A bus to Mt. Rainier

Old Desolate and Rainier

Last month the National Park Service started asking what to do about crowds at Mount Rainier National Park overwhelming parking and road space. More parking would be very expensive and undesirable for the atmosphere of the park. Anywhere parking and road space are at a premium, transit is an obvious answer. But what would be involved in making service good enough that people would actually use it?

The obvious terminus for any Mt. Rainier bus service is the Tacoma Dome. It is the closest major regional transit hub and also has ample surplus parking on weekends. There are excellent, frequent bus connections at all times and light rail coming in the (early?) 2030s. And luckily, with the exception of Sunrise, all the accessible attractions are essentially on a linear path.

The bad news is that even the closest major hub is a long, long way to Mt. Rainier.

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News Roundup: Plateauing

An Everett Transit Proterra Catalyst BE40 at Everett Station During Nighttime

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News roundup: blowing it

Along the Waterfront
Peter Lewis/Flickr (2011)

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Rider Experience Committee tracks service quality

On August 6th Sound Transit’s Rider Experience Committee met to discuss its evolving “scorecard” for ride quality. It’s a promising set of metrics, but it would be great if the committee’s writ expanded beyond current service to the future.

The scorecard has metrics in five categories: dependable, safe, available, clean, and informed. The individual items seem reasonable enough:

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Council committee approves e-scooter pilot

Lime-S Scooters

On Wednesday, the Seattle Transportation & Utilities Committee approved two ordinances (starts at 1:54:14) related to e-scooter operations. The full council will vote on September 8th.

The bills are CB 119867 and 119868. Slides for both are here. They both passed, with Gonzalez, Morales, and Strauss voting yes and Pedersen no.

The former would allow motorized scooters in streets with speed limits of 25 mph or lower, bike lanes, and on sidewalks that are part of a bike route (e.g. on movable bridges). The latter actually authorizes scooter rental operations and sets up a fee schedule that the city projects will raise about $1m annually ($150/device), used to administer the program and build more bike and scooter parking. The permitting plan is here, but is an administrative document that didn’t need Council approval.

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Amtrak completes PTC

After years of Congressional pressure and the occasional serious accident, Amtrak announced last week that it’s completed deployment of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all track sections and locomotives that it owns.

Cascades PTC work was complete in March 2019. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder don’t use any Amtrak-owned track, though they do use their locomotives.

Amtrak only owns about 623 miles of track, most notably parts of the Northeast Corridor but also bits of Michigan and Southern California. 86% of all Amtrak route miles are now subject to PTC.

In unrelated news, the Amtrak app and website will now tell you, at booking time, how full a train is relative to its (Covid-reduced) seating capacity (see image above). This is intended to help people make their own health decisions, though it would be a useful feature to keep beyond that. This feature is not operational on the Pacific Surfliner or Capitol Corridor, both in California.

News roundup: the best in US History

Angle Lake Extension Construction: Gantry
Angle Lake Construction, 2014 (Atomic Taco/Flickr)

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Will Bellevue’s I-405 project do anything for station access?

The policy status quo – Link in Blue, bike paths in green (City of Bellevue)

Bellevue is in the midst of its “South Downtown I-405 Access Study,” which is expected to wrap up at the end of the year. The East Main Link Station opening in 2023 is expected to spur development in the area below Main Street, which in turn will add to congestion in the area.

The City of Bellevue wants to minimize traffic congestion and help people get where they need to go, whether they are walking, biking, riding transit or driving.

Study Website

They’re down to seven alternatives, and there’s an online open house where you can comment on them. It’s safe to say they are centering the “minimize traffic congestion” bit, at least in intent.

The first two options merely add on and/or off-ramps to I-405 at various points. In a direct sense, these are entirely useless for bikes, pedestrians, and transit. Proponents might argue that they might keep some cars away from the station area.

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News roundup: not all the way

No. 519 crossing Front Street
Dave Honan/Flickr (2012)

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News roundup: happy birthday

Northbound Morning Amtrak Cascades Passing Through Marysville
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

Hard to believe we haven’t had normal light rail service since early January…

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Bremerton contemplates BRT

Kitsap Transit

Bremerton is finishing up a plan to upgrade the pedestrian, bike, and transit facilities along the State Route 303 corridor, which connects Central Bremerton with its northern reaches.

Today, SR 303 is a “commute corridor”, in the words of Mayor Greg Wheeler, but he wants to “give our city priority” by giving “walkers, bicycles, and public transit equal access.”

This process has produced a “preliminary preferred alternative” that has several features:

  • Transit signal priority at seven intersections, including two downtown
  • Roundabouts replacing a few intersections
  • 10 foot sidewalks north of the bridge
  • Bike improvements
  • A business access and transit (BAT) lane northbound from Callahan to Hollis St. This lane replaces a left-turn lane in the center roadway.

There are four Kitsap Transit routes in this corridor now. The 215, 217, and 301 start at the ferry, and run to roughly the city limit, Silverdale, and Poulsbo respectively. The 219 runs from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to the city line.

PSRC’s Vision 2050 document suggests BRT operating between Silverdale and Bremerton, and the preferred alternative is largely driven by advice from Kitsap Transit on what would make BRT in Bremerton successful.

Steffani Lillie of Kitsap Transit says that rolling out BRT “requires population increases in our area to truly support it.” In the preliminary, unfunded concept, a single route would serve SR303 between Silverdale and Bremerton, with other legs including Silverdale-Poulsbo and Tremont St. in Port Orchard. Given sufficient density, KT would target 20 minute headways. Span of service and branding are not yet determined. KT recently completed two transit centers (North Viking and Wheaton Way) that support level boarding and have the conduits in place for off board payment. The Silverdale Transit Center may begin construction as early as next year.

When the city finalizes the plan in October, it will start to look for funding to make it a reality. Project Manager Katie Ketterer says the city will “pull out all the stops” to pursue grants and partnerships with Kitsap Transit, and probably execute in phases. You can comment this project here.

Test drive: GIG carshare

Still actively discouraged from taking the bus, I had the opportunity to try out Gig car share recently. While the overall experience won’t surprise any Car2Go/ReachNow/ShareNow user since they ditched the smart cars, there are a few changes that might give the venture a chance where others failed.

The ride

Finding a car on the app has a similar interface to the old apps. You can reserve it up to a half hour before your trip starts. I had several cars to choose from within easy walking distance in the Volunteer Park area. It was a much less frustrating experience that my past troubles in the Columbia City Station area, but that could be a function of geography and the pandemic.

The experience is entirely keyless. Everything is done with the app, but you can ask for a keycard if you don’t have a smartphone.

All 250 cars are Toyota Prius. This is Seattle, so you’ve all ridden in a Prius before.


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TBD headed to the ballot

As expected, the Seattle Council approved a November ballot measure to renew its
Transportation Benefit District 9-0 and preserve existing Metro service. The real action was in the amendments. (The discussion begins at 1:11:00 in the video above).

The expiring measure included a 0.1% sales tax and $60 vehicle license fee. As the latter may not be legal due to I-976, there was debate about increasing the sales tax rate. Regrettably, the amendment to raise the rate to 0.2% lost 5-4. Morales, Sawant, Mosqueda, and Strauss voted for the higher rate.

However, a compromise measure for a 0.15% increase passed 8-1, with only Pedersen opposed.

An amendment to extend the measure to a 6-year package, expiring in April 2027, passed 5-4, with Morales, Sawant, Lewis, and Gonzalez opposed. Detractors focused on the imperfection of a city measure with regressive revenue tools, and sought to create a “sense of urgency” for something better. Proponents argued, correctly, that 2024 is the right time to try a county measure, and that a city measure expiring concurrently would provide no contigency for a county failure. Move Seattle also expires in 2024, creating more traffic on the ballot.

There was maneuvering around the limits on various special accounts for West Seattle buses, free and reduced price ORCA, and the like. In the end, “essential workers” (in the pandemic sense) became eligible for ORCA subsidy.

Seattle TBD vote is today

Seattle City Council (32884844902)

Today at 2pm, the Seattle Council is voting to send renewal of the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) to the November ballot. As eight of nine council members are already on record in support, passage of something is inevitable. The uncertain parts are what amendments will go with it.

The baseline legislation is a renewal of the 0.1% sales tax for 4 years. This is a significant cut from the status quo both because it doesn’t include the vehicle license fee from 2014, but also because sales tax revenues have fallen sharply.

  • Amendment 1 would extend the term to six years.
  • Amendment 2 would raise the sales tax rate to 0.2%; this roughly replaces the lost vehicle license revenue for a typical level of economic activity.
  • Amendment 3 would extend the ORCA opportunity program from seniors, youth, and low income people to include “essential workers” as commonly understood during the pandemic.

Amendment 2 is clearly an effort to devote more resources to transit, which is straightforward for advocates. Amendment 1 depends on your read of the political and legal situation. Amendment 3 is a difficult tradeoff between social justice objectives and getting as much bus service as possible on the road.

There are also rumors of an amendment to split the difference at 0.15%.

You can sign up to testify, beginning at 12pm, here.

King County letter cracks door for regional TBD

Seattle - City Hall Park & King County Courthouse P

A letter from King County Executive Dow Constantine and four Councilmembers (Balducci, Dembowski, Upthegrove, Kohl-Welles) expressed support for the Seattle Transportation District (TBD) effort, while pledging to pursue a countywide measure “at an appropriate time.”

The letter is delicately balanced between applauding Seattle’s effort to maintain service, while stressing the need for a regional measure “to provide the greatest mobility, equity, economic, and sustainability benefits.”

It specifically mentions the importance of “the equity and sustainability goals included in King County Metro’s Mobility Framework,” the agency’s (quite good) service allocation formula.

And then it makes its offer:

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News roundup: traffic is back

Dungeness Line (Olympic Bus Lines) bus at King Street Station

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News roundup: do better

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XDE35 3713
Zach Heistand/Flickr

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Maximizing ridership is easy

There’s a certain thread of argument in transit advocacy that is frustrating because it is totally factually accurate, and yet completely misses the point. The latest example is this report on American light rail by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, called The Economics of Urban Light Rail: A Guide for Planners and Citizens.

America has way fewer light rail boardings per route-mile than Europe and Canada. However, Seattle does well, one of only 5 in the US to have more than 3,000. No surprise: the strongest indicators of success are frequency and density around stations, two standards Link currently meets.

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