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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The ST3 Sounder plan is still not very clear

Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

Ever since voters first had a look in 2016, the exact plan for South Sounder expansion in ST3 has been vague. Key elements are subject to negotiation with BNSF, who owns the track between Seattle and Tacoma. However, staff briefed the Sound Transit System Expansion Committee last Thursday on the recommendations they’ve been able to form since the last report in September, in the form of a draft Strategic Development and Implementation Plan.

Rider feedback is what one would expect: they would like trains to be reliable, less crowded, have the stations be nicer, and have more trips. Notably, there was more excitement about trips adjacent to current trips (in the peak, the shoulder of the peak, and evenings) than opening up entirely new times of day or weekends.

Staff is recommending progress on every axis of Sounder expansion (stations at Tillicum and Dupont in 2036 are already baked in the cake). They would make gradual station improvements over the next 20 years, especially at King Street Station where volumes are highest.

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News roundup: designed to get your attention

Pioneer Square Station

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No realtime data for Connect 2020

With Link headways now around 15 minutes all day, real time data would allow Link’s quality of service to at least match that of a frequent bus route. Unfortunately, that’s not to be.

ST’s David Jackson, answering when we could expect an accurate GTFS feed:

Because of the lead time required for the GTFS data to go live and our very recent headway tweak, GTFS won’t be accurate for Connect 2020 trains.

It doesn’t appear we’ll even have accurate schedules, much less a clue as to a train’s actual position.

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News roundup: not nearly enough

Sound Transit Bus # 535 Lynnwood to Bellevue, WA

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NE 130th Station discussion tomorrow

Looking north from NE 130th Street at the future station (SounderBruce)

Voters approved an ST3 plan that included a NE 130th Street “infill” station opening in 2031. Of course, the segment it is “infilling” has barely started construction and won’t open until 2024. In principle, completing all the work in one go would simplify the project and give riders 7 more years of high-quality service. On the other hand, this would mean spending money earlier when the general trend is to move it back.

Tomorrow afternoon, the System Expansion Committee will hear a presentation about the possibilities for opening 130th in 2024. This report is the result of a mandate to study the idea in 2018. The Snohomish delegation, in particular, will need convincing that yet another Seattle station is worth the additional cost and schedule risk for a project that has already seen overruns on both.

We’ll see tomorrow what the options are for a project estimated at $67m in 2016. Whatever the sentiments of the Snohomish delegation, they should seek to build at least enough to prevent a construction service interruption. Severely curtailing service in 2030 will hurt Snohomish County riders far more than a small risk of delay in 2024 and a bad headline or two. And if the additional risk of full construction is small, doing so would be best for everyone.

News roundup: not afraid

SounderBruce [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

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ShareNow ceasing operations, Limebike pauses

Car2Go in Pioneer Square
Shane in the City/Flickr

Geekwire reports that the carshare company will shut down across North America in February. Cars will start disappearing well before then.

This step is not surprising. Lime recently shut down their similar Limepod service. ShareNow itself is a merger from weakness of two previous competitors. Recent tinkering with the fee structure was a likely signal of operational problems. Only Zipcar, with a membership fee and slightly longer rental periods, remains.

Meanwhile, Limebike is using the December expiry of its permit to punt on the unprofitable winter season, coming back in the Spring when Seattle starts allowing electric scooters. If other cities’ experience is an indication, the scooters will dominate and the bikes will wind down. Only Jump remains as a bikeshare option this winter.

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News roundup: Merry Christmas

Kitsap Transit 2019 Gillig Low Floor 3502

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News roundup: someone had to say it

King County Metro bus onboard the M/V Cathlamet
LB Bryce/Flickr

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Book review: Transit

If you’re reading this, there’s some year in which you became very interested in Puget Sound area transit services. For me, that year was 2006, and I found Jim Kershner’s Transit: The Story of Public Transportation in the Puget Sound Region to be a concise, readable, and richly illustrated overview of all that has gone before.

Unlike other books ($) in this genre, this work starts all the way at the beginning, with horse-drawn streetcars, and takes us to the ST3 vote and beyond.

Seattle’s streetcar system began as an amenity common to all modern cities, and entered a period of public ownership in 1919. The system ultimately collapsed due to poor fiscal judgment among city leaders, the apparent superiority of auto ownership at Seattle’s mid-century wealth and population level, and even competition from “jitneys” — the Uber and Lyft of their day. For a work targeted at transit fans, Kershner is admirably clear-eyed about the system’s weaknesses. Partially legitimate critiques of modern streetcars were doubly so for their poorly maintained, always-stuck-in-traffic forebears.

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News roundup: a bad year

Fairhaven Station (SounderBruce/wikimedia)

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Federal Way Link survey is out

The latest round of Federal Way Link public meetings came with a website. There isn’t anything of interest in terms of station area design that Bruce didn’t cover in detail over two years ago.

Nevertheless, there’s new information about the artists that have been selected for each station. I’m of no use for art criticism, but the word “plaza” comes up far too much. Except where the environment is already quite dense, for plazas read “long walks where buildings should be”.

ST did itself no favors four years ago by publishing a map that exaggerated the turns and deviation necessary to mostly run down I-5. But in the end, there’s one station with a college nearby and in the heart of a very ambitious rezone; one unexciting freeway station with little around it; and one right in the core of Federal Way. If you’re super-bullish about the SR99 corridor’s potential, ST has forgone the possibility of more infill there. But otherwise, the stations are pretty well placed.

Anyway, ST wants your opinion on station names, so fill out the survey.

News roundup: shear wave velocity

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XT40 4381 and Sound Transit 2017 Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 91719C
Zack Heistand/Flickr

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