Seattle Frequent Transit Map

Click to enlarge

[There is a newer edition of this map.]

[UPDATE 10:11 am: Oran has applied some fixes to the pdf for download.]

It has been two years since I first released my Metro Frequent Service Network map. The map highlights all corridors that have transit service at least every 15 minutes during most of the day. It was inspired by the maps produced by the transit agencies in Portland and Minneapolis. Today, I give you a brand new version of the map for your enjoyment and benefit. You may download it as a PDF for high quality printing (8.5 x 14 inch Legal size). The map reflects Metro’s February 2011 service change (tentatively) and Sound Transit’s June 2011 service reductions.

This map takes a very different approach from my previous maps. It covers only the city of Seattle, where most of the frequent service is. Gone is the “one-color-for-one-line-for-one-route” French style map. Instead, colors are assigned to the modes: bus, rapid rail, and streetcar. It is a diagram, not a geographic map, but the major water bodies remain to provide some clues and the lines follow the street grid to an extent. Other features include a table showing the time and days when frequent service is provided, a street index for downtown routes, a list of through routes, neighborhood labels in the background, and icons showing connections to Sounder and the ferries. If so desired, thinner lines can be used to depict routes with less frequent service (every 20-30 minutes).

It has been said before by many but I’ll say it again. I think Metro should promote the frequent service network. It is as significant an asset as RapidRide is and it is service that is already out there. At the very least, show it on the timetable covers and on the system map with a simple yellow highlight. In the long term, the network itself should be restructured to provide more frequent service in more places and be more comprehensible to the average user.

Montlake Triangle Update

Model of the latest design for the Montlake Triangle

The new design for the Montlake Triangle project was publicly presented at an open house hosted by Sound Transit and its project partners (UW, WSDOT, SDOT) on Wednesday. The project improves access for pedestrians and bicyclists to the University of Washington Link Station from the main UW campus, UW Medical Center, Burke-Gilman Trail, and area bus stops. It also improves the aesthetics of the area to create an inviting gateway to the university and enhance the Rainier Vista view corridor.

The new design essentially combines Sound Transit’s original plan with UW’s Rainier Vista Landbridge plan with modifications and additions. There will be a 30-foot wide pedestrian/bicycle bridge across Montlake Boulevard from the station house to the center of the Montlake Triangle, instead of a new signalized crosswalk. A landbridge connecting the Rainier Vista path to the Triangle will be created by lowering Pacific Place and the Burke-Gilman Trail, reducing traffic conflicts. A new plaza will be created inside the Triangle, framed by trees that will mostly obscure the busy intersection and street, while drawing eyes up towards the mountain. Another path leads from the plaza to a new crosswalk and bus stop on NE Pacific St opposite the Medical Center. The entire Triangle will be universally accessible with ramps and handrails.

Materials from the open house should be posted on Sound Transit’s UW Station project page by the weekend. You can find plenty of design documents from UW Capital Projects Office’s project page. Also, see more photos of the design model shown at the open house.

More details after the jump. Continue reading “Montlake Triangle Update”

Transit Events in the U District Today and Wednesday

Regional Transit Task Force Town Hall Forum

The Regional Transit Task Force will be holding a forum to discuss transit with the public on Monday evening from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm at Kane Hall’s Walker Ames Room on the UW campus. More details and a list of the panelists from UW Transportation Services website.

UW Station Community Meeting

Sound Transit, UW, and WSDOT will host this open house on Wednesday, January 12, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Museum of History and Industry in Montlake. The latest plan and design for connecting the station to the Triangle area and the campus will be revealed. This will determine how well the station can be accessed and the ease of bus-rail transfers.

Second Suicide by Link on Thursday

Holgate Street Crossing in June

In tragic news, on Thursday around 12:42 pm, a man was struck fatally by a northbound Link train while crossing against multiple warning signals at S Holgate St in SODO. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled the death a suicide, the Seattle Times reports. This is Link’s second fatality since it opened in July 2009. The first fatality was also a suicide that occurred in the same area shortly after Link opened.

Link Station Schedules Updated

The new design.

It’s a month late but it’s finally here. Sound Transit updated the design of the schedules posted at Central Link stations, both graphically and physically (example of old style). Many schedules were torn off by vandalism or left outdated. Some schedules date to before Airport Link opened. On October 7, Sound Transit via its Twitter account responded to a question regarding the missing and outdated schedules: “We’re working on a new signs. Old ones were too easily vandalized/ripped off. New ones up by Nov. Thanks for riding.”

The new schedules still show only headway and first/last train times but in a different format. The design is reminiscent of the style used in London. I made mockups of that style for the 70-series buses last year and recently for a headway-based timetable in One Bus Away. I’m not sure about the order they chose. It follows a natural sentence structure: the day, then “trains leave every”, followed by the headway, and then time periods. However, the way I typically read schedules is to look at the clock for current time, then find the time period on the schedule, and read the headway. Either way this is a minor issue. Another issue is the periods that span from a.m. to p.m. The weekend schedule shows trains leaving every 10 minutes from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., or is that from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m? Just add an “a.m.” behind the 8:00 to clarify.

The schedule is now printed on the same sheet as the fare table. The larger surface should make removal more difficult. Since the schedule is now integral with the fare table instead of a smaller add-on sticker, why not take advantage of the increased space? They don’t need to have a box any more. Perhaps in future iterations they will redesign the combined fare/schedule table. Overall, I see this as a small step forward.

November 2010 Link Ridership

Travelers buying Link tickets at SeaTac on snowy Monday

November’s Central Link ridership slightly declined from October, at 21,913 per weekday, 9,933 per Saturday, and 13,112 per Sunday/holiday, on average. Niles has the full ridership breakdown.

Ridership on the Monday before Thanksgiving is the second highest on record at 29,351 boardings. It is unclear what effect snow has on ridership, with the snow storm coinciding with one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Airport Link did not open until December 18, 2009. Ridership on Thanksgiving Day was low as expected, similar to last year since most are staying at home or out of town. Sunday likely had many returning home to and from the airport. Ridership returned to average the following Monday.

Ridership numbers for Thanksgiving week:

  1. Monday, Nov 22: 29,351 (big snow day, Metro on snow routes)
  2. Tuesday, Nov 23: 28,504 (Metro on snow routes)
  3. Wednesday, Nov 24: 27,352 (Metro on snow routes)
  4. Thanksgiving, Nov 25: 9,385 (Sunday schedule Metro and Link, Metro on snow routes)
  5. Black Friday, Nov 26: 20,283 (Downtown holiday parade and Westlake tree lighting, Metro resumes normal routes)
  6. Saturday, Nov 27: 7,359
  7. Sunday, Nov 28: 17,333

Tracking Down Link Maintenance

The leaky tunnel ring in Beacon Hill Station
Montage of the leaky station tunnel

I was curious with the maintenance Sound Transit was doing the week before the pre-Thanksgiving snow storm, so I went for a field check. The Rider Alert said southbound platforms at Mount Baker and Beacon Hill would be closed, telling me the general area of work. I arrived at MLK and Walden around midnight, where there is a crossover for trains to switch tracks, and saw the red STOP sign and flasher on the southbound track indicating “men at work”. I saw no visible activity outside, suggesting the work was being done in the Beacon Hill tunnel. Later, someone commented on the blog that the work was about fixing leaks on the southbound platform of Beacon Hill Station.

Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray confirmed to me that the work was indeed about fixing the leaky tunnel. The work is covered under warranty, which means the contractor, Obayashi, is responsible for the costs of fixing the defect. Beacon Hill Blog has photos and a report from September that quoted Gray saying such leakage is common in the first year for deep-mined projects. I visited Beacon Hill recently and saw the drainage system they installed in an attempt to collect the water and prevent it from dripping. It was still dripping though not as much as it used to. Fortunately, once this issue is resolved, Gray said “this should be the last of these maintenance delays during revenue hours for a long time.”

Past engineering and maintenance work on Central Link during revenue hours include noise reduction work with rail grinding in Rainier Valley and Tukwila, modifying crossovers on MLK to reduce noise, installation of track lubricators at Mount Baker and Tukwila; installing switch heaters by the Operations and Maintenance Facility to keep trains running during snow and ice conditions; and a weekend closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for upgrades and testing of the fire/life/safety systems.

Where Do I Pay My Link Fare?

Paper sign on TVM pointing to 3 other TVMs at SeaTac/Airport
Paper sign on Link TVM

I find the signage pointing people to Link’s ticket vending machines to be non-existant or poor, especially in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Over the last few weeks I met a few people at Link stations who did not know where to purchase a ticket to ride Link, notably at Westlake and International District, or were confused between ORCA and paper tickets. I also saw people at the Airport station lining up for ticket machines although there were three open ones on the north side. My guess is that most people who buy paper tickets are likely infrequent riders and visitors, who are not familiar with the system on a daily basis. Obviously, many people have no trouble finding and figuring out how and where to pay their fare but the issues below make the system less user-friendly and accessible for all.

Details after the jump.

Continue reading “Where Do I Pay My Link Fare?”

Metro Evaluates a Modern Trolleybus

Trolleybus going up Main St without wires

Last Wednesday in Pioneer Square, officials from King County Metro took a test ride in one of Vancouver’s modern low-floor electric trolleybuses to see how it works on the wire and off the wire. Vancouver’s TransLink loaned the bus to Metro for examination as part of the Trolley Bus System Evaluation. Representatives from the bus and propulsion system manufacturer and Vancouver bus operator Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) mingled with Metro staff to discuss operation and maintenance of the bus. Among the key people from Metro are their chief vehicle maintenance supervisor, trolley bus maintenance supervisor, and General Manager Kevin Desmond. They liked a lot of the amenities found on the bus. County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who sponsored the transit audit which led to this evaluation, was also present. Phillips is in favor of retaining the electric trolley system and modernizing the fleet.

Much more after the jump
Continue reading “Metro Evaluates a Modern Trolleybus”

Universal and ORCA Powered U-PASS Delayed

Back of a Husky Card affixed with a purple U-PASS sticker good for Autumn Quarter
The current U-PASS

The Daily of the UW reports that implementation of a universal U-PASS program will be a quarter behind its original Winter 2010 target (January 2010). A survey completed last spring showed 79% of students, staff, and faculty supporting a universal U-PASS. The pass would be a mandatory fee priced around $60 to $80 with a target of $75. The current pass costs $99 per quarter, almost a twofold increase over 2008 prices. Participation dropped from 85% to 72% in 2009 as a result. The U-PASS needs a new funding model as the existing model, in which students can opt-out by returning the pass, is unsustainable with budget shortfalls and increasing costs from the transit agencies.

Meanwhile, the process of converting U-PASS stickers over to ORCA-embedded Husky Cards is now anticipated to begin sometime in the middle of 2011. The University’s Transportation Services originally had a target of June 2010 and later pushed it back towards late 2010. The delay in implementation comes from the “transit side”, in other words, the agencies implementing ORCA and the system vendor. The process, called “re-carding”, involves replacing every student’s, staff’s, and faculty’s identification card (known as Husky Card) with a new card embedded with an ORCA chip. The new cards will feature a new design and would retain the magnetic strip for its existing functions. Dubs, the Husky mascot, will lead the transition.

According to the University Transportation Committee’s (UTC advises the UW administration on transportation issues) meeting minutes, the e-purse function will be disabled on the ORCA powered U-PASS. The University did not want to deal with customer service issues like refunding e-purse value. Privacy concerns were also raised in a UTC meeting where a loophole in the law allowed media to file a public information request for card user’s personally identifiable information. However, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 5295 into law earlier this year, closing the loophole. With U-PASS moving to a universal model, a system for students to opt-out of the ORCA powered U-PASS would be unnecessary.

Bellevue TC Gets an ORCA Vending Machine

The vending machine is located by the Rider Services Building
The new card vending machine.

Eastside transit riders no longer have to travel to Seattle to purchase an ORCA card in person. A new ORCA vending machine was installed at the Bellevue Transit Center recently last month. You can find the machine outside the rider services building on the north side of the transit center.

The machines are the same model found at Sounder and Link stations with limited functionality. What you can do is listed in 5 simple steps on the machine itself. You can add value to your e-purse, purchase a pass, check your card’s balance, or purchase a new Adult card. The machine accepts cash (coins and bills), credit cards, and e-purse for payment. You cannot purchase a paper ticket. Senior, disabled, and youth cards still need to be obtained at a customer service office or by mail.

While the list of ORCA retailers is slowly growing, retail locations can only add value to existing cards; they do not sell ORCA cards. The new vending machine is a welcome addition that will make ORCA more convenient to use for many.

Imagine a More Detailed Link Station Schedule

stem-and-leaf schedule for Othello to Downtown
Mockup of stem-and-leaf schedule for Link platforms

The schedules at Link stations show the frequency of service and times for the first and last trains. Some people find that inadequate for planning a trip and want a detailed timetable. Here is my answer to your call, a stem-and-leaf format schedule showing all train departures from a station in a particular direction. I designed it for individual platforms. The size of this exactly matches the existing schedules found at Link stations and can function as a drop in replacement. It can accommodate 24 hour service and up to 10 trains per hour. The tradeoff is loss of first/last train times for the opposite direction and a more cluttered look with no summary of the frequencies. I would keep the existing schedules for mezzanine areas. Or why not have both detailed and summary schedules? That would require redesigning the information panels.

By the way, many schedules at Link stations have not been updated or are missing altogether. Some still list times for the first/last train to Tukwila International Boulevard! I don’t know what the people in charge of this at Sound Transit do all day but it took me about 2 hours to design the mockup from scratch. I could make one for every station, print them out, and go install them at stations in a single work day. Of course I’m bragging a bit; it’ll take more work to make such a major change. However, the missing and outdated schedules are simply inexcusable.

Link Rider Alerts and Real-time Arrival Info

NB-Westlake Seattle xx min, SB-SeaTac/Airport 9 min, etc.
Mock up of Link variable message sign displaying next train times, by the author

Sound Transit recently hired an employee to deal with incident response and provide passengers with service status alerts from the Link Control Center. The rider alerts are better than nothing but sometimes you can have days like this or this when the number of rider alerts becomes overwhelming.

Scott Gutierrez at the PI reports on the recent proliferation of Link rider alerts notifying passengers of train delays. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray explains in Gutierrez’s article:

The agency still is setting protocols on when mass alerts are necessary and when updating electronic signs at boarding platforms is enough to get the word out. A few times recently, alerts were issued about problems that were handled quickly and had minimal effect on service, he said.

On Monday morning, for example, an alert was issued about a mechanical problem that caused delays of six minutes to one train and three minutes to the other.

“That’s why we’re seeing a little more frequent rider alerts. We’re working out some of the kinks as to what rises to the level of needing a rider alert,” Gray said. “We probably don’t need an alert if it only means a five-minute delay.”

The problem is not Sound Transit providing too much information; it is Sound Transit providing the information in the wrong format. Having real-time train arrival information at stations (and elsewhere) solves the problem of issuing too many alerts for minor delays. Instead of posting an alert that trains are delayed 6 minutes, the delay is simply reflected in the predicted arrival times at each station for each affected train trip. If the delay gets severe, then broadcast an alert. While some might want to know why their train is being delayed, what everyone wants to know is how long the wait will be, which is useful information even under normal conditions.

WSDOT Taking Comments on 520 Westside Transit and Design

The Design Refinements and Transit Connections Draft Recommendations Report was released to the public on Monday along with the white papers explaining how the ESSB 6392 Workgroup’s Technical Coordination Team came to their conclusions on each aspect. The final version of the report along with public comments will be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature on October 1. The public comment period runs from September 13 through September 24.

You can view the report, white papers and submit your comments on the ESSB 6392 Workgroup’s home page.

Seattle’s Transit Tunnel Turns Twenty

Bus in the tunnel, 1990 (photo: Metro)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. On September 15, 1990 at 5 am, Metro commenced bus service through the newly completed Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The first routes to use the tunnel were the 71, 72, 73, 106 and 107. The 1.3-mile long tunnel with 5 unique stations was conceived in 1983 as an alternative to a 3rd Ave electric transit mall and cost $486 million. Construction began in 1987. 236 Breda dual-mode buses were purchased for the service. $1.5 million (1989) worth of public art was installed at stations.

In June of the same year: Trolleybuses returned to 3rd Ave after three years on 1st Ave during tunnel construction. The extension of the Waterfront Streetcar to the International District opened on June 23rd.

Not all routes served the tunnel from day one, it took almost two years for most of the routes that we know today to join the tunnel. In its first anniversary in 1991, the tunnel had 28,000 commuters a day and an estimated 6,200 additional people ride the buses during the day just to get around downtown. Ridership increased by 25% on Routes 71, 72 and 73, and by 22% on Route 150 between downtown and Auburn. The tunnel reduced travel times through downtown by more than half. A trip from Royal Brougham Way to Howell St used to take 20 minutes on the surface, now takes only 8 minutes through the tunnel. Later that year on December 8, the SODO busway opened, constructed for $4.5 million with federal funds from the I-90 project. On the February after, direct access ramps from the I-90 Express Lanes to the tunnel opened. These surface extensions to the tunnel allowed quicker and more reliable access from the south and east.

In September 2005, the tunnel closed for two years to prepare for light rail service as the original rails installed were not usable and with advances in light rail technology, namely low-floor cars. New signage, public address, and lighting systems were also installed.

According to Rochelle Ogershok with Metro, the tunnel now has 1,193 weekday bus trips, 725 Saturday bus trips, and 497 Sunday bus trips. Because of extended tunnel hours, there are now more riders and trips through the tunnel than before Link light rail opened. For most of its life, tunnel hours were 5 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday. After 2007, it was open weekdays only to 7 pm.

Metro doesn’t have any special event planned for this occasion but you can reminisce about the early days of the tunnel right here.

Yesterday’s SR 520 Meeting

Plan of bus stops on Montlake Lid
Location of bus stops on the Montlake Lid (WSDOT)

Yesterday, the SR 520 ESSB 6392 Workgroup held a meeting to discuss draft recommendations on various aspects of the SR 520 replacement project. Transit supporters will be disappointed to learn that very little has changed from the last meeting regarding bus stop locations and transit flow from Montlake Blvd to the UW Triangle. The second Montlake bascule bridge is thrown further in doubt with the Seattle City Council representative expressing concern with its construction timing and the need for a second bridge, while WSDOT staff are developing transit travel time and pedestrian/bicycle level-of-service measures that would trigger construction of the bridge. The bridge is expected to be the last piece of the project to be constructed, sometime around 2016-2018.  If you haven’t already, read Martin’s writeup on the changes coming to Montlake Blvd and the presentation from the meeting.

Analysis of the transit proposal and its impact on transit operations will be detailed in a technical report to be released on Monday, September 13. That same day at 2:30 pm, the Seattle City Council will convene a special committee meeting on SR 520. The public will be able to comment on the report and technical white papers until September 24. The next and final workgroup meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 18, 2010.

In attendance were representatives from WSDOT, SDOT, the University of Washington, Sound Transit, King County Metro and the Seattle City Council.

More details after the jump. Continue reading “Yesterday’s SR 520 Meeting”

Where In Bellevue Did They Vote for ST2?

The answer is mostly everywhere. To further nail the point Sherwin and John made yesterday, that the majority of Bellevue citizens support Sound Transit 2 and East Link, I made a map specifically showing only Bellevue precinct level results. The current East Link Preferred Alignment is also shown with both C9T and C11A options.

Click on map to download PDF version and enlarge.

While support and opposition is spread throughout the city, the map makes it easy to see what each neighborhood was thinking. 57% of votes from the two Surrey Downs precincts rejected ST2. Compare that to the majority of their neighbors in nearby Enatai, Bellecrest and Downtown who voted to approve ST2 and also the 56% citywide. Residents in precincts along the BNSF and Bel-Red corridor also had high approval.

Note that one precinct downtown is white. There was no data for that precinct. For those who want to dig in further, get the data extract and Bellevue precincts map.

This Train to Seattle

Next train sign at SeaTac/Airport Station
Next train sign at SeaTac/Airport Station

Sound Transit finally began using the variable message signs (VMS) at SeaTac/Airport Station to tell passengers which train is next to depart for Downtown Seattle. The message, “THIS TRAIN TO SEATTLE”, is put up on the signs next to the train to depart. The other set of signs continue to say “Welcome to SeaTac Airport”. There was one case when they were wrong. Signs were pointing to a train going out of service and returning to the yard. Another train arrived shortly and when the out-of-service train left the station the signs switched to the correct train. That suggests the signs are operated automatically though I do not know for sure.

This is a good development in informing passengers and hopefully leads to some kind of next train countdown display, which we all are hoping for without any indication it’s going to happen. Past solutions that Sound Transit used include sandwich board signs and manually switched lighted signs at Tukwila International Boulevard Station before Airport Link opened.

Othello Station Bazaar on Thursdays

Antiques dealer tent
An antiques dealer at the bazaar

Othello Partners, developer of two TOD projects across from Othello Station, is organizing a bazaar in the Citadel’s parking lot for the next two Thursdays (7/29, 8/5) from 11 am to 6 pm. Last Thursday was the second time it was hosted and featured antiques dealers, a coffee stand, and a cherry stand. More vendors are expected to participate in this week’s bazaar, possibly a vegetable stand and other crafts. Vendors are still wanted and the first time is free, then $25 per space. Details and contact information are in the Craigslist posting. Although the bazaar is scheduled to be held for only the next two Thursdays, the bazaar may be continued if successful, which would be a way of activating currently underused space and attracting people to the neighborhood.

As for other uses of the lot, parking is available at $5 per day or $50 per month. Othello Partners is looking for an investor to fund the construction a mixed use development of similar size to The Station at Othello Park.