News Roundup: Minor Changes

KC Metro Buses Against the Grey
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

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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.

News roundup: starting to arrive

CommunistSquared /Wikimedia Commons

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What’s the coalition for congestion pricing?

5th Avenue, SounderBruce, Flickr

The congestion pricing study attempted to apply objective criteria to various options. Regardless of the policy merits, it’s a good bet that the choice will be the one with a political coalition to pass it. Who wins and who loses from such a plan?

For bus riders, pricing is overwhelmingly positive. Fewer cars means buses will be faster, and usually the fee is used to add transit. Perhaps the only downside is more crowded vehicles.

For bicyclists and pedestrians, it’s unclear. The zone would have lower car volumes but higher speeds. But if many people are diverted to bikes, numbers increase safety.

That’s a good chunk of who’s going downtown, but the attitudes of drivers are going to be important. For pricing to work, someone has to be deterred off the road, and those people aren’t going to be happy with the deterrence.

Continue reading “What’s the coalition for congestion pricing?”

News Roundup: the wrong direction

A @SoundTransit Link Train Resting at Angle Lake In the Dark

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Center platforms are the inexpensive escalator design

Out of service escalator at Westlake Station

David Cole has a largely correct takedown of Sound Transit’s traditional pound-foolish approach to escalators:

Wherever long escalators are required to travel between the train platform and street level, redundant escalators should be provided. This could have been accomplished with a single bank of at least four escalators, or two banks of at least three escalators, etc. With a bank of four escalators, one escalator being out of service would be a minor inconvenience at worst. Even with half the escalators out of service, access to and from the station could be maintained …

Beyond the number of escalators at each station, there is also the issue of the escalators themselves. Broken escalators have been a near-constant bane to riders using the Capitol Hill and UW stations since their opening in 2016, to the point that Sound Transit is already planning to replace all 13 escalators at UW less than four years after that station’s completion.

But Sound Transit apparently felt differently back when planning the Capitol Hill and UW stations. According to a source familiar with the design process who declined to be named for this article, Sound Transit insisted on specifying medium-duty “better” escalators at these stations as a cost-saving measure, and then cobbled together a myriad series of customizations to bring them up to heavy-duty standards. As we now know, the reliability of these Frankenstein escalators hasn’t exactly been stellar, and Sound Transit will soon spend a fortune to replace them with more robust, off-the-shelf models. Some old adage comes to mind about how it’s better to do something right the first time than to do it over again.

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The congestion pricing report

Seattle’s Congestion Pricing Report looked at ten different schemes that could reduce the volume of cars in congested areas, from variations on a toll, to bans on non-electric or non-autonomous vehicles, to allowing only certain license plate numbers on a given day.

Stockholm Cordon Toll (Tage Olson, via SDOT)

After considering environmental impacts, congestion reduction, equity, and feasibility, SDOT ended up with four alternatives:

  • Cordon Pricing, which charges drivers for crossing a boundary into a sensitive area (like Stockholm);
  • Area Pricing, which adds a fee for driving around within the cordon in addition to the boundary toll (like London);
  • Fleet Pricing, which tolls a particular type of vehicle fleet, like commercial vehicles, or taxis and taxi-like services (like New York is planning); and
  • a “Road Usage Charge” that ” restrict[s] access to a zone to vehicles enrolled in a RUC program that levies a per-mile charge,” kinda like the WSDOT pilot for a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax.
Continue reading “The congestion pricing report”

How’s One Center City doing?

RapidRides on 2nd Avenue

If you’re like me, you’ve lost track of all the near-term projects that were supposed to get downtown through a period with multiple disruptive construction projects. It doesn’t help that there’s a near-term set of improvements and other longer-range plans that one can confuse.

Luckily, the City Council mandated that SDOT provide a quarterly report on how the near-term OCC stuff is doing. Here’s a summary of the bus stuff:

  • 5th/6th bus lanes: two blocks on 5th and eight on 6th, done and on-budget.
  • Montlake Triangle: shorter walking distances, a short bus lane, and better turns for buses: on schedule for September. UPDATE: Metro says they’re not going to have buses using these till March 2020.
  • a one-block 4th bus lane and one queue jump: delayed from March to June due to building construction; added savings will get us another queue jump.
  • 2nd/4th signal improvements to speed up buses: done and on-budget.
  • 3rd Ave ORCA Readers/All-door boarding: a year late (to March 2020) and $3m overbudget. “Metro and the design consultant were not familiar with SDOT’s sidewalk restoration standards.” They’re using hand-scanners for now, and savings elsewhere will cover the budget gap.
  • Bigger bus stops and rider environment improvements in Chinatown and Pioneer Square: on track for this September.

On the bike front, all three of the big downtown projects — PBLs on Pike/Pine and 4th, plus the 2nd Ave Extension bike lane — are either behind schedule or threatening to become so.

There are plenty of pedestrian and other programs as well, which you can read about in the report.

News Roundup: Hiring

A Sound Transit Tacoma Link Car at Union Station Head On
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

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Give your opinion on Accessible Mt. Baker

Longtime readers know that the Mt. Baker Station area, full of design flaws since Link opened, has long had a plan to improve vehicle flow through it. While there have been some incremental improvements in the transfer between train and bus, the “bowtie” plan might have made a bigger dent in some problematic transit vehicle movements.

After facing some local business opposition, the effort morphed into Accessible Mt. Baker in 2015. The most interesting idea was moving the poorly placed Mt. Baker transit center to provide better transfers. And after a modal plan in 2016, the program has been sitting there since.

Anyhow, there’s another community survey out there, with a deadline of May 20th. This area is an important transit hub, but has to contend with a high volume of vehicles. Pro-transit turnout would be helpful.

The diagram below shows what the plan would mean for bus transfers. Instead of navigating the transit center and dropping off riders to cross Rainier and take an indirect route to the station entrance, many buses would instead circle the station itself and provide an optimal transfer experience. The 7 and 9 would keep their current excellent southbound transfer point, and the northbound stop would have a much more favorable location nearer the entrance.

Continue reading “Give your opinion on Accessible Mt. Baker”

News Roundup: Preferred Alternative

East Link over I-405, May 2019 (SounderBruce/wikimedia)

  • Sound Transit committee proposes a “preferred alternative” for Ballard West Seattle, punts difficult decisions at West Seattle Junction, Ballard, Chinatown. The full board is next. WSB has a great summary of some of the friction between those worried about “impacts” and those trying to get it done.
  • Tariffs make ORCA more expensive, agencies eating the increase.
  • ECB curbs your enthusiasm about Mayor Durkan’s scooter announcement.
  • Oversight committee officially requests funding for more of the Move Seattle bike plan.
  • Disability-rights group unhappy with some Portland scooter rules.
  • Link has an uncanny ability to have maintenance problems just as I-5 disintegrates.
  • Kiewit will build Link to Federal Way.
  • Woodinville looking at a “connector bus” to get people to BRT.
  • Olympia did something about housing supply this session – perhaps most notably, many upzones can no longer be challenged in the courts under “environmental” laws.
  • Judge tosses lawsuit ($) against accessory dwelling units and mother-in-law apartments, full speed ahead!
  • PSRC says transit boardings up about 1% last year, tops in the nation among big metro areas. It’s driven mostly by increasing train ridership, still a small fraction of all trips.

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TriMet souring on parking garages

Eastgate Park & Ride (ECTran71/wikimedia)

Michael Andersen has the news:

Rahmani said last week (speaking only for himself) that TriMet’s staff members are making the case for surface lots instead of multi-level garages at several stations along the new rail line through Portland, Tigard, and Tualatin, except at the end of the line near Bridgeport Mall. Their theory is that transit funding is better spent elsewhere and the surface lots would preserve the option of adding housing later.

While this isn’t abandoning parking altogether, sticking with surface lots both saves money and, as they point out, makes development easier later. The article cites lots of King County Metro work indicating that park-and-rides are less efficient at creating riders than other programs.

I’ve heard numbers all over the place, but here they claim $52,000 per garage space and $18,000 per surface space, plus $1 per space per day to operate. And all that’s before taking into account the carbon impact.

Assuming 2 rides/weekday/space, and given ST’s 3.6% bond rate, my back-of-the envelope math suggests a cost per ride of about $6 for a garage space and about $2.30 for a surface one if we evaluate the investment over 30 years. Although that doesn’t take into account the land that, if developed, would otherwise generate ridership organically, it isn’t clearly worse than some other access options like the Via Shuttle, currently clocking in at $13 a ride. But nothing beats reliable feeder bus service, bike and pedestrian improvements, and especially dense development. The last, when market-rate, actually has a negative net cost, which is hard to beat.

News Roundup: Only a Trickle


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Is Via Coverage Service?

In last week’s article on Via, I was pleasantly surprised by a projected cost per rider of $16, and early results suggesting a rate of $13. This rate is certainly not as good as the best bus routes, but competitive with some less effective ones and way better than other services like paratransit. Classifying Via as “coverage service,” I proclaimed the results “decent.”

Some commenters pointed out, rightly, that I stretched the meaning of “coverage” service. The term is usually understood to mean service to an area not dense enough to serve efficiently, for the sole purpose of providing some connectivity for those that needed it. That is not what is happening here. Indeed, most Southeast Seattle residents can walk to at least one of multiple north-south frequent transit corridors in a fairly narrow space, and at its widest point route 50 provides a connection to all 4.

However, while most everyone has a connection point into the system, there is likely unmet demand for access to Light Rail. The lack of east/west connectivity is by now a Seattle cliché. Along MLK, the 106 has theoretical 15 minute headways, though often worse. Service is excellent in the Rainier Corridor, but for the most part users there that want to get to Link face a very long ride to a poor transfer at Mt. Baker. As elsewhere in Seattle, topology sometimes cuts off otherwise obvious routes. Broadly speaking, Rainier Valley residents lack a short hop to rapid transit that is tantalizingly close.

This is not an accident: through two separate restructures since Link opened, providing access to it has not been a priority. Each time, existing riders demanding their one-seat rides downtown had their way. In the first restructure, service hours went to improving connections to and through the Central District and West Seattle, as well as the Streetcar, rather than within Southeast Seattle. And that’s fine, though it does leave an unmet demand.

Via critics are right, though, that the optimal way to provide this connectivity would likely be through fixed bus routes. Unfortunately, Metro can’t run more buses at peak times today. Even if existing routes downtown must remain at current frequencies, there are plenty of good targets for additional investment: more buses on the 50, 60, 106, and 107. Better yet, entirely new concepts to plug some of the Link access gaps (some old brainstorms here and here) are much more palatable as an add-on to the existing network than as a substitute.

When Metro’s new bus base capacity comes online, we can have an interesting discussion about Via, the Transportation Benefit District, and new and improved routes in the Southeast. But until then, Via is probably the best option in this area.