Frank Chiachiere came of age riding transit in New York City and Philadelphia, and has lived in Seattle for over 15 years. In 2007 he started the local transit blog Orphan Road, and began writing for STB in 2012, where he provides administrative and technical assistance along with the occasional blog post. By day, he works as a digital product designer and marketer.
I am totally tempting fate here by posting this, so sorry if I anger the gods, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize that there were no mudslide-induced cancellations on Sounder North this year. Sound Transit’s Bonnie Todd noted it at the last ST ops committee meeting (video – skip to the ~13 minute mark).
Todd noted the stark change from the winter of 2012-13, when 27.5 days of service were cancelled. Another 1500-foot catchment wall was added in the Everett area this year, further improving reliability. Some dry months may have helped as well.
The free WiFi in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is no more. Readers asked us what happened, so I followed up with Metro and Sound Transit to find out.
“Our networking team reported that the equipment was past its end-of-life and was expected to be taken down after March 23rd when Metro exited the tunnel,” said Metro’s Jeff Switzer. “Unfortunately, an equipment failure on March 15th escalated the timeline by a week.”
Sound Transit is running the show now, but don’t expect the wifi to get switched back on. “The establishment of cellular and broadband data service throughout all our tunnels made it obsolete,” according to Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick.
While West Seattle and Ballard (and Eastside BRT!) have been getting all the media attention, Sound Transit continues to refine Tacoma Dome Link extension, a 4 station, ~10 mile connection that will complete the southern end of the light rail spine by 2030.
The Tacoma Dome Link extension is not to be confused with the extension of Tacoma Links, the streetcar operated by Sound Transit through Downtown Tacoma. ST even includes a little diagram in case you get confused:
Sound Transit has provided a wide array of options, which as always carry a similar set of tradeoffs: car access vs. bus transfers, TOD opportunities vs. business impacts, ridership vs. capital costs. Sometimes the geography presents a win-win, other times hard decisions must be made.
The C Line is the busiest of 12 former Alaskan Way Viaduct routes that serve nearly 30,000 passengers from West Seattle, White Center or Burien. They moved last month to the Highway 99 tunnel’s new stadium-area interchange when the viaduct closed for good.
The buses eventually will get bus lanes on waterfront Alaskan Way, but this year they’re detouring on First Avenue through the historic Pioneer Square district.
Read the whole thing. It’s gonna be a tough year for buses using the interim 1st Avenue pathway until Alaskan Way opens. Lindblom explains the ins and outs and alternatives incredibly well.
However, I would suggest to Mayor Durkan that this framing is, er… not helpful:
“Big events are nothing new, and they’re nothing new for big cities anywhere in America,” [Durkan] said. When there’s a game during rush hour, that’s the time to stay downtown, have dinner and not be in a hurry to go home, she said.
I love me a good happy hour, but as the mayor surely knows, many bus riders have to pick a kid up from day care or head out to a second job or any number of things that make it hard to just chill out downtown until 7pm or later.
On Saturday, buses will permanently move out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) leading to 830 new bus trips on already crowded surface streets in Downtown Seattle. The city has made important improvements with the new 5th/6th Avenue bus lanes and implementation of all door boarding on 3rd Avenue. But given the need to further prioritize transit, today the MASS Coalition is calling on the City to extend bus priority on 3rd Avenue from Stewart Street to Denny Way. It works well south of Stewart, and should be extended the length of downtown.
We called for bus lanes on 3rd last fall and with the buses coming out of the tunnel it’s a great time to make another push. 3rd Avenue is an intensely busy bus corridor. The city would deem it unacceptable if tens of thousands of train riders were slowed by cars every day. The same reasoning ought to apply to bus riders.
Great scoopfrom Mike Lindblom and Daniel Beekman in the Times:
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff is considering hiring private contractors to drive four Sound Transit Express routes between the Eastside and Seattle, prompting quick outrage from labor leaders who called the move a threat to existing union jobs.
A few quick thoughts. First, it’s amazing that once-beleaguered Metro is now the belle of the ball: everyone wants to buy bus service these days. Unfortunately for the agency their base capacity planning has not kept up. The proposal to haul coaches up to Kirkland every morning from a far-flung base doesn’t seem like a great idea, but Metro has limited supply and two customers (Sound Transit and SDOT) showing up with bags of cash so it’s not surprising they’re setting the terms and charging full price.
Second, I’ve seen people conflate this at times, but “private” does not automatically equal “nonunion.” As the Times article notes, Sound Transit contracts to Community Transit for some service, and CT in turn subcontracts to First Transit (using union drivers) for some routes. The City of Seattle proposed using private shuttles recently, but the city council shot down the idea.
Third, it would be a surprise if the winning bid ended up being a nonunion private company, as the ST board is full of elected officials who need union support. That said, the agency is always under the gun to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, so a little due diligence, even if it comes to nothing, might help on the political front.
Finally, if Sound Transit does indeed have cash to throw around at buses, how about increasing the frequency of the 550, which currently goes to a sad 30 minutes after 7:30pm every day (and all day Sunday). Trains with 10-minute (or better) headways will start running that route in just a couple of years, doesn’t it warrant more than half-hourly service today? Or consider the 512, which will (eventually) become a train as well? Is half-hourly on Sundays really the best we can do?
Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.
That could rise even more, between about $500 million and $2 billion, if Sound Transit decides to enhance the routes beyond the basic alignment approved by voters.
“Tunnels are really more expensive, said Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s Executive Corridor Director for West Seattle and Ballard.
The costs of the representative alignment are creeping up.
The accompanying video segment is excellent as well. The content won’t be surprising to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s really well put together and does a good job of explaining the high-level tradeoffs.
Watching it I was struck by how far we’ve come as a region: zero minutes of airtime are given to light rail opponents. Everyone interviewed supports the project. 10 years ago this same piece would have had at least one person talking about how buses are better and light rail is a waste of money.
SDOT and Metro are still hoping for a 2021 opening date for RapidRide H in Delridge, but some potential utility work could delay things until 2022, according to a presentation (PDF, video) to the city’s Sustainability Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Staff seemed hopeful, however, that an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities to move the stormwater facilities off of Delridge Way could let the project proceed as planned.
Otherwise, the 30% design is looking good for transit, though not much has changed from the 10% design in December. Proposed improvements include:
1.5 miles of 24/7 bus lanes
1.2 miles of peak-only bus lanes
13 station pairs being updated with RapidRide branding as well as bus bulbs
Signal priority and two queue jumps
(Since this was a City of Seattle presentation, it was focused on the city’s side of the route. Burien will be seeing improvements as well.)
As usual, the messy tradeoff between bikes, buses, and on-street parking leads to some compromises. Parking will be removed in some areas, especially where SDOT is adding both bus and bike lanes. There will be some protected bike lanes and some diversion to neighborhood greenways on either side of Delridge. The (generally high quality) greenways themselves will be improved.
SDOT is responding to the community’s desire to extend the northbound bus lane further south, to reduce delays in the AM peak. We’ll know more at 60% design (this would be a good thing to advocate for if you go to one of the spring design presentations).
Finally, SDOT is interested in working with Sound Transit to coordinate capital improvements with a future Delridge link station, though it’s still very early in the ST planning process.
The long, narrow nature of the corridor and lack of major cross-streets means that there’s real potential for speed and reliability improvements with dedicated lanes, in-lane stops, and queue jumps.
The next round of outreach will happen this spring, with a goal of construction in 2020 and opening in 2021. Route 120 is the 10th busiest in the system, with 9,000 daily riders. The $70M project budget includes paving and stormwater as well as the bus & bike infrastructure.
After all, the reason that more buses don’t have their own lanes has little to do with engineering. Setting up a special space for buses usually means taking it away from private vehicles and parking spots, and people literally get murdered for that. Less extreme, car commuters and their elected officials—a group that sometimes includes the very decision-makers who may ultimately decide the fate of a bus-lane proposal—often fiercely resist projects that threaten their existing vehicle space.
Which is why small-scale pilots can be useful. “They’re a great way to demonstrate the value of transit priority and engage those who benefit most—transit riders,” Matute said in an email.
On way to think of a “tactical” bus lane is as part of an inverted planning process: instead of doing a bunch of outreach and having to fight against the status quo, a transit agency can change the facts on the ground with a quick bus lane pilot, in some cases using nothing more than traffic cones. Suddenly the bus riders who are benefiting from the change form a powerful new constituency for making the lane permanent. A new status quo is born.
Bliss references a UCLA best practices guide on TTLs, which includes some examples from around the country. The study distinguishes “tactical” bus lanes from a more “strategic” BRT-style projects that involve more capital spending and land use coordination. Everett, MA and Cambridge, MA stand out as being true “tactical” efforts, where the cones went up literally overnight.
Including Seattle’s 3rd Avenue in the study was a bit of a head scratcher, though. We’ve been lumbering towards making 3rd Avenue car free for literally decades. It’s not as though Seattle has a shortage of TTLs to talk about, either. The post-Ducks-accident lane on Aurora, for example, or the Montlake offramp. Reading through the full study I get the impression that Seattle’s pretty good compared to peer cities but could always be better.