Triangle Transit: A Third Way

Durham Station via Triangle Transit website

A few weeks ago in an interview with Publicola mayoral candidate Sen. Ed Murray expressed support for a proposal that periodically comes into fashion with some transit observers:  just combine anything that is related to transit into one big super agency.  No more different fare structures, schedule books, or rules, no more route duplication, the end to one agency starving while another rakes in money. Transit Utopia.

As Martin argued years ago, merging the transit agencies of our region would be a horrible idea.  All of those points still stand, but number 5 more than any other.   The political landscape of our region means that instead of more investments being made in the core area, such a reorganization would result in money being siphoned away from our productive core services to prop up unproductive geographic/political coverage ones.  It would also result in years of added delay while we build a new agency that we don’t need instead of the transit network we do.  That is not to say that all the critiques of our current situation aren’t valid, or that we are in the best of all possible transit worlds, but that a merger would in no way build us the transit system we all want.

Below the fold is an example of a third way, suggested as a starting point for more discussion.

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ACTION ALERT: Ship Canal Crossing and Eastlake Study

Photo by Mike Bjork/Flikr
Link over the Duwamish – Photo by Mike Bjork/Flickr

On Wednesday May 1st, starting at 9:30am (if possible sign in at 8:30 to ensure a spot) the Seattle City Council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee will be taking public testimony on the Mayor’s supplemental budget, including study money for a new Ship Canal Crossing and the University District to South Lake Union transit corridor from the Transit Master Plan.

The Ship Canal Crossing study is key to putting solid numbers to the results of the City/Sound Transit Downtown to Ballard HCT study.  Besides that, a new crossing is a needed project in its own right (see Bruce’s great outside the box proposal).  The Council has previously stated its desire to start the Eastlake study this year but recently some members have started pulling back.

Both of these projects are needed.  We have the money, the Council just needs to follow through on its prior commitments and allow the Mayor to fund them.  The more shovel ready projects we have, the better able we are to compete when federal dollars come available.

Come out Wednesday and publicly show your support for moving transit in this city forward.  If you can’t attend in person, be sure to submit your comments via email before May 1st.  The Government Performance and Finance Committee is made up of Tim Burgess (chair), Nick Licata, Sally Clark and Mike O’Brien but it’s a good idea to cc the rest of the Council as well.

Context of the 2012 Metro Service Guidelines Report

[Note: Moved up due to the all time-sensitive stuff this morning.]
route key

On Wednesday April 10th Metro met with planners and staff from the cities of King County to go over progress on the Strategic Plan Update and to better explain the recently released 2012 Service Guidelines Report and its implications.  Considering the 17% cut illustration Metro released with the Service Guidelines Report, that part of the agenda understandably dominated the meeting.  Metro also announced that starting this fall the publication of its Service Guidelines will move forward half a year.  Spring data will be released the following fall.

The majority of the meeting was spent on how to read the Service Guidelines Report.  It’s important to note that the route tables in the report look at two separate but related sets of factors:

Corridor Analysis: 1. Productivity  2. Social Equity  3. Geographic Value  4. Ridership  5. Peak Route Evaluation;


Route Performance Analysis  1. Rides/Platform Hour  2. Passenger Miles/Platform Miles  3. Overcrowding  4. On-time Performance

More after the jump.

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Light Rail Excuse of the Week: Bring the Kids

Photo by Oran

For those with kids who are looking for a reason to take Link down to the Rainier Valley, here’s a great (and cheap!) Wednesday night out with the family.

Start off with a Link ride down to Columbia City Station, then make the short walk to Rainier Ave and the historic heart of Columbia City.

There between Edmunds and Angeline you’ll find the recently opened Ark Lodge Cinemas in the old Columbia City Cinema space.  Every Wednesday the first showing of the evening is a ‘Stroller Park Wednesday’ show:

We dim the lights half way so it’s not pitch black and we turn the sound down. Children 3 and under are free.

Keep your tickets because it is good for half off an appetizer at Rookies just a little south on Ferdinand.  It’s very family friendly, and combined with Wednesdays all-day happy hour its a very reasonably priced dinner out.

Finish up with some classic arcade games and ice-cream at Full Tilt and you’ve got quite the evening out with the family!

The Case for a Rainier Avenue Streetcar

Map by Oran

Streetcars are not the solution to every transportation problem, but they do have their role. In particular, they move people within a neighborhood, from one neighborhood to an adjacent one, and connect to rapid transit. Although buses fill this role too, they don’t support as many riders on a route because of rail bias, branding, capacity issues, and a slow and rough ride. So while I fully support Seattle Subway‘s push for a high quality rapid rail network throughout our city, I also think we need the Transit Master Plan’s (TMP) streetcar network.

In fact, I don’t think the TMP goes far enough. There are other corridors worthy of study. One is along Rainier Avenue South. The corridor has good land use (for neighborhoods outside the core), high transit ridership, and is rapidly developing, but it was only tapped for some bus improvements in the Transit Master Plan and largly ignored in the Bicycle Master Plan. The standard attributes of a streetcar would fix many of the problems with existing service and such a project would serve as a catalyst for a series of transportation enhancements.

As the map illustrates, the line would connect to the First Hill Streetcar tracks at Rainier Avenue and Jackson and run south to S Othello Street, turn west and terminate outside the Othello Link Station. The remainder of the 7’s current route could be serviced by a trolleybus tail (see Bruce’s Better 7 post). Operationally, it could be run as two interlined routes that split at Jackson; the old 7 going to Downtown (and beyond?) and the old 9 going up First Hill and then Capitol Hill. Such connections would further realize the original purpose of the First Hill Streetcar: as a substitute for a lost Link stop. For those on First Hill or in the Central District wanting to head east or south on Link, there would be no need to backtrack to IDS. Instead, there would be easy connections to East Link at I-90 or Central Link at Mt. Baker Station. Riders would experience the speed and comfort benefits that come with a streetcar and the increased mobility that comes with connections to 5 Link Stations (Othello, Mt. Baker, I90/Rainier and either Capitol Hill or International District Station).

Find out why else it’s a good idea below the fold.

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Transit and the Mayor’s Race

SeattleST2Earlier this month Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog challanged those running against Mayor McGinn to offer a bold bike-friendly vision for Seattle:

Because right now, the nervous pack of challengers is playing it “safe” and letting McGinn run away with the label as the most progressive and inspiring candidate on transportation issues.

Is it just me or is this especially true for mass transit?   So far we’ve had Ed Murray saying the city can’t afford to expand Link, Burgess’s bold vision is to fix potholes, silence from Bruce Harrell (his last post in the transportation category is over 3 years old), and Peter Steinbrueck trying to reignite the Light Rail v Bus debate.

What gives?  Is it just too early to judge?  Is everyone so busy trying to be the anti-McGinn that they are punting on transit, and the 60%+ of voters that came out for ST2?

A Slightly New Perspective on Link Ridership


Here are the updated graphs from this post, plus a new one organized by Operations Year instead of Calendar Year. Link’s December ridership numbers led to some discussion last month about growth possibly slowing, but from this graph it is clear that December 2011 was just an abnormally high ridership month, making 2012’s growth appear more sluggish than it actually was. That brings us to my favorite graph, year over year change. After the aforementioned dip in December (note the mirroring spike in December 2011), growth returned to double digits this January. With this kind of sustained growth, it is very possible Central Link will exceed its pre-recession ridership estimates. Link is a 100 year investment and the first few years of ridership are a poor judge of its success or failure. That said, in the short term it certainly helps sell expansion politically. This is especially true now that we could be looking at an ST3 vote as early as 2016.


Traditional charts below the fold.

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More Downtown Commuters Choosing Transit, Walking, Biking

modesplittabledataYesterday Commute Seattle released initial results from their 2012 Center City Mode Split Survey, an update to a similar survey done in 2010.   There is some good stuff there, including their Press Release,  a two-page explanatory memo, and a one-page Summary. The full study will be released in a few weeks.

Here’s the good news:

Two-thirds (66%) of Downtown commuters are not driving alone, up from 65% in 2010

The drive-alone rate continued its steady decline in 2012, dropping to 34.2% in 2012, compared to 35.2% in 2010 and an estimated 50% in 2000.

Public transit (43%) remains the single most popular choice, up from 42% in 2010

Sound Transit set ridership records in 2012, and King County Metro approached its pre-recession record set in 2008. Though the bus is by far the largest transit mode  (35.7%), bus commuting as a share of all commute modes declined one-tenth of one percent (-.1%) due to the even faster growth of rail, walking, bicycling, vanpooling and teleworking.

Non-motorized modes now represent 13% of all commute trips

Walking (6.3%) bicycling (3.3%) and teleworking (3.0%) are growing rapidy, increasing by 11% since 2010 and by 80% since 2000.

However, there is still work to be done:

Net congestion is up, even as drive-alone rates decline

Though the drive-alone rate declined one percent (1%), an estimated 20,000 jobs have been added in Downtown since 2010.  In nominal terms, thousands of new cars are traveling into Downtown daily.

I look forward to the full release and digging through the data!

Seattle Should Look to Phoenix for SoDo Solution

Image courtesy of Valley Metro

With this week’s news, it is highly likely a new arena will be built in SoDo.  Currently, the strongest objections to the arena center around traffic impacts to the Port and neighborhood businesses.  With that in mind I was very disappointed to see that the early design guidance released Tuesday estimates 81% of visitors arriving via automobile and only 6% and 3% coming by rail and bus respectively (page 7).

To reduce traffic impacts, Chris Hansen’s group should strike a deal with Sound Transit, and possibly Metro, similar to the Phoenix Suns’ agreement with Valley Metro, their transit provider.   Under the Rail Ride Event program tickets for home games and other events at the US Airways Center include the cost of train fare in their ticket price.  “Event tickets are valid light rail fare for the day of the event only, for the period four hours prior to the event until the end of the transit day.”

The program was so successful that after a one year pilot it was renewed for 5 more years in 2010. “Under the agreement, the Phoenix Arena Development Ltd. Partnership, the operator of US Airways Center, pays Metro 31 cents for each person attending an event. Revenue received by Metro has averaged $41,194 per month since the program’s inception, covering more than the fare expected from event ridership.”  Not only does it provide income to Valley Metro, but the Suns and the arena use the program as a promotional tool.

In 2010, 11% of Phoenix Suns attendees used light rail to get to the game.  Considering our land use and transportation system, there is every reason to believe the SuperSonics could do much better, especially with both U-Link and Angle Lake Station (with it’s 1100 parking spaces) coming on line in 2016.  It won’t solve the traffic problem completely, but it could make a large dent, and $.31 a ticket seems like a small price to pay to help alleviate neighborhood traffic worries.

September 2012 Link Ridership

Thanks to John Niles over at PITF for the numbers.

As a transit advocate improving ridership is always great news.  What jumps out to me though is the extent to which Link’s current rate of ridership growth is exceeding prior estimates. The typical trajectory of transit projects of this kind is massive growth for the first couple of years, leveling out to 2-3% a year thereafter. This is, in fact, what ST had projected in prior Service Implementation Plans (page 105) for Link this year and every year hereafter until U-Link opens in 2016. But as ST spokesman Bruce Gray told the Seattle Times back in May, Link ridership ‘continues to mature’ and is still growing by double digits. The trend sustained itself through this past summer and into the fall with year over year increases of 12%, 9%, 13%, 12%, and 13% May through September.

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