Tweaks to Union Street, 4th Avenue

SDOT’s spot improvements program continues to be the most effective engine for improving transit riders’ experience immediately. The diagram is self-explanatory.


Item 1 will free up the lane from turners waiting for pedestrians. Items 2 and 3 will simply lower the number of cars in front of the bus. And number 4 will make it clearer that it’s not OK to loiter in the bus lane.

These changes will improve some old tunnel routes: the 41, 74, 76, 77, 101, 102, 150, 301, 312, 316, 522, and 550 all utilize some or all of this stretch of Union. The 4th Avenue change (which includes red paint on the curb) should also improve reliability for a great many routes.

If you have questions or comments, please contact local hero Jonathan Dong at or (206) 233-8564.

O’Brien, Pacheco want to improve the Seattle process

Mike O’Brien (

Pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-density voters might be forgiven for thinking their vote and their input don’t really matter. We vote like-minded candidates into office, we pass taxes to fund forward-thinking transportation projects, and we participate in developing master plans. And then, when it’s time to actually take the road space for buses or bikes, a few neighbors complain, or sue, and SDOT chickens out. A handful of well-resourced reactionaries hold a veto on progress.

One of the more egregious instances of this was the demise of the 35th Avenue NE bike lane. Inspired by this debacle, outgoing Councilmember Mike O’Brien is trying to pass legislation this fall to give these plans force of law. Anytime SDOT spends $1m or more on a street with a bike lane in the master plan, it has to build the bike lane or write a letter to the Council explaining why they didn’t. This is pretty much what our own David Lawson proposed back in March.

Lester Black reports that Mayor Durkan, often blamed for what happened on 35th, supports the rule. So here’s hoping that there’s one less veto point for safe and rapid transportation. What Seattle needs is not more great plans, but reform of the institutions that block progress.

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News roundup: coming for the produce markets

The @KenmoreAir Streetcar at the Light
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

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Abandoned by the city, riders take matters into their own hands

Apparently fed up with rampant bus lane violations, an unidentified woman took the initiative last week and inspired equal parts of praise and outraged driver entitlement. She also inspired the Greenways movement to run a similar event Monday, which Heidi Groover covered ($).

Grasping the spirit of the moment, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff called them “heroes“. The organs of Seattle city government definitely did not:

SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said frustrated transit riders should channel their feelings into “more productive’ efforts like lobbying lawmakers to allow camera enforcement. Whitcomb said bus-lane enforcement is “a regular area of focus’ for traffic officers but stationing officers on crowded downtown streets during rush hour can worsen congestion.

The city establishment feels the pressure to fix the bus lane problem and does what they do best — deflect blame to Olympia. Lobbying may or may not make things better eventually, but the bravery this week improved some bus commutes immediately.

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Passenger-miles matter, too

Low cost per rider, because it only takes them a mile. (Visitor7/wikimedia)

There is no transit performance metric quite like ridership. However, when any metric becomes the single point of evaluation, it can lead to bizarre conclusions.

Last month’s High Speed Rail study counted riders, and some readers couldn’t resist comparing the numbers to middling local transit routes. But it’s one thing to take riders between adjacent neighborhoods and another to deliver them 180 miles away.

A project’s cost, at a first approximation, is proportional to its length. Single-minded attention to cost per rider means never building a long-distance project at all, which is nonsensical. That’s not to say that passenger-miles is a perfect metric, either. It favors long-haul routes that are irrelevant to the spontaneous trips that enable urban living. But a comprehensive evaluation must consider both when the difference in spatial scales is this large.

Moreover, Seattle-area transit and HSR aren’t fiscally in tension with each other. A state subsidy to Puget Sound transit that actually moves the needle is inconceivable. Meanwhile, HSR could connect cities all around the state with the wealth centered in Seattle, at a time when it is increasingly hard to drive there. This aligns with Olympia’s traditional responsibility for intercity rail and bus, and offers a good value proposition to voters across the state.

News roundup: fix the humans

Incoming New Flyer Industries XDE60 of King County Metro in the Rain

Correction: future Link headways

In Friday’s post, we quoted Metro’s slide indicating more Link trains after 2021. Sound Transit says Metro did not check with them when announcing new train headways. It will remain every 6 minutes peak and 10 otherwise, with no trains turning around at Stadium. In 2023, it will be every 4 minutes peak and 5 off peak through downtown, with the South King and East King branches each getting 8 and 10. We regret the error.

A new network in North Seattle

[UPDATE: Sound Transit says Metro did not check with them when announcing new train headways. It will remain every 6 minutes peak and 10 otherwise, with no trains turning around at Stadium. In 2023, it will be every 4 minutes peak and 5 off peak through downtown, with the South King and East King branches each getting 8 and 10.]

The Northgate Link restructure has started. Metro is studying routes 26, 31, 32, 41, 45, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 301, 303, 304, 308, 309, 312, 316, 330, 345, 346, 347, 348, 355, 372, and 373 for possible changes. (Not the 44, 48, 49, 70, or any routes west of Aurora.) At this point Metro wants to know what people think about the current network, and recruit people for a “Mobility Board” to review the restructure proposals starting this fall.

According to Metro’s briefing on the project, Northgate Link will open in 2021 with U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations. Frequency will be every 4-6 minutes peak hours, with 4-car trains. Some trains will run Northgate-Stadium, as MLK will not exceed 10 trains per hour. Travel time from Northgate to UW will be 7 minutes. That puts Northgate-Westlake at 13 minutes and Northgate-SeaTac at 47 minutes.

There is a not a lot of meat on the project website. However, a glance at the Seattle Transit Map can provide insights on the current network. Some parts work pretty well:

  • Above Northgate Way, the system conveniently already funnels people into the Transit Center.
  • The 67, 45, and fellow travelers provide good connectivity to Roosevelt, U-District Station, and places in between.
  • The 62 provides a straighforward connection to Link on 65th Street.

But it’s not all roses. Lake City Way buses like the 522 whiz right by Link stations without really connecting to them. With 145th St BRT coming and Northgate an attractive terminus as well, it’s not clear what happens to lower Lake City Way.

Moreover, much like mighty route 7 further south, the main north-south routes east of the 67 parallel Link for a long time before winding up in a difficult transfer environment. Any bus route that funnels into UW faces a dilemma between a direct-but-congested route on that doesn’t really serve the campus, and a slower one that goes through campus but skirts the fringes of UW station and takes a while to wind up in the U-District.

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News Roundup: ahead of everyone

Mercer Island Station (SounderBruce)

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News roundup: attention-grabbing

Incoming New Flyer Industries XDE60 of King County Metro in the Rain
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

Clarification: Lime Prices

Last week we discussed Limebike raising its prices to 30 cents per minute. Numerous people have, using their apps, since reported a 25-cent rate. A spokesperson for Lime explains that As we enter the busy summer travel months, we’ve adjusted our pricing in some markets to ensure that our service is reliable and that we can continue to offer excellent operational support where riders demand it most.” Lime did not explain if our commenter’s experience may have been a poorly timed encounter with congestion pricing or some other sort of trial.

Although company statements and materials are cagey about rates, anecdotal evidence from the app suggests that the typical rate is now 25 cents per minute. Though now a 67% increase over earlier in the year instead of 100%, I believe the rest of the analysis in that post stands.

News Roundup: Minor Changes

KC Metro Buses Against the Grey
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Comment of the day: bikeshare

[CLARIFICATION 7/15/19: anecdotal evidence suggests that most people are quoted a rate of 25 cents a minute.]

Last week, frequent commenter asdf2 made an important observation:


On another note, the per-minute price to ride a Lime bike has now gone up again to $0.30/min., exactly double what it was just 6 weeks ago. Assuming 6-8 minutes per mile (which is about as good as you expect for a route with stoplights), this translates into a marginal cost of $1.50-$2.10 for each additional mile traveled – a figure that is now *higher* than the marginal cost per mile riding in a Lyft or Uber car with a paid driver.

(I don’t know if Jump has matched this price increase or not, as neither their website nor their app discloses their prices).

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News Roundup: Happy Fourth


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News roundup: it’s just talk

King County Metro

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Next train signs are finally here

After years of protests that it couldn’t be done, and six years of study and work, Sound Transit has finally found a way to put next train arrival times on the existing message boards at stations that opened in 2009. Capitol Hill and UW Station opened with this capability in 2016. Between Angle Lake and Westlake, arrival times rapidly rotate with other messages. Riders need wait no more than a few seconds to get the key info.

The picture above is on the mezzanine level. There is a similar sign on the tunnel entrance, a good indicator on whether or not to hustle. At the platform level, the signs only display the relevant direction (see below).

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News Roundup: War on Vacancy

KCM New Flyer DE60LFR 6964

ADU legislation moves along, with new wrinkles

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (City of San Gabriel)

It appears Seattle may finally allow various types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in most of the city. These units generally provide inexpensive rental opportunities, but are frequently illegal to build.

For a summary of where we stand today, you can’t do much better than the City’s onepager. (A somewhat longer summary is here.) The changes are projected to add over 2,000 new rental units over the regulatory status quo through 2027 and reduce the number of single-family teardowns by almost a quarter.

The proposed legislation would make changes to regulations governing ADUs; the changes include: allowing two ADUs on a lot, removing the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, introducing a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit for single-family lots, increasing the maximum household size for lots that have two ADUs, and other changes to the size and location development standards regulating DADUs.

page 1, Council Staff Report

There are 11 amendments under consideration. Probably the most impactful ones are CM Herbold’s separate proposals to ban short-term rentals in ADUs authorized by the bill, for obvious reasons, and restoring a milder form of the owner-occupancy requirement. Applicants would have to lived there for a year before applying, though they would not have to remain there to rent out this space. This amendment is meant to limit “speculation.”

The two material objections to more ADUs are (1) more competition for publicly provided parking spaces, and (2) the possibility of poorer people living in the neighborhood. As neither is particularly attractive as a public policy principle, we instead hear process objections (the subject of the recently dismissed lawsuit) and concerns about neighborhood “character” and aesthetics.

Although I personally find single-family homes bigger than about 3,000 square feet aesthetically displeasing, in principle I’m not a fan of simply banning them. However, if new restrictions neutralize the “character” objection, it’s a compromise I can live with to get more units per acre. If this compromise also incentivizes making large units easily divisible into separate rental units, so much the better.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss the legislation on June 18th and may vote on it then.