land use and housing issues, as they are key both to creating a successful transit system and to retaining longtime residents while welcoming newcomers.  This post is devoted to presenting the above six mayoral candidates’ positions on those two issues in their own public words, with only a bit of commentary.  The campaign is in its early stages, and we will surely be hearing much more (for better or for worse) and doing interviews of our own.  But even as of today the contrasts are informative.  Hear out the candidates, below the jump.

Continue reading “The Mayoral Candidates on Transit and Housing”

Unintended Consequences in the Central District

The 27 at its proper stop, back in the day when David used to drive it. Photo by Steve Morgan.

You’re standing at 3rd and Union. You want to go to 23rd and Jackson, the commercial heart of the Central District. Or you want to go home, in the dense housing near Washington Middle School. What’s the quickest way to get there?

The answer is “Who knows?” And this common trip between major destinations may be Metro’s best example of bad network execution.

You might walk to the Benaroya Hall bus stop, to catch route 14 or 4. Both will get you there. But the 14 runs every 20 minutes, the 4 runs every half hour, and their schedules aren’t coordinated. So it’s reasonably likely that you will have to wait 20 minutes for a bus. Or you might walk to the IGA bus stop, where route 27 stops — but only every half hour, so your wait could be even longer.

When you want to go back downtown, the situation is even worse. Now you have three different bus stops you might want to use: westbound on Jackson for the 14, northbound on 23rd for the 4, or westbound on Yesler for the 27. You may have to wait 20-30 minutes at any of these bus stops, even though there are seven buses per hour between them.  If you have a smartphone, and OneBusAway happens to be working, you can use it for help. But taking the bus shouldn’t require knowing three different routing options, having a smartphone, and being ready to run between stops a block or two from each other. .

This situation got worse with the recent Southeast Seattle restructure, as an unintended consequence of the very welcome frequency increase on route 124 to Georgetown and Tukwila. The explanation of how that happened is a bit wonky, but the consequences aren’t: route 27, which previously picked up at the same 3rd Avenue stops as route 14 and 4, moved to different stops, even though it serves many of the same places.

For routing consistency, Metro through-routed the newly frequent 124 with routes 24 and 33 to Magnolia, which share a common route all the way to the Magnolia Bridge, at most times of day. But during peak hour on weekdays, routes 24 and 33 together run much more often than route 124. So at peak hour only, Metro kept route 33 on its old through-route, with route 27.

But this created something Metro saw as a problem: route 33 trips would have dropped people off at different stops downtown, depending on whether they were continuing as route 27 or route 124. Metro’s Scott Gutierrez confirmed to me by email that Metro saw the potential confusion to both riders and drivers if route 33 trips had inconsistent drop-off stops as a worse problem than having route 27 pick up at different stops from routes 4 and 14. Metro didn’t address other through-route possibilities, such as through-routing peak-hour 33 trips with route 125, or returning to the former service pattern of partially through-routing peak-hour 33 trips with route 37.

I think Metro’s judgment about this was wrong. East Magnolia riders could adapt to one-block differences in their dropoff location. That is a less severe consequence than making the already confusing bus trip between downtown and the Central District even more obtuse.

In the long term, this is a prime opportunity for Metro to restructure service in a way that makes it obviously better, without many negative consequences. Metro’s proposed Metro Connects network gets most of the way there, deleting the S-shaped route 4, which is sparsely ridden south of Garfield High School, and putting the service hours into much more frequent and predictable service on better-used routes 3 and 14.  For trips between the area around 23rd and Jackson and downtown, route 14 would become the obvious choice. For coverage reasons, Metro proposes to leave route 27 running infrequently on Yesler, although it would stop going downtown and serve First Hill and South Lake Union instead. Riders in the south Central District will also have a frequent and very fast trip to downtown available on Link light rail starting in 2023, by walking or taking route 48 to the new Judkins Park station a half-mile to the south.

In the meantime, though, Central District riders deserve better.  Metro should restore route 27 to the same stops served by routes 14 and 4.

Metro Wants to Serve Lots of New Places

Map of Metro's 2040 network showing Renton, east Kent, and east Auburn.
A part of the Metro Connects 2040 map with some dramatic expansion in coverage. Map by Metro.

We’ve devoted considerable coverage to Metro Connects, the long-range plan that Metro first published in 2016 and the King County Council adopted in January.  We’ve focused mainly on the massively expanded frequent network Metro envisions, with 26 RapidRide lines and frequent service slated to serve most King County residents.  But the plan’s vision goes well beyond adding more frequency and red buses to the busiest parts of the network.  Separately, Metro also hopes to expand service to lots of places (and people) that don’t have it today.  That includes places that lost service in Metro’s multiple rounds of cuts, and also many places that have never seen a Metro bus.

We talk a lot about the frequency versus coverage tradeoff that’s inherent in designing transit networks.  Maximize frequency (and therefore transfer feasibility) for the most riders, and you inevitably leave riders in less dense areas—including youth, seniors, and riders with disabilities—without needed service.  But if you run buses to everywhere, there likely aren’t enough resources to provide enough frequency to make transfers easy.  Without spontaneously usable transfers, transit for everyone is much less useful.  Metro clearly hopes that it can marshal sufficient resources over the next two decades to avoid this tradeoff altogether, a dream which many transit advocates share.  But until the past couple of years, when the region’s newfound wealth has enabled service expansions, that seemed like a fever mirage, not a plausible solution.

Metro 2040 map of east Bellevue and Sammamish
Sammamish, slated for major growth, gets a lot of new coverage. Map by Metro.

In 2013, I proposed a network that cut coverage service heavily to improve frequency and transfers for most riders.  Many of Metro’s restructures have done the same thing.  That choice of priorities is correct in a low-resource environment, but the result is unfortunate: coverage is less expansive than it was three decades ago, even as high-ridership routes have seen major improvements.

It’s nice to see Metro dream a bit more about expanding coverage.  Land use changes and further development will be necessary to make most of Metro’s proposed routes work—but, for the most part, the new routes would be in places where municipalities are planning more development.  We can hope that credible transit proposals from Metro will encourage developments that are transit- and walking-friendly, allowing for transportation options beyond cars.

Below the jump, a long list of areas that would see new coverage (either on conventional buses or alternative service) by 2040 under the Metro Connects plan. Again, this list is only new coverage — improvements to areas that already have service are not the subject of this post.

Continue reading “Metro Wants to Serve Lots of New Places”

Seattle Times Editorial Board Flunks Geometry

The Seattle Times wants your neighborhood arterial to look like this. Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

In recent years, the Seattle Times has published many editorials and columns skeptical of transit, or any transportation mode except private cars.  STB hasn’t usually responded, because events have shown amply that every day the Times gets more out of step with citizens’ increasing desire for alternatives to sitting in traffic.  And the Times gets credit for consistently excellent news coverage of transportation topics, led by ace reporter Mike Lindblom.

But the Times’s latest ($) finally warrants a response, because it distills so many myths and bad ideas about transportation into a few words.  The idea is not to get into a fight with our local paper, but to explain why transit investment is the only way to free people from congestion.  The Times’s core request — to provide so much capacity for car traffic that a complete closure of I-5 would have little effect on car travel times — is geometrically impossible.  Worse, any attempt to make it happen would cause profoundly destructive consequences for the city and its residents.  And the reasons (below the jump) show exactly why support for transit, not more car capacity, is the best way forward from our congestion woes.

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Metro Adding Service Mar. 11

106 stuck in Jackson St traffic
This bus is clearly saving time by skipping a few stops, right? Photo by Bruce Englehardt.

King County Metro’s spring service change begins next Saturday, March 11.  There are few major changes this time around, but quite a few incremental additions to service.  Full service change information from Metro is here; the following are a few highlights.

Routes 3 and 4 to serve SPU

Metro route 4 revised map
Route 4 revision (route 3 revision is similar). Map by King County Metro.

The sole major routing change affects the Queen Anne portion of routes 3 and 4.  Both routes will follow a common routing in Queen Anne, serving Seattle Pacific University via 3 Ave W — a solution we have long favored.  The new routing will provide a major improvement to SPU-downtown service frequency, and will allow connections to routes 31 and 32 to Fremont and the University District.  The vestigial “tails” of both routes, on small neighborhood streets, will lose service.  The new routing will be a very short walk for the few current riders using the route 3 tail, but some riders on the route 4 tail may have to walk a few extra blocks to reach service.

Although there will be just one route north of downtown, Metro is keeping both route numbers around for now.  The decision could be revisited if Metro ever restructures away the redundant and expensive southern end of route 4, as it proposes to do by 2025 in the Metro Connects long-range plan (and also in earlier proposals).  After such a restructure, the number 3 could be used south of downtown and the number 4 north of downtown, for much improved legibility and the flexibility to decouple the two parts if warranted.

More Service!

The best news in this service change is that Metro is adding a significant amount of additional service, both in the city (with some assistance from Seattle Proposition 1) and in the suburbs.  The service additions are spot additions, with few all-day frequency improvements (although we understand that some of those are coming in September).  The focus appears to be reducing overcrowding.  Many of the additions are in northeast Seattle, as Metro continues working to address pain points from the U-Link restructure.

Routes with New Peak or Shoulder-Peak Trips

C Line, E Line, 5 (local), 15, 17, 18, 21X, 26, 28, 31, 40, 41, 62, 63, 65, 67, 70, 74, 75, 101, 102, 121, 158, 212, 216, 218, 255, 257, 271, 311, 355, 372

Routes with Evening Frequency Improvements

8 (15-minute service until 9 p.m., weekdays)
65 (15-minute service until 10 p.m., weekdays and Saturdays)
67 (15-minute service until 10 p.m., weekdays and Saturdays)
75 (15-minute service until 9 p.m., weekdays)
372 (15-minute service until 8 p.m., weekdays)

Routes with Sunday Frequency Improvements

8 (20-minute service)
372 (20-minute service, between U-District and Lake City only)

Grab Bag

As always, there are a few other miscellaneous changes.

  • The northernmost portion of Route 106 will become local, serving all stops between Mount Baker and the International District.
  • Route 241, and Metro-operated Sound Transit routes 550, 555, and 556, will change their routing to avoid going inside the South Bellevue P&R once the P&R is closes for East Link construction later in the spring.
  • A new Black Diamond-Enumclaw Community Shuttle will replace the part of DART Route 907 south of Black Diamond.
  • South King County commuter routes 121, 122, 123, 157, 158, 159, and 192 will no longer serve stops on Bell Street.

Ban Cars from Third, Now.

Buses and one car on 3rd
Third Avenue. That car, typically, is about to ignore a Do Not Enter sign. Photo by Zack Heistand.

It’s time to make Third Avenue into Seattle’s first transit mall. Tomorrow. Or, at least, late next year, once the remaining buses have to leave the downtown tunnel. The City of Seattle should ban all* non-transit motor vehicles from Third, 24/7. Banning cars completely would:

  • Increase the bus capacity of Third
  • Speed up bus travel
  • Allow more efficient bus stop positioning
  • Improve pedestrian and bike safety
  • Make enforcement easier
  • Inconvenience very few car drivers

The ban has been warranted for several years, but will become far more important with the brave new world of no tunnel buses.

While Link light rail gets all the glory and gaudy annual ridership increases, Third remains the city’s busiest transit corridor in both trips per day (3,000) and ridership (likely about 125,000). Yet, as Zach reported last month, Metro, Sound Transit, and the City are not yet considering improvements to Third in the One Center City plan. Instead, they are proposing improvements to less-used corridors, along with major bus restructures that would force transfers — in some cases, with no return benefit. Improving Third by banning cars could allow Metro and Sound Transit to avoid the worst of these forced-transfer plans, while also improving the commute for a large majority of the 47 percent. (No, Mitt, not that 47 percent — the 47 percent of downtown commuters that use transit.)

The agencies should include a transit-only Third as a core piece of One Center City, and should take advantage of it by running as many buses there as it can possibly handle. More details about why, after the jump.

*With very narrow exceptions, described below.

Continue reading “Ban Cars from Third, Now.”

County Council Adopts “Metro Connects” Long-Range Plan

Ballard 2015 and 2040 Isochrones
Mobility from Ballard today and under Metro’s 2040 vision.

About nine months ago, Metro released a draft of its first Long Range Plan in quite some time.  We were enthusiastic about the plan, which lays out a comprehensive vision for the Metro of the future, including network, Sound Transit integration, facilities, fleet, and capital improvements.  We nerded out over some of the network planning ideas, and spent hours poring over the network maps, which show real imagination and are a revealing distillation of planners’ ideas for improvement throughout the county.  More than anything else, we got excited about Metro’s isochrone maps, which show how far you would be able to get from a given point with ST3 and the LRP network in place.  They paint a picture of timely car-free mobility throughout the city and even to many suburban areas, one which probably seems like a faraway dream to anyone who spends their afternoons stuck along Denny on the 8 or Dexter on the 62.

The King County Council has been considering the plan ever since, and Councilmembers apparently liked what they saw as much as we did.  In its Monday meeting, the full Council adopted the plan unanimously, with only minor changes from the draft Metro released last April.  The final documents include some welcome additional information about the assumptions behind the plan, including detailed data on how many residents of each area will be near frequent service; minute-level estimates of travel times between areas; and a breakout of expected cost per service hour for each of the four service types included in the network (RapidRide, frequent, express, and local).  Network planning for integration with ST3 reflects some additional work by planners, with a significantly revised post-ST3 network in Magnolia and Ballard, and other smaller network changes throughout the area.  We expect to provide additional coverage of Metro’s newest Ballard network vision in another post, as it has some new and interesting concepts we haven’t seen before.

As always, shepherding a mostly abstract, years-away long-range plan through the Council is an easier task than implementing specific service improvements with immediate winners and losers.  Nevertheless, adoption of Metro Connects is a very welcome step, and the apparent lack of controversy is an encouraging sign for faster, easier transit service throughout the county that uses the considerable resources we are putting into ST3 as effectively as possible.

September Service Changes

Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.
Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

It’s that time of year again!  Metro and Sound Transit service changes begin Saturday, September 10.  If you feel like this is earlier than past years, well, you’re right.  The agencies have moved to biannual service changes, in mid-March and mid-September, replacing the previous late-September timing when there were three changes each year.

The big news is Metro’s Southeast Seattle restructure, which is essentially identical to to the final proposal Metro published in May, and the first midday Sounder service.  Two weeks after the service change, Link’s Angle Lake Station will open.  Changes beyond those headline items are limited to minor tweaks, mostly improving service in the area that went through major restructures in March.  Details below the jump.

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SDOT, We Need Real HCT

HCT Corridor Overview
Fairview/Eastlake/Roosevelt HCT corridor. From SDOT’s open house materials.

Zach informed us all last Thursday that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to make only minimal transit improvements in its proposed Fairview-Eastlake-Roosevelt “high-capacity transit” (HCT) corridor.  SDOT’s proposed improvements would be limited to a few blocks of BAT lanes near downtown, queue jumps at just a few congested intersections, off-board payment, some signal priority, and electrification north of Campus Parkway.  Nearly all of the route would remain in mixed car/bus traffic.  There are no improvements to two intersections that cause major transit delays along the corridor today: Fairview/Mercer (in the northbound direction) and Eastlake/Lynn.  In short, the project would amount to a through-route and electrification of today’s Metro routes 70 and 67, with only a few functional changes.

SDOT, this is not good enough, and it’s not HCT.  Residents and workers in our burgeoning city deserve far better.  You promised to make it better before last fall’s Move Seattle vote, and you know how to make it better.

This corridor has been on the City of Seattle’s radar since the original 2011 Transit Master Plan.  Serving approximately 10,000 daily riders on today’s bus routes, the combined corridor would be one of the city’s highest-volume bus corridors, even before any growth.  Ridership on its south half has been growing fast with increasing employment in South Lake Union.  As Zach recounted, it has been proposed for streetcar service, BRT with end-to-end dedicated lanes, RapidRide, and then “RapidRide+” — all within the last five years.  In the Move Seattle levy measure, approved by city voters last November, the corridor was to be one of seven new “RapidRide+” corridors. It has been a core project in every iteration of the city’s Transit Master Plan, and there has never been any real disagreement that most of it is worthy of substantial transit investment.

So why did SDOT devise such a limited concept plan?  The corridor has many competing uses, and it appears that transit drew the shortest straw of all of them.  Right-of-way is limited throughout the corridor, and SDOT had to balance transit with competing uses: general car traffic, street parking, and bicycle traffic. Different uses were prioritized in different sections of the project; bicycles took priority along Eastlake, while car parking and general traffic remained the highest priorities along Roosevelt.  But the end result is that along nearly all of the corridor — with the sole exception of the short stretch between Republican Street and Stewart Street — transit took a back seat.

That is a decision that makes no numerical sense today, and will make even less sense in the future.  Our resident and employee population are growing fast, while available right-of-way stays the same.  Today, transit serves a large minority of trips in the corridor.  Very close to 10,000 daily riders used routes 66, 67, and 70 combined before the March restructure of bus service in conjunction with U-Link.  Preliminary indications are that ridership has risen after the restructure (as usual with restructures).  Meanwhile, SDOT traffic flow data indicates that most portions of the corridor carry 13,000 to 20,000 daily car trips.  This comparison is imperfect; not all car trips cover the entire corridor, and many duplicate other bus routes such as the 45 or 49.  But it is more than enough to establish transit’s importance.  And transit, as always in city centers with no room for more right of way, is the way to grow capacity.  There is no way to stuff more general-purpose traffic into Roosevelt or Eastlake.  The city’s ability to grow population and jobs relies in a very concrete way on transit being able to grow ridership.  Transit should have taken first priority, not last.

Continue reading “SDOT, We Need Real HCT”

Seattle Tidbits from the Metro LRP

Coach 4504 signed 44 Ballard
Metro wants this bus to turn red and go to Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy of Bruce Engelhardt.

This past Monday, Zach introduced STB riders to Metro’s new Long Range Plan.  The plan sets forth an ambitious series of large-scale goals for Metro. Most prominently, it brings truly frequent service (15 minutes or better, daytime and early evenings) within a 10-minute walk of 70 percent of King County residents.  While the plan is considerably more than a network planning vision, its centerpiece is a rough, high-level network proposal restructuring Metro service around Sound Transit’s regional projects and relying on an ambitious increase in service levels.

The proposal has two parts: a near-term “2025” vision designed around the funded projects from Sound Transit 2, and a longer-term “2040” vision that reflects King County projects included in Sound Transit’s ST3 draft plan.  The 2040 vision would bring Metro from roughly 3.5m annual service hours today to about 6m.  Metro emphasizes that neither vision “is a service change proposal” and that proposed routes in these visions need to go through much more analysis before they could become part of service changes.  In other words, this is all very much Before Seattle Process.

Still, the plan provides insight into what Metro’s professional planners think would work given local jurisdictions’ long-term plans.  Metro’s Chris O’Claire, one of the plan’s principal architects, emphasized to us in a briefing that Metro considered local comprehensive plans, growth expectations, and transit priorities, and that the plan reflected a cooperative process between Metro and lots of local and regional stakeholders.  One pleasant surprise is a very heavy emphasis on frequent Link connectivity systemwide, resulting in a major shift toward east/west service in Seattle and South King County, and north/south service on the Eastside.

The 2040 plan changes literally every route in the Metro system to some extent, so there is no realistic way for us to cover all of the changes, no matter how deep we try to dive.  Below is a grab bag of a few of the most interesting, and likely controversial, specifics I’ve found in the Seattle portion.  A suburban installment, equally full of new ideas, will be coming later.  Reach in, pick your candy, and comment after the jump.

Central Seattle

Continue reading “Seattle Tidbits from the Metro LRP”

Top 10 Read and Commented Posts of 2015

UW Station at night
Sparking new Sound Transit station. Photo by Joe Wolf.

2015 has been a terrific year for us at STB.  We made Zach Shaner (previously a longtime staff writer) our first-ever paid part-time reporter, and the move has tremendously improved our range of coverage.  We added two fantastic volunteer writers to our team, Seattle’s Erica C. Barnett and Kirkland’s Dan Ryan.  You, our readership, have grown in number–and continued to provide one of the most substantive and interesting comment sections to be found anywhere on the internet.  We’ve had plenty of news to cover, between University Link restructures, Move Seattle, landmark legislative elections, increases to Metro bus service, and Sound Transit’s preparations for next year’s big vote.

Even in such a news-packed year, one topic clearly dominated the conversation: Sound Transit 3.  In order, these are our most-read and most-commented posts of 2015.

Most Read

1.  A Transportation Solution for Today and Tomorrow, by guest poster Seattle Subway (July 14).  This is an exhortation to Sound Transit to think big for ST3, in terms of both dollars and years.  It appears to have worked, with ST expanding its preliminary 15-year time horizon to 25 or even 30 years in some scenarios put forth in the latest ST3 planning materials.

2. Dear Mercer Island: Public Space is for Public Use (Sept. 29).  Zach’s on-the-scene report covering Mercer Islanders’ numerous requests for special treatment by Sound Transit — in exchange for locating the south Eastside’s best transit facility in a non-residential area of the island — struck a huge nerve.  The report was cited in several local news outlets, and sparked a fascinating debate regionwide.

3. Seattle Subway’s Recommendations for the Sound Transit 3 Survey, by Seattle Subway (June 8).  This feedback was reflected in a number of Sound Transit’s proposed options for ST3.

4. ST3 – Once in a Lifetime, by Seattle Subway (Dec. 1).  Following up on the #1 post above, this post introduced Seattle Subway’s “STComplete” vision for a large ST3 proposal, with lines connecting essentially every transit-favorable community in the region.

5. Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel, by Seattle Subway (Feb. 18).  This February post presented Seattle Subway’s vision for a two-headed downtown tunnel serving both Uptown and South Lake Union.  Sound Transit ultimately did propose a second downtown tunnel as a core element of their ST3 vision, although the concept is somewhat different.

6. Sound Transit’s Conceptual Study: Should You Be Worried? (Apr. 24)  Martin’s careful look at Sound Transit’s tentative, suburban-heavy batch of initial ST3 concepts triggered an outpouring of angst and of support for bigger, bolder, more urban projects.  The agency’s later ST3 concepts turned out to be much closer to what we and many of our readers would like to see.

7. New Metro Buses Coming, by guest poster Ricky Courtney (June 22).  A quick update on Metro’s fleet plans, as the agency scrambled to convert options and get more buses quickly in light of Seattle Prop 1 and a strong economy.

8. Seattle’s ST3 Input (July 28).  Martin’s exposition, updated by another, later post, of SDOT’s input into ST3 station locations, focusing particularly on the Uptown-Ballard line.

9. Seattle Should Demand High-Quality Rail (Aug. 18), by Seattle Subway.  Following up on Martin’s post above, Seattle Subway also covered SDOT’s input.  The group continued to argue for a two-headed WSTT and, less controversially, complete grade separation.

10. The Full $15 Billion (June 29).  In this post Martin celebrated the successful inclusion of the full amount of requested taxing authority for ST3 in the state Legislature’s final transportation bill.

Most Commented

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Changes to Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines

A route identified for investment by the Service Guidelines. Photo by Joe A. Kunzler.
A route targeted for investment under the Service Guidelines. Photo by Joe A. Kunzler.

Last week, County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted an ordinance to the King County Council containing proposed changes to Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines.  These are a big deal for King County bus riders; they will shape how Metro service evolves over the next decade or so.  There is a lot to digest in the documents.  We have spent the usual quality time reviewing them, and I spoke last week with Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso and Supervisor of Strategic Planning Chris O’Claire about some of the most important proposals.

We have covered the history of the Service Guidelines and Strategic Plan on a few occasions.  In short, their 2011 adoption by the King County Council replaced an ad hoc planning process often driven by individual Councilmembers’ wishes with public, verifiable criteria for planning service additions, reductions, and restructures.  Executive Constantine rightly wrote in his transmittal letter that the Guidelines helped “make the transit system more efficient and better focused on the county’s most important public transportation needs.”  The Plan and Guidelines represent exactly the type of political guidance that the Council and Executive should be providing to Metro’s professional staff.  This sort of guidance is entirely different from interference with micro-level planning decisions.  It’s essential to ensure that the Metro system reflects the values and preferences of King County’s voters and taxpayers and remains accountable.

A bit more about the process underlying the recommendations is after the jump.  First, the major headline recommendations:

Revise the categories of routes used for Service Guidelines analysis.  Currently, routes are divided into two categories: “serves Seattle core” and “does not serve Seattle core.”  All routes that touch downtown, the U-District, SLU, Ballard, or certain other dense neighborhoods are in “serves Seattle core,” regardless of whether they are core all-day routes, suburban peak expresses, or infrequent coverage routes.  The proposal would scrap these two categories and replace them with “urban,” “suburban,” and “alternative service” categories, based on the areas the routes primarily serve.

Provide special protection for peak-only services.  Service Guidelines Task Force members felt that Metro’s September 2014 cuts, and proposed further cuts that did not occur, exacted too heavy a toll on peak-only services.  The proposed changes would protect peak-only services that enjoy either a travel time or ridership advantage over all-day alternatives from the first round of future reductions.

Revise criteria used in corridor analysis.  There are a number of different changes included in this bucket, with the most significant being 1) a change in the definition of “low-income” used in setting target service levels from 100% to 200% of the federal poverty level (for a family of three $20,090 annually), and 2) inclusion of park-and-rides together with other types of ridership generators.  Metro’s Ms. O’Claire estimated that all of the corridor-analysis changes would significantly increase the amount of new service recommended under the Guidelines, by approximately 250,000 hours over today’s recommendation of 471,650 additional hours.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Changes to Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines”

Metro to Move Route 10 in March

Route 10 change map
Metro’s map. The revision is no longer “potential” — it’s coming in March.

Metro announced today that, as part of the U-Link restructure scheduled for March 2016, it will change route 10 to use John St and Olive Wy, rather than Pine St, between 15th Ave E and Bellevue Ave E.  The change comes in response to concerns that the previous final restructure plan, as modified by Metro after turns at 19th Ave and Madison St proved unworkable, did not provide enough connectivity to Capitol Hill Station and removed service between the dense Summit neighborhood and downtown.

We advocated for the change, but were hardly alone.  Lots of people independently suggested it, and it played prominently in many different discussions of the restructure.  While it’s not perfect — it compromises north-south connectivity within Capitol Hill and may result in some overcrowding on route 11 — the change will improve connections to Link and preserve service for the many downtown riders in Summit.  Metro should be commended for its flexibility in implementing this change at the very last minute.

Metro’s Political Problem Hits Georgetown

124 bus
Route 124, using some hastily un-retired equipment. Photo by LB Bryce.

The last few weeks have been deeply discouraging for close followers of Metro. First we learned that Metro and the King County Council were raising the white flag on any significant effort to improve Link access, or bus service generally, in Capitol Hill. Then we got wind of Metro’s new proposal in SE Seattle, which would resurrect a redundant service pattern that Metro already canceled once because of low ridership, while cutting a couple of services proven over the years to perform better.

In both cases, the common thread is political interference with professional planning decisions. That needs to stop. In a time of plentiful resources, entire neighborhoods with thousands of residents–including Summit, east Capitol Hill, and Georgetown–are about to undergo major cuts in bus service for the sake of appeasing a few activists who do not represent many riders. The process hands ammunition freely to those who would paint transit as a sop to special interests and a waste of public money, rather than the core public infrastructure it is.

The Council adopted a professional service planning process (the Service Guidelines) in 2011, based on guidelines enacted into law, to avoid what had become a chronic pattern of micromanagement by Councils and Executives that left the county with an incomprehensible, spaghetti-like transit network. The process has resulted in meaningful service improvements and sharply increased ridership in neighborhoods across Metro’s service area, and helped ensure that Seattle’s Prop 1 funds went to solving real problems. But recent events, almost all occurring behind closed doors, appear to be signaling that the Council’s professional process is essentially dead, and Metro is back to direct planning by politicians and their appointees. Along with the public, we are reduced to relying on hearsay, rumor, and leaks; the players offer little or no insight into how decisions are made until after the fact. More details underlying this state of affairs as applied to Georgetown in particular, after the jump.

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Move the 10: A Quick, Easy Fix for Summit

KCM 4315 in Downtown Seattle

(UPDATE: Metro’s Victor Obeso has responded, saying Metro is “actively considering” this change.  Mr. Obeso’s full statement is below the story.)

By now, everyone is familiar with our dismay over the lack of a meaningful Link restructure in Capitol Hill, and in particular over some of the major losses that Metro’s final restructure package is imposing without much countervailing benefit.

Arguably the worst loss in service is to the Summit neighborhood, one of the city’s densest. Summit is currently served by two frequent routes running along Olive Way: route 43 to downtown and Capitol Hill, and route 8 to Uptown and Capitol Hill. (There is also the vestigial, infrequent 47 to downtown.) Today, each of the 8 and 43 has 4 buses/hour during the day. The restructure adopted by the County Council slightly increased frequency on the 8 to 5 buses/hour, and cut the 43 altogether except for peak-hour, half-hourly service.  In the ordinance, the lost service on the 43 was fully replaced by route 11, moved from Pine Street to Olive Way and John Street through Capitol Hill. But now, route 11 has been moved back to Pine without any other change, leaving no replacement for the 43, and almost no downtown service, for Summit residents.

The story of why the 11 ended up back on Pine is political, convoluted and not worth rehashing here. But the good news is there is an easy, and still-possible, way for Metro to salvage Summit service.

Metro should move route 10 from Pine to Olive and John.

Together with Link, this would fully replace current 43 and planned 11 service for Summit residents. In addition to making Summit whole, the move would make a new connection between one of Capitol Hill’s major business districts and Link, and meaningfully improve east-west service from Link generally. It would not significantly reduce transit access for anyone or make any common trips significantly more difficult. For Pine riders, frequent service would remain along Pine, on routes 11 and 49. Riders on 15th south of John would have no more than a three-block walk, on flat terrain, to either the revised 10 or the now-frequent 11 or 12.

Legally, this change could be accomplished as an administrative change, not subject to County Council approval, because no part of the route would move more than 1/2 mile. Practically, the could be done with the same resources as currently planned for route 10 and with almost no change to existing schedules. The outbound trip time using Olive and John is 1 to 2 minutes slower at some times of day than the outbound trip time using Pine, but current recovery time is sufficient to absorb those additional minutes.

Metro should make this happen. It’s easy and would make things better. Please let Metro know by calling (206) 553-3000 or submitting an online comment.

Statement from Metro Deputy G.M. Victor Obeso: “Changing the path of Route 10 is an idea we are actively considering, based on constructive feedback and in light of Route 11 remaining on Pine Street. Moving Route 10 off of 15th Avenue East to carry riders along East John Street past Capitol Hill Station is a concept Metro planners examined during the Link Connections effort. Our focus continues to be on serving our customers with the connections they want and need, and work to balance community support and concerns as we consider changes to bus service.”

ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!

Metro 236
Metro 236 near the Eastside Rail Corridor in Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood

Kirkland residents and workers, and anyone else interested in the future of mobility in Kirkland, should attend the City of Kirkland’s ST3 open house tomorrow night (Thursday, Nov. 19).  The open house is at the Kirkland Performance Center in downtown Kirkland, one short block from Kirkland Transit Center, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  Frequent Metro bus routes 234/235, 245, and 255, as well as other routes 236, 238, 248, and 540, all serve the location, with one-seat service from throughout the north Eastside as well as downtown Seattle.

Attending this meeting is critical because the city of Kirkland needs to hear support for rapid transit service along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) between Bellevue and Totem Lake, which is the only realistic option for fast and frequent transit that will serve Kirkland communities. Full background below the jump.

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