Frank Chiachiere came of age riding transit on the East Coast, and has lived in Seattle for nearly 20 years. In 2007 he started the local transit blog Orphan Road, and began writing for STB in 2012. By day, he works as a digital product designer.
SDOT presented the Seattle Transit Advisory Board with a set of design concepts for the Route 40 corridor, slated to get priority bus treatments as part of the Move Seattle Levy. One of the most popular routes in the system, Route 40 also intersects with several other popular routes on its way from Downtown through SLU and Fremont to Ballard.
The 40 is frequent, but chronically tardy – more than 20% of Northbound trips are delayed at almost all hours of the day. As is the custom with these sorts of corridors, attention is focused on the choke points. Here are some highlights. Remember that this is 30% design, so the usual Hunger Games rules apply: not every concept presented below will make it to the final project, may the odds be yadda yadda yadda…
SDOT’s proposed RapidRide G line will now open in 2024 after SDOT and the Federal Transit Administration have agreed that the agency has the chops to complete the project. FTA had raised concerns in February about staffing issues and other timeline aspects of the 2-mile BRT line, first conceived in 2011. Those concerns threatened the project’s federal funding as part of the Small Starts grant program.
A “project management oversight contractor” was brought in to help correct some of the outstanding issues in SDOT’s original application. The extended timeline includes more contingency and clarity about the org chart and the balance of responsibilities between SDOT and Metro.
The contractor has also provided a set of recommendations that are not blockers for the current small starts grant but are interesting to consider and examine. It’s like having a federally funded transit blogger:
Provide justification for the use of left-side platforms on this route, which requires a unique sub-fleet of buses, beyond simply stating that “The left side doors will be used to serve island platforms located in the center of the Madison Street BRT running.” References should be made to documents that describe other options that were considered, as well as the alternatives analysis evaluation process utilized.
Reconsider the statement in the draft FMP that an unspecified number of the five-door buses may have their two left-side doors removed if their use on MBRT is not required, since it would seem to be an unnecessary expense that would preclude those buses from ever being used on MBRT if the future need should arise.
A great question! The custom bus fleet has been a concern of ours as well. There are no easy answers here, since the current route veers between running in the median and running curbside. (First Hill advocates argued for the unique center-running section, which makes for great BRT, but is challenging if only partially implemented). But it ought to make SDOT and Metro stop and think if they really ought to make this route such a special snowflake without bringing the rest of RapidRide up to similar standards.
Explain why the non-revenue mileage appears to be high. The draft FMP states that the MBRT bus sub-fleet will operate 1,725 deadhead and other non-revenue miles per week, which is 26% of the total of 6,625 weekly miles.
That’s quite of non-revenue miles for a short, center-city route. Leave your explanations in the comments and maybe the FTA will refer to them down the road.
Update 8/20: SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson responds via email with a note about the left-side doors:
Center-running buses with boarding platforms on both sides was originally addressed in the development of the locally preferred alternative in 2015. Left-sided boarding is necessary to build the bus-only lane in First Hill and over I-5 which does not conflict with right-turn movements. This decision was based primarily on operational analysis showing that center transit lanes would facilitate 40% faster and more reliable service by separating buses from lanes with right-turn movements. Center transit lanes not only lead to more reliable service, they also help make more room for pedestrians in areas with narrow streets or sidewalks.
No doubt the center-running lanes are better. It would have been great to have them for the whole route (and a few other RR routes as well).
Alert commenter Tlsgwm noted that Sound Transit has once again started publishing quarterly ridership reports, which had been MIA since last November. In July, the agency released the 2019 Q4 and 2020 Q1 reports simultaneously.
Sounder ridership was mostly flat (North Sounder was down by nearly 6% but overall Sounder dropped by 0.3%, a testament to how much South Sounder drives the numbers).
With the Downtown Transit Tunnel closing to buses last year, ST Express Bus ridership suffered, with Route 550 leading the decline. Operating costs per rider increased as well.
2019 ended with Link boardings overall 2.5% higher than 2018. Diving into the station-by-station numbers, though, shows the impact of the tunnel closure as well: UW and Westlake were up 12% versus the year-ago quarter and Chinatown / ID was up 20%, suggesting both more North end riders transferring from buses and more people exiting the system at the beginning and end of the tunnel.
2020 Q1 brought the two-fer of Connect 2020 and COVID-19, which hammered ridership across the agency, resulting in double-digit declines for ST Express, Link, and Sounder. Q1 ended in March, which means it was barely a few weeks of lockdown. 2020 Q2 numbers will not be pretty.
Budget shortfalls and COVID-19 have hit Amtrak Cascades service hard, according to a post last week on the WSDOT blog. Only one train per day is currently running in either direction. Long-distance service like the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight have been reduced to three runs per week.
Before COVID hit, WSDOT and Sound Transit were working on re-starting service on the Point Defiance bypass after a deadly derailment in 2017. Sound Transit, which owns the bypass tracks, hadn’t committed to a date for re-opening the bypass, as it and WSDOT completed all of the recommendations from the NTSB accident report.
Now, with fewer people traveling, the demand for extra trips has lessened considerably. “When service returns to the Bypass, the demand for intercity travel increases, the pandemic risk is minimized and the state transportation budget issues are resolved, we will move forward with adding two more daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle,” writes WSDOT’s Janet Matkin. In other words, it’ll be a while. On the plus side, the agency has more time to procure new train sets to replace the Talgo Series 6 that were recommended for retirement.
On the first day of summer, I complained that the City hadn’t opened more streets to pedestrians, specifically in high-density commercial districts, to allow for more outdoor social distancing and commercial activity. I figure I should follow up to note that the day after my post went live SDOT announced it was opening up several more Stay Healthy Streets, including Bell St. in Belltown.
Then, a few days later, SDOT announced an expanded street use permit system for businesses to use for outdoor retail and restaurant activity. SDOT is streamlining the permitting process for these applications: instead of the usual 2-week public comment, businesses can open right away and inform their neighbors that they’re doing so. Businesses can set up in the sidewalk if right-of-way is sufficient or in a parking space.
These are all great ideas. I’d still love to see entire streets closed off for both public gathering and retailing in some of our commercial neighborhoods. I can name at least a dozen blocks in Seattle’s urban villages and downtown that could easily support outdoor street life if permitted.
Check out the twitter threads below from the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board meeting where these plans were presented last week if you want to learn more, and thanks to SDOT for getting this program up and running before the July 4 weekend.
One big change that many housing advocates still see as a missed opportunity is the recommendation to end the ban on duplexes and triplexes that currently blocks affordable housing on 2/3 of the city’s land.
2015 was also the first year of district-based elections and many assumed that neighborhood groups would run the table (in fact the districts were drawn specifically to make that happen). Best not to poke the bear, some reasoned.
Since the report was released, much has changed in terms of both the local political landscape and national trends around zoning law.
Mayor Durkan and Seattle DOT today proposed a 6-year renewal for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which would go before the voter this fall. Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who chairs the transportation committee, will bring it before the City Council for approval, ending months of speculation about the fate of city bus service.
The slimmed-down TBD, which we previewed last week, TBD would fund about 50,000 service hours in years 1-4, rising to 80,000 in years 5 and 6, presumably as the economy improves. That’s far less than the 350,000 hours the TBD currently purchases, but SDOT hopes that it’s enough to maintain the baseline 15-minute network throughout the city.
The city’s Stay Healthy Streets are an innovative, low-cost way to increase people space by bootstrapping on the existing greenways network. Kudos to the Mayor and SDOT for a creative solution. But as businesses start to re-open, we’ll need a much more aggressive approach, one that goes beyond the low-density residential areas and into commercial districts: sidewalk cafes, pedestrian-only zones and more.
Summer starts next week, so the time is now. As the mayor herself said in the aforelinked post, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We have a long summer and fall ahead.
From Boston to Bothell, other cities are taking initiative:
Meanwhile, across the country traffic is starting to creep back up.
The simplicity of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is a big part of its appeal: two straightforward taxes used to purchase Metro service hours. Back when it was first proposed, then-councilmember Nick Licata insisted that the money not go to what he considered wasteful capital projects (a.k.a. streetcars).
But several years ago, with Metro unable to sell as many hours as Seattle wanted to buy, City Council added some flexibility to allow for some of the money to be diverted to capital expenses. With bus hours exhausted, we and other advocates generally supported this idea. After all, capital spent to get buses out of traffic, either via queue jumps, dedicated lanes or signal timing fixes typically pays for itself many times over in reduced operating costs.
Now, with transit demand in a slump, that capital carve out could fund… the West Seattle Bridge?
It’s just a single offhand comment, so I wouldn’t read too much into it, but it reminds us that dedicated pots of transit money are in short supply right now and with ridership down, politicians may be eager to raid the kitty for other, tangentially related projects.
To be clear, the West Seattle Bridge will cost on the order of half a billion dollars to fix, and the TBD only brings in $50m/year. A diminished TBD (sans car tabs) might bring in half that, as Dan recently noted.
Still, the city doesn’t have any clear path to getting the money for the West Seattle Bridge or the Magnolia Bridge (or any of the other structurally deficient bridges for that matter). Whether it’s the STBD or Sound Transit funds, that money will have to be guarded vigilantly.
To support social distancing guidelines, King County Metro is considering a reservation system so that riders don’t get passed up on late-night routes (1 am to 5 am), according to an agency survey.
Today, drivers are authorized to pass up riders at the stop once the number of passengers reaches 12 (for 40-foot buses) or 18 people (60-foot). This is an inconvenience during the day, but it’s much worse at night, when buses come even more infrequently. Having to wait for another night owl bus an hour later can mean the difference between getting to work on time and not.
For years, night owl service was all but unusable. Several years ago, however, thanks in part to increased funding from the city, Metro revamped late night routes and created a useful, if limited network based on the most frequent routes.
Bain Capital Ventures, Alphabet and separately its venture capital arm GV are also participating in the financing round, Lime said.
Under the deal, Uber will transfer its own electric bike and scooter division called Jump to Lime and the companies will further integrate their apps. Lime global head of operations and strategy Wayne Ting will become CEO of Lime while outgoing CEO Brad Bao will become chairman.
Now it appears that Lime bikes will be back and Uber’s JUMP brand will be disappearing. I think most people agreed that the JUMP bike experience was superior (I know I felt that way), so it’s good to read that Lime’s new CEO agrees.
Despite a huge drop in bookings due to the coronavirus, Uber still has $10B in cash on hand to try and be the last one standing in the shared economy business: the company is reportedly looking at taking over Grubhub as well.
Meanwhile, Lime is optimistic about post-COVID prospects:
[CEO Wayne] Ting’s bet is that people are going to emerge from the pandemic wanting more socially distanced transit options, like bikes and scooters, instead of opting for crowded transit options, a stance echoed by rival Bird.
Already in some of its restarted cities, like Berlin and Columbus, Ohio, Lime is seeing average trip fares go up as people ride scooters for longer distances. Seoul is back to nearly all-time highs, Ting said.
With Puget Sound transit ridership down to a trickle, no doubt many of you are missing your favorite bus or train route. Cheer yourself up with a Transit Supply sticker pack! All the local agencies are represented here in adorable sticker form.
Transit Supply is the brain child of Chris Arvin, a San Francisco-based designer. He creates stickers, t-shirts and more to celebrate transit agencies in other cities including Boston, San Francisco and LA. Arvin started selling unofficial transit merchandise about a year ago, he told me. “There can be a lot of negativity around public transit, but so many people love it, and for them, transit is part of what makes up their community,” he said.
For Arvin, it’s all about bringing people joy. “When someone tags me in a selfie excited that their items arrived, or when I hear a story about strangers connecting over transit because of my merch, it makes me excited to expand and bring that to more cities.”
He says Seattle has been a popular request and there will be more coming in the future. “You’ve certainly got a lot of transit fans out there!” he noted.
Yep. And until we can all get back on our buses and trains, stickers will have to do.