Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne. Commute: Link + 24 or 33
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Express an interest in transit at just about any cocktail party in the Rainier Valley, and you’ll hear how what Sound Transit really needs to do is provide a shuttle to get people to the stations. Inevitably, people are proposing a solution to their specific problem without much awareness of scale or efficiency. Much like park-and-ride spaces, shuttles are probably more effective at allowing people to conceive a way to use light rail than actually providing that access at scale. On the other hand, Metro and ST seem to have worked their way into a contract that projects a pretty good yield from what some might call coverage service.
The Federal Transit Administration is willing to give shuttles a shot, possibly anticipating that autonomous vehicles will eventually transform the economics. Metro and Sound Transit won $350,000 from FTA in a research project combined with LA Metro. This sum, combined with $100,000 each from Metro and ST, would have funded a peak-only shuttle at a couple of Seattle stations and Tukwila International Blvd, according to Project Manager Casey Gifford of Metro.
Enter Seattle, with Transportation Benefit District funds that Metro doesn’t have the capacity to serve with more buses. Its $2.7m contribution dramatically expanded the concept to include four Seattle stations and service over the full span of Link operations. Tukwila, which didn’t top it up, is only available from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm.
For the next 12 months or so, riders traveling between a Link Station and the areas shown above can use an app or phone number to summon a minivan operated by Via. They can pay for the ride just like any Metro bus, except for cash: an ORCA that fully transfers to Link, or a Transit GO ticket that doesn’t. Although this payment scheme will shift some more ORCA revenue from ST to Metro, only the small amount of Transit GO tickets (and additional volume) would put more fare revenue into the system as a whole.
This week, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced legislation to eliminate Metro fares whenever Metro activates the Emergency Snow Network. It’s early in the process and there is no cost estimate at this time (press release here).
This legislation continues the process of chipping away at the fare structure without taking the financial hit of eliminating fares entirely. Much like New Year’s Eve, snow days are an especially good day to eliminate barriers to using the system, and are rare enough to make the cost negligible. Transit is likely to welcome many newcomers that will be clumsy with a fare, and reducing car use helps avoid total system collapse. As Kohl-Welles told The Stranger, it can also be a matter of life and death, as people struggle to get out of the cold.
With buses leaving the tunnel Saturday, there is no particular reason to be on the platform without a paid fare. Therefore, Sound Transit will consider the platform a fare-paid zone beginning Saturday.
“ORCA readers will be removed later, during the rollout of Next Gen ORCA,” said ST’S Kimberly Reason.
As trains get ever more crowded, the platform will become the most practical place to enforce fares at certain times of day.
Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.
First of all, good for both ST and Johnson that they took the care to compute and report this. Although the real increases here are indeed a story, revising an estimate from 2014 to 2018 dollars is no news at all. That context is usually sorely lacking in stories about increasing costs.
Our comment thread had a spirited discussion as to what inflation measure the estimate used. ST’s Scott Thompson verified for STB that they used “Construction Cost Index for construction estimates, Right of Way index for real estate, and the Consumer Price Index for soft costs.” This seems reasonable enough. But there are at least three different ways one can deflate rising costs, and they serve different purposes.
In 2017 and 2018, the Move Seattle project looked at options for reallocating the five lane widths of Rainier Avenue from Kenny to Henderson St, to improve safety and speed up buses. The safest and most climate-friendly strategy would have deployed two general purpose lanes, two bus lanes, and a two-way cycle track. But given the desire for at least some parking, and turning lanes at intersections, this was never an option. Instead, SDOT asked the community if they preferred a bus lane or a protected cycle track in this corridor
Outreach in 2017 didn’t indicate an overwhelming preference. In-person feedback was about 4:3 in favor of the bus lane. Online comments from the most relevant zip code where also slightly pro-bus lane, while Seattle-wide online comments were about 4:3 in favor of the bike lane. Interestingly, there was a form-letter campaign from the Cascade Bicycle Club for the bike lane option, presumably also reflected in the online response. Separately, the online responses had a wildly disproportionate racial composition for the Rainier Valley. Drivers heavily preferred the bus lane.