News roundup: all caught up

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge_and_Mount_Rainier,_2021.jpg”>Tacoma Narrows Bridge and Mount Rainier, 2021

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One more week to apply for bus tickets

If you’re an organization that works with populations eligible for free bus tickets, you can apply to distribute them in 2022. Apply here; the deadline is November 30th.

There is a pool of $4m in tickets at face value. Of course, to the extent that this doesn’t displace fare-paying ridership, there is no actual budget impact to distributing as many of these as possible.

Streamlined Bellevue College service may really happen

Over 10 years ago (!) I wrote that rebuilding a short road near Bellevue College to support buses would straighten multiple Bellevue trunk routes and save millions in annual operating expenses. I’m pleased to announce that the project has now reached the municipal hype video stage:

Today, the 221, 226, 245, and 271 all travel in this corridor. The project page suggests that these trips could save about 6 minutes by taking a more direct route that avoids multiple turns.

Continue reading “Streamlined Bellevue College service may really happen”

News roundup: October highlights

A Sound Transit Train in the Pre-Dawn Northgate Fog

Maybe we can back to weekly roundups soon…

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DSTT escalators still a problem

Out of service escalators at Westlake Station.
Credit: Bruce Englehardt

Last Thursday’s Rider Experience Committee meeting featured an update on the parlous state of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel’s escalators. While the overall system has recovered from some early hiccups with the three new stations, the current snapshot* shows 1 elevator and 13 escalators out of service, all in the DSTT. This involves all four stations, which have 36 escalators in total. None of these have an official repair date.

Deputy Director of Vertical Conveyances John Carini reports that four of these outages are due to “water intrusion” issues and they hope to recover these by mid-November. A source reports that the narrow street-level up escalator for the NE corner of Pioneer Square is among these four.

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Real-time arrival out for the winter?

Regular Link riders might notice that real-time arrival information did not, in fact, come back with the Northgate stations as promised in September. ST’s John Gallagher says that “While the system was accurate the majority of the time, when it was wrong, it was really wrong.” It would cost “a significant amount of money” to correct these problems.

On the other hand, I saw real time data on the signboards at Westlake on Sunday, so maybe they’re under-promising and engineers have hacked something together?

Regardless, the good news is that ST’s PIMS program is set to wrap up in Quarter 2 of 2022, so the next-generation system will be here soon enough that it’s not worth it to patch up the old one. The result of an RFP in 2018, in 2019 ST shared some early mockups (at right in the picture above) and projected it to be ready with East Link. It appears we’ll get these many months early.

Podcast #101: My Betrayal of All That is Good

Bruce Nourish joins me to discuss a bunch of stuff.

  • (0:00) Hot takes on the election; we basically agree on all issues and then vote in opposite ways. Warning: we go way off-topic beyond transit and land use, to where we probably know less than you do. So skip ahead if this will just irritate you.
  • (32:15) On STB’s long hiatus this year
  • (35:10) Transit advocacy and journalism in 2021 (Katie Wilson’s fares op-ed)
  • (46:00) Martin and Bruce’s pet issues going forward (Martin’s misinterpreted legislative agenda piece)

Download link

News roundup: September highlights

Pulling Away From Kingston in 16:9 Widescreen

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News roundup: August highlights

LB Bryce/Flickr

One day I’ll catch up to the present…

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Fixing ST’s costs requires a legislative agenda

Washington State Capitol

Sound Transit 3’s cost explosion has forced the politicians in charge to make tough decisions that displease constituents. In the ‘realignment’ endgame, Mayor Durkan produced a “cost savings amendment” to create regular reports about costs, hire outside consultants, and tell the Board “where any delays in these pre-construction activities are likely to trigger a delay in the final delivery date of any project” (see page 7 of this).

The last bit is especially rich from a Mayor whose office ignored Sound Transit’s pleas to quickly produce a single preferred alternative from West Seattle to Ballard, instead blowing it up into dozens of combinations (still unresolved) and picking entirely new fights like a very deep station under Chinatown that raises costs and worsens transit outcomes. Indeed, the City is still pining for an added revenue options to chase its dream of a tunnel to West Seattle, that, again, raises costs and does not improve transit outcomes — unless process mismanagement has erased the cost difference.

I have no doubt that a project spending over $54 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars will have some suboptimal line items a consultant can flag. With luck, that consultant might even pay for itself. But the effort to close the budget gap by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse isn’t nearly ambitious enough. The real savings is in treating Sound Transit like a transit project instead of a vessel for a series of community objectives. A change in mindset from relevant leaders would be useful, but ultimately legislation in Olympia is necessary.

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Open things when they’re ready

Curt Milton/Flickr

[UPDATE: the John Lewis Bridge was a hypothetical example, but SDOT would like me to say that it was a minor miracle it opened as soon as it did. Point taken.]

When U-Link opened in 2016, trains operated after a 9am opening ceremony and about $858,000 in additional festivities. This of course brought out the bad-faith complaints ($) from anti-transit people pretending not to understand marketing. But they did us a favor: Sound Transit should just operate things when they’re complete.

For last weekend’s big event, die-hards showed up for the first 4:51am departure before any formal event. At a more reasonable hour, the U-District business community did a great job of providing all the lookie-loos like me something to do. And it was fine.

More than that, transit’s purpose, to give people better alternatives, was fulfilled that much faster. Certainly, someone had an easier commute or airport trip because the train didn’t wait a few hours for a ribbon cutting.

This lesson is more broadly applicable: certainly the John Lewis Bridge, if SDOT had opened it a few days early, would have improved access to the Northgate Transit Center that was already there, instead of waiting for the ribbon cutting Saturday. So why not open it?

I’ll take it even further: whenever East Link is ready, they should start operating it. Perhaps Metro will have the flexibility to implement a service change at that date instead of their usual, collectively bargained changeover, or not. But even if the supporting bus service has to follow a bit later, fast high-capacity transit to the Eastside can start helping people immediately.

Some people to thank

SounderBruce/Flickr

Saturday’s Link opening was the largest product of 2008’s Sound Transit 2 vote to date. In the 15-year package envisioned at ballot time, Northgate opened about a year late, Lynnwood and North Federal Way are scheduled to do the same, and East Link will lag by no more than two years. Given a Great Recession and Bellevue’s wrangling over the route through downtown, that’s an astonishing record unlikely to be matched by Sound Transit 3 or other large American transit projects.

As someone who got his start in transit advocacy around the time of ST2, on Saturday my thoughts turned to many of the friends and STB colleagues I met at that time. Thousands of people made Saturday happen, activists and politicians and staff and (obviously) building trades. But my thoughts also turned to the two people that, in my opinion, are most to thank for the new reality that arrived on Saturday.

The first is Joni Earl, who as CEO through 2016 got Sound Transit to a place where it could even contemplate a Sound Transit 2, and later took those projects through some of the most risk-laden stretches. The second is former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who in the aftermath of the failed 2007 vote bashed heads together to go again in 2008, and then worked hard to pass it.

I was glad to see that both were able to be at the VIP function October 1st. I can only imagine the quiet pride and satisfaction they deservedly feel.

News roundup: July highlights

AvgeekJoe/Flickr

Some things we didn’t mention over July:

This is an open trhread.

Rogoff out in mid-2022

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Rogoff_(3742144876).jpg”>Peter Rogoff (3742144876)

ST announced yesterday that CEO Peter Rogoff “did not foresee remaining in his role” and will step down in the middle of next year. PubliCola reports that Executive Constantine, Councilmember Balducci, and Mayor Durkan had all expressed concerns about his performance.

Important things can happen in the remaining months. However, friends of Sound Transit will likely remember his tenure, dating to 2015, as presenting high highs and low lows. Hired from the Federal Transit Administration, he was advertised as the key to winning Federal grants. It’s hard to measure that promise against the counterfactual of someone else running things.

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Where’s real time arrival?

Updated Capitol Hill Station signage

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had real-time arrival for Link. ST’s John Gallagher says that it’s because Northgate testing doesn’t conform to the schedule, and the software isn’t flexible enough to accommodate that.

Next train times should be back on October 2nd — and more accurate, as the end-of-the-line problems move from Capitol Hill to Roosevelt.

News roundup: June highlights

An Everett Transit Bus at Everett Station in the Night

Some highlights from June that we never mentioned here:

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About that heat dome

HERE COMES THE NEW @SOUNDTRANSIT S700 - Widescreen
AvgeekJoe/Flickr

Many of us have tried to forget the historic heat of Late June. Sadly, even Link trains had to reduce speeds. Areas south of the DSTT ran as slow as 20mph and caused delays of 3-10 minutes. This surprised me: elsewhere, Light Rail often operates in temperatures well in excess of Late June’s. ST’s John Gallagher explains:

There are basically two things going on. One is that extreme heat can cause the rails to expand and change shape. The other is that the turnbuckles that keep the overheard catenary wires taut can expand, causing the wires to sag a bit. Out of caution, we operate Link at lower speeds when it’s very hot to ensure that neither of these problems interfere with service should they occur. 

Mr. Gallagher says that ST has already added air conditioning to substations to make them more resilient. New track extensions include a spring system on the overhead wires to replace the balance weights on the original track, which should improve heat resistance. He adds that ST will conduct a review to see if there are other changes necessary for a warming world.

Without overreacting to a single instance of record heat, all trends suggest that there are more and more extreme heat events coming, and ST should look to mimic systems like Phoenix that already deal with those conditions.

Sound Transit seeks to understand cost failures

Light rail tracks running toward Northgate Transit Center (Lizz Giordano)

Sound Transit 3 is not going to match the stellar project delivery record of Sound Transit 2 barring a bailout from another government or the economy. In attempt to understand the cost estimation failures that got us to this point, on June 24th ST accepted the report of consultants asked to investigate why (report, slides, video).

The report points out parts of ST’s own cost estimation methodology that it did not follow during initial project estimation in 2015 and 2016. In particular, ST did not seek a second opinion on costs and did not sufficiently invovle its own Real Estate division in determining acquisition costs.

It’s a long report and hard to summarize. It identified eight key drivers of the increases between “phase 1” and “phase 2” estimates, and was able to assign a subjective importance to five of them:

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Realignment grinds towards a conclusion

On June 24th, ST Board Chair Kent Keel presented a proposed “realignment” plan that pushes back projects to account for dramatically inflated cost estimates (video, materials). This is a “starting point”, in his words, but we are past the point of staff-driven alternatives and indecisive argument about principles and priorities.

Virtually all projects have suffered roughly 2 years of Covid-related planning delay. Tier 1 projects are full-speed ahead except for that. Tier 2 projects will execute planning and right-of-way acquisition on schedule, getting them to “shovel-ready” as quickly as possible in case more money comes in. But the plan assumes up to 4 years of delay waiting for money to accumulate (for a total of 6). Tier 3 doesn’t pause until after purchase of “strategic ROW”, with up to 9 total years of delay. ST would pause Tier 4 immediately, leading to at least 10 years of total delay. The end of ST3 moves from 2041 to 2046 — a 30 year program.

If realignment skeptics like Dow Constantine are right, and revenue increases more than models currently say, we could expect all of the light rail and Stride to see no more than the current 2-year delay.

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