Protecting bus lanes

Photo collage by CMAP

Automated bus lane enforcement may have died in the state legislature, but that’s no reason the city can’t get creative when it comes to enforcing bus lanes.  

While true grade separation is the holy grail of reliable transit, an at-grade bus lanes can be protected much like a bike lane.  

Chicago’s regional planning agency collected the above collage of protected bus lanes around the world.  In each, the bus lanes is elevated or protected from general traffic, making it difficult for cars to enter.  

Meanwhile New York City’s DOT tweeted out an image of one recently:

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Use the Link timetables during Connect 2020

If you’ve gotten used to just waltzing up to the train station and waiting for the next train, the 12-minute headways during Connect 2020 may be something of a shock. Fortunately Sound Transit has published a Connect 2020 timetable, so you can plan ahead.

You can view the PDF or just go to your favorite mapping app (Google Maps, One Bus Away, Transit, etc.) to see the timetable in action.

Also, surface transit is an option for those wishing to avoid the transfer dance and head directly to SODO station

Fares, Faregates and Fare Enforcement

Since it dropped right before Thanksgiving, I worry not everyone saw Alon Levy’s excellent piece in Streetsblog on fares and fare enforcement. The proximate reason for the piece is New York’s plan to spend a bunch of money on fare enforcement that’s disproportionate to the actual loss of revenue involved. As per usual, the piece has lots of international comparisons and some good lessons for Seattle.

First, from time to time some Seattle observers have suggested that Sound Transit ditch the current proof-of-payment system and install fare gates at Link stations. This would be expensive, impractical for open-air stations, and wouldn’t work at all for RapidRide. Also, New York has fare gates and, well… see the previous paragraph. Levy writes:

New York itself may have an excuse to keep the faregates: its trains are very crowded, so peak-hour inspections may not be feasible. The question boils down to how New York crowding levels compare with those on the busiest urban proof-of-payment line, the Munich S-Bahn trunk. But no other American city has that excuse. Tear down these faregates.

What’s more, the fare inspection should be a low-key affair. The fine in Berlin is €60. Inspectors who can’t make a citation without using physical violence should not work as inspectors.

Indeed.

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Bus lane / queue jump coming to 3rd and Virginia

SDOT’s spot improvements program strikes again. This time, it’s a re-channelization of one block of 3rd Avenue at the downtown-Belltown border to allow southbound buses to more easily enter the 3rd Avenue transitway. SDOT says the change “will benefit approximately 168,000 daily bus riders on 36 key routes.”

The current configuration has two southbound GP lanes and a right turn lane, which seems excessive considering cars can’t go straight 13 hours a day.

I can give you about 168,000 reasons why Third Avenue ought to be transit-only all the way to Denny, but I guess we’ll take it one block at a time if we must.

While we’re on the subject of spot improvements: now that construction is wrapping up on Yet Another Amazon Tower, it looks like the Blanchard St bus-only lane is nearing completion. The full bus lane from 3rd to Westlake should provide to 4 minutes of time savings for riders of the 40 and C buses, per SDOT.

Seattle steps up its affordable housing efforts

Sydney Brownstone in the Seattle Times:

This year, Seattle will invest the most it ever has in affordable housing, a total of $110 million, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday.

All of that funding will go toward the construction and redevelopment of new units, the most ever generated through Seattle investments in a single year – 1,944 in full – across the city.

Truly good news to see the city step up its investment like this. Check out the Mayor’s blog post for more about the funded projects.

Thanks, Seattle voters! There are many reasons to be pessimistic about our housing situation but the city’s ability to fund, permit, and construct new affordable multifamily housing is a bright spot. Imagine what would be possible if the federal government got back into the housing game, perhaps by passing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s ambitious $1T housing bill .

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the city seems stuck in a vicious cycle:

Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing relied on federal, state and city financing to build the project at a cost of nearly $500,000 per unit. The per unit price would have been far higher if the city hadn’t donated the land. The cost to build one new apartment or condo unit in San Francisco today — whether market-rate or affordable — tops $700,000, nearly triple what it cost about 10 years ago.

Construction costs are rising, land values are increasing, and construction workers can’t afford to live in the city, so costs rise even more.

SDOT and Metro have some big ideas for Route 44

Source: SDOT

Last election cycle, virtually every city council candidate knew enough about Seattle transit to say they supported “better east-west connections.” You don’t have to ride the bus very much to know that getting across town can be a slog. Promising to fix it turns out to be a popular idea.

At a series of open houses last week, SDOT, in partnership with King County Metro, previewed Level 1 concepts for one of the most important of the east-west routes in the city: the 44. The route, which runs from Ballard to the University District, had been initially proposed as RapidRide but then de-scoped to “multimodal improvements” when the Move Seattle Levy was reset.

While the RapidRide amenities and branding are nice to have, the most important things are the speed and mobility improvements. With these initial concepts – which are drafts for discussion purposes – SDOT is trying to get creative in making east-west transit faster.

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Book Review: Saving America’s Cities

I recently followed the recommendation of a bunch of folks on Twitter and picked up Lizabeth Cohen’s Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. It’s fairly weeds-y, and I’ll admit that I skimmed a few sections here and there.  But overall I was glad to read a book about urban renewal that goes beyond the simple Jane Jacobs / Robert Moses dichotomy to which we’ve become so accustomed.

The book follows Ed Logue, a New Deal-era labor organizer and lawyer who, after World War II, leads redevelopment efforts in New Haven, Boston, and New York between the 1960s and 1980s, successively.  The book tells the story of urban renewal through Logue’s career, as he learns from his mistakes in one city and makes new ones in the next one, all fueled by Great-Society-era federal largesse and modernist hubris. 

In New Haven, he tries to bring the suburbs to the city with the Chapel Square Mall, a bog-standard renewal project that raises the ire of local merchants and bulldozes mostly low-income minority neighborhoods.  While you can understand the city’s plight — tax bases and federal dollars are fleeing to the suburbs, while the remaining businesses like Yale are tax exempt — the approach here is more machete than scalpel.

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Policy choices matter

Paxtyn Merten, Puget Sound Business Journal [$]:

Since moving entirely into downtown Seattle’s F5 Tower in August, workers have capitalized on those benefits. Phillips said drive-alone rates among employees are just under 25 percent, down from 55 percent at the former headquarters.

About 29 percent drive and park vehicles, which F5 partially subsidizes within the tower, though there’s only 322 parking stalls in the tower for F5’s 1,500 headquarters employees. When the neighboring Rainier Club hosts events, 60 of those spots disappear as well, Phillips said.

“There’s a long waitlist for the garage because we had more parking at Elliott,” Phillips said. “We see that waitlist get smaller and smaller and smaller. The method to the madness of the waitlist is people will rethink, ‘Why not try the bus? Why not try light rail?’”

For context, 25% is the average drive-alone rate for all of downtown, per Commute Seattle’s mode split survey. For the commercial core, the drive-alone rate is actually lower, at 15%.

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News Roundup: Protected

Sound Transit Double Deckers

This is an open thread

I-976’s impacts on bus service

Yesterday Dan laid out the impacts of I-976 on Sound Transit. Now let’s talk about Metro and Seattle. Unlike with ST, the situation is both simpler and more dire. KC Exec Constantine has already pledged a lawsuit, and Mayor Durkan is expected to follow today on behalf of the city.

Metro calculates it will lose over $100M in state funds over the next five years. These are primarily capital grants from the state’s mobility fund that go to projects like RapidRide and other speed and reliability improvements, as well as funds to support Access vans.

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District is funded by a combination of sales taxes and the $60 vehicle license fee or VLF. (The older $20 councilmanic TBD goes away as well). If the VLF goes away, SDOT estimates a $32M budget hole.

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News roundup: the future

King County Metro
  • Seattle Times has a deep dive on the impact of I-976. You never like to see “hunger games” used as a metaphor in a headline.
  • CM Pacheco comes out for scooters. Seattle Bike Blog has some ideas for the rollout.
  • The city of LA wants to know every move you make on a scooter, in real time. Uber and Lime are resisting providing it.
  • 3-day Cascadia HSR conference coming to Microsoft campus.
  • Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, soon you’ll be able to take high-speed rail from Disney World to a Disney Cruise line.
  • Development along the Everett waterfront.
  • Metro’s Trailhead Direct service grew 75 percent in 2019 but still isn’t funded for 2020.
  • Next lane shift for the 520 bridge coming Nov 8-11.
  • SR99 tunnel tolls start Nov 9, Aurora bridge emergency repairs ongoing.
  • Bus lanes and bike lanes are great, but really any kind of asphalt art is a winner.
  • The long, painful history of Seattle-area transit funding.
  • Great to see Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ Home Zone pilot get some national press
  • The future of transportation looks a lot like the past
  • New York City Council working on a big bike/bus/ped package
  • Bike lanes and bus lanes are often put in a zero-sum competition, but in Delridge, as ever, the real culprit is parking. CM Herbold, over to you.
  • Mountlake Terrace upzones around light rail

This is an open thread

ST544: for Kirkland, Redmond, or both?

UPDATE: 11/2/19: Sound Transit’s final (not draft) Service Implementation Plan recommends “temporarily” keeping up to 10 one-way trips of the 541. The analysis still stands.

Because it replaces the Overlake-UW 541, the proposed Sound Transit Route 544 at first glance seem designed for Redmond/Overlake users, albeit one that serves them awkwardly.  But I think a better way to conceive of it is as a bus for Eastsiders in general, and Kirkland-Seattle commuters in particular. 

When we first wrote about the 544 last month, a few readers gave it a huh? reaction. Commenter asdf2:

In the afternoon commute, I’m guess you’d start on the 544 from SLU. But, even then, getting off at Yarrow Point and transferring to a 542/545 will likely be faster than sitting through the South Kirkland P&R detour. 

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Report shows how e-bikes and scooters can complement transit

The Micromobility Coalition:

On average, workers living in the City of Seattle have access to 382,000 jobs within a 45-minute walk, e-bike/e-scooter, or transit commute, versus 283,000 jobs within a 45-minute commute from home by walk or transit only. This increase is equivalent to making 35 percent more jobs reachable without lengthening commutes or adding cars to the road.

The report details how e-bikes and scooters can help solve last mile problems, effectively extending transit’s reach. This has always been the scooter boosters’ main argument but now we have it quantified and localized within Seattle. The increase in accessible jobs is dramatic in some cases:

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The legacy of Jim Ellis

Ellis with STB’s Ben Schiendelman riding Link in 2008

Seattle civic icon Jim Ellis passed away yesterday. Here’s a brief summary of his legacy, from a 2013 Seattle Times profile by Thanh Tan:

Ellis has played a vital role in shaping our region’s heritage, from the cleanup of Lake Washington in the 1950s to the formation of Metro and founding of “Forward Thrust,” a series of bold bond measures in 1968 that created the Kingdome, parks and trails, public swimming pools, fire departments, sewage districts, neighborhood improvement, arterial highways and a youth service center. In the 1980s, he led efforts to develop the convention center in downtown Seattle. By the 1990s, Ellis was still active, helping to create the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

“I don’t like the ‘I’ word,” he says emphatically throughout our two-hour visit. All those efforts “were very much a committee thing. It’s fascinating to see how everything we’ve undertaken, when we had far-sided leadership — and were willing to pay for the bill — has met expectations and is serving us well today.”

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First of several weekend Link closures start this weekend

The new platform at Pioneer Square Station takes shape (SounderBruce)

Sound Transit:

Trains will run as usual between SODO-Angle Lake and Capitol Hill-UW, with three-car trains every 10 minutes during most hours of the day. Free bus shuttles will run every 7 minutes in groups of two buses at a time, serving SODO, Stadium, International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake and Capitol Hill.

Plan accordingly. Weekend closures will happen again from Oct 25-28 and Nov 8-11. This is all in preparation for Connect 2020, the project to tie East Link (a.k.a. the Blue Line) in with the downtown tunnel.

WSDOT is also closing the westbound lanes of the SR 520 Floating Bridge over the weekend to prepare for several years of Montlake construction. Bus routes using the bridge will detour via Interstate 90 and will skip some stops, so check the Metro Alerts page. Eastbound service will use all normal stops, but may be affected because of the longer trip times.