News roundup: finally

Sound Transit Express

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West Seattle Bridge closed; Metro scrambles

West Seattle Bridge 01

In what would have counted as a transportation catastrophe were it not for the much bigger ongoing catastrophe, SDOT discovered “accelerated concrete cracking” in the West Seattle Bridge yesterday. They closed it indefinitely to all traffic 7pm Monday.

Mike Lindblom reports the repairs will take on the order of months ($). Metro posted a transit alert for affected routes (also Delridge routes), which basically amounts to staying on the low bridge and not missing any stops. The 21 Local does miss a stop in the area, as will the 37 when it returns from pandemic hiatus. Even the low bridge will be closed to all but transit, freight, and emergency vehicles.

The hits just keep coming for long-suffering West Seattle bus riders, but this one may struggle to be noticed. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that SDOT is avoiding the WSDOT mentality of removing transit priority when it’s most needed. Quick action while traffic volumes are low, and new transit priority, are about the best possible reaction from officials confronted with this problem.

Another Link closure this weekend; “normal” service Monday

Sound Transit - Central Link Light Rail

The contractor has fixed last weekend’s failed electrical test. There will be an additional Link closure this weekend “for final testing and safety certification of the new trackwork and systems,” says ST’s David Jackson. Once again, shuttle buses will run between Sodo and Capitol Hill.

” Monday we should return to two-track service in the downtown Seattle tunnel with no transfer required,” he added, pending any more test failures. However, reduced pandemic volumes will leave Link at 14-minute headways indefinitely.

On a related note, Link construction has suffered no schedule slippage due to the pandemic, according to Jackson. “Sound Transit is actively working with the contractors and construction management teams on all our projects to assure that public health guidelines are being followed,” he said.

Metro ridership plunges during social distancing measures

King County Metro

As most reasons to leave the house (much less travel to the big hubs) disappear, transit ridership is going down with it:

King County Metro has analyzed preliminary estimates and extrapolations to create an unofficial estimate of ridership. The results show an estimated 45% reduction in Metro bus ridership ­– or a drop of 185,000 riders, from an estimated 415,000 to 230,000  – on Thursday, March 12, compared to this time in 2019.

Jeff Switzer, King County Metro
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Connect 2020 not done yet

SounderBruce / CC BY-SA (

Sound Transit, yesterday:

Work to complete the construction joining new light rail to the Eastside into the existing system, known as Connect 2020, will require additional time to complete due to issues identified over the weekend. On Monday morning Link light rail will continue to operate every 15 minutes and on one track in the downtown tunnel stations.

While completing final systems testing for the project, insufficient electrical resistance readings were discovered over a segment of newly installed track. The site of the problem has now been identified, and Sound Transit is working with its contractor to solve it.

Once repairs are complete, there will be another yet-to-be-determined closure of downtown Seattle stations in order to re-test and certify the new tracks. 

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News roundup: left for dead

Spokane’s new BRT buses ( )

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South King County changes to finalize this spring

Way back in August, Frank told you about a raft of service changes that would accompany RapidRide I (Renton/Auburn). Although RapidRide will open in 2023, the Metro network revision will happen in September.

The status quo

The current Renton/Kent/Auburn corridor is far from the frequent grid ideal. There are two frequent routes. The 150 goes west from downtown Kent, then turns north on 68th Ave up to Tukwila and on to Seattle, The 169 goes east from Kent, then uses 104th and 108th Avenues before arriving in Renton.

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SDOT plans Route 40 improvements

It’s hard to believe that Route 40, now the most obvious way to move between Ballard, Fremont, and South Lake Union, didn’t exist only a few years ago. It’s younger than STB, and yet it’s hard to imagine transit travel in that corner of the city without it. It draws 13,000 riders a day while being late on 20% of trips across the entire day.

Well now, it’s the 40’s turn to get the Move Seattle treatment. The objective is to cut peak travel time by 5 to 10% with priority treatments, which would make the route take about the same amount of time all day. The project is supposed to complete in 2024.

There are no details on specific projects, except that they’re focusing on pretty obvious chokepoints: SLU, Fremont, Ballard, etc. (see below) For now, Metro is asking you to take the survey and/or drop in at one of their open houses:

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News roundup: reduced fare


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News roundup: zero fare

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Vandalism in Beacon Hill tunnel

Beacon Hill Station

Last week, vandals dealt Link riders, already idling thanks to Connect2020 service reductions, a further blow by vandalizing the Beacon Hill tunnel. From Monday through Thursday Wednesday, trains had to single track between Mt. Baker and Sodo, where they could split into Northbound and Southbound platforms before going right back to single-tracking all the way to Pioneer Square. Needless to say, this piled on yet more delays.

On Monday morning, a person entered a tunnel cross-passage, opened a standpipe valve, flooded critical electrical components and disabled the emergency ventilation fan.

Sound Transit

Fire codes disallow use of the northbound tunnel under these conditions. We are fortunate that this part of the system has lots of crossover tracks to minimize the stretch where trains in both directions must share track.

The cross-passage has to remain unlocked in case of an emergency forcing evacuation of one of the tunnels. However, ST’s John Gallagher says ST is ” looking at ways to make sure that the risk of vandalism is minimized” in the future.

SPD is investigating the incident. I have an email out to them.

News roundup: not be a mess

Sound Transit Double Deckers

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How Connect2020 trains might have been more frequent

Gateway to SODO
Dave Honan/Flickr

Back during my first round of gripes about rider-unfriendly choices for the Connect2020 construction delays, I suggested that Sound Transit might have run trains more frequently outside the downtown transit tunnel. At the time, ST said that this would likely result in significant train bunching. After further discussions, they appear to have backed off this objection in favor of other ones, which readers can judge for themselves.

But first, let’s show how the right plan would minimize train bunching. While there is (infamously) no fixed schedule, the current operational model for Central Link trains is something like this:

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News roundup: in the right building

University of Washington Station

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Comment of the week: design review

Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA (]

Commenter Matthew, in response to my questions about the value of design review:

What value are we getting out of the process? I would argue a few that should be important to the Seattle Transit Blog readers.

I am an architect and a significant portion of my time has been permitting projects in Seattle. The article referenced from the Seattle Times reflects the well on the facts of the permitting situation. The software rollout was terrible as is likely influencing the increase in review times, but it seems like they are getting up to speed and SDCI internally reviews this and have indicated they are getting closer to their targets.

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News roundup: not very important

Sound Transit - Central Link Light Rail

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Disappointments with the Connect2020 plan

Shoulda hired these guys

A few weeks into Connect2020, riders are enduring the result of some failures of foresight. Planning any train trip requires a 15-minute buffer that makes it nearly unusable for short-haul trips, where the train’s speed advantages matter less.

Long-term failures

The Central Link line is neither futureproof nor robust. The intention to build rails on I-90, though not voter-approved for most of the period of tunnel retrofit for Link, was well-established. A trivial amount of additional track, where it intersects the track in use, could have avoided the current pain entirely.

Furthermore, more liberal placement of switchovers would not only have allowed much lower headways today, but would also have made the system more resilient in the event of car crashes and other incidents on the track (like train maintenance issues).

At this point it is customary to write off all poor pre-2009 decisions as the bad old days. But ST is still poised to make the same mistakes. Already facing unavoidable huge disruptions for Graham St. and Boeing Access Road, it may do so avoidably at the firmly planned 130th St Station, to say nothing of unapproved but likely extensions.

Short-term failures

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Seattle permitting is glacial

Katherine Khashimova Long reports that badly needed housing projects are taking an average of 60% longer to permit than in 2014 ($), adding as much as seven months of pure bureaucracy.

The word “emergency” is used a lot in public discourse. Different parts of the political spectrum say we have them for the global climate, the national border, and for local households trying to find a home. But if the problem doesn’t warrant any change in existing priorities and procedures, it isn’t an emergency at all. By allowing this problem to get worse, Seattle leaders have let us know what they really think of the urgency of adding housing supply.

The article blames a botched software rollout and understaffing for the problem. Certainly, an administration where housing production was the #1 priority would have reverted to the old system and done whatever necessary to staff the office up.

But more than problems in executing the process, the problem is the process itself. On average, design review adds 89 days to the permitting process. What value are we getting out of this process? Has it made our housing stock more architecturally distinguished? Or has it enforced a sameness (excuse me, “protected neighborhood character”) by incentivizing architects to stick with what’s made it through review before?

News roundup: have no impact

SounderBruce [CC BY-SA (]

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