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.

SR 520 Transit Service Increasing Soon

All-electronic tolling begins Spring 2011 on the 520 Bridge
In Spring 2011, some may avoid paying tolls by taking transit.

This October and next February, Metro will add service to Routes 255, 265, 271, and 311 as part of the Lake Washington Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA). Sound Transit is also adding service in October by introducing Route 542 between Redmond and the University District. The increased service will provide an alternative to paying a toll to cross the 520 bridge or driving other congested routes. Variable tolling on the SR 520 bridge will begin in Spring 2011.

According to the SR 520 and SR 522 Service Implementation Plan, tolls are expected to increase transit demand by 15-35%. A recent poll suggests that tolls will encourage transit use, with 16% of respondents choosing transit as one of many alternatives to tolls. That figure increases to 22% if both 520 and I-90 were tolled. Currently, 15,000 riders cross the 520 bridge every day. Routes 255 and 271 together provide 4,300 crosslake trips each weekday.

Funding for the 28,000 additional annual service hours will come from the property tax for transit, a part of which is dedicated to SR 520 service. On the transit capital side, the UPA grant provides $41 million, including $31 million for 41 new hybrid buses—28 for Metro and 13 for Sound Transit. Other investments include the recently completed Redmond P&R garage, a South Kirkland P&R garage (by 2014), new bus shelters, and real-time information displays.

Details of service additions and changes after the jump.

Continue reading “SR 520 Transit Service Increasing Soon”

RapidRide A Line Launch Outreach Begins

Rear driver side exterior view
RapidRide bus at Westlake

Metro first put its RapidRide bus on display at Westlake during Earth Day and announced October 2 as the launch date for the A Line. Last month, the King County Council approved the final station locations and service levels. Today, with 100 days left before launch, Metro has announced the dates when staff will be available for information on the new service, along with a RapidRide bus on display for people to check out. Metro will be at these public events, beginning this weekend:

  • June 26—Safety Fair (Federal Way Commons), 12-3 p.m.
  • June 27—Pride Parade (Seattle)
  • July 4—Fourth of July Parade (Burien), 3-4 p.m.
  • July 14—Tukwila International Blvd. Station, 7-9 a.m.
  • July 21—Federal Way Transit Center, 7-9 a.m.
  • July 31—Seafair Parade (Seattle)
  • August 11—Federal Way Park-and-Ride, 7-9 a.m.

According to Metro, the process of installing new station shelters has begun and they are finishing work on the fiber optic communications system along Pacific Highway. The system, dubbed IntelliDrive, enables transit signal priority and real-time bus information. RapidRide A is expected to be 30% faster than the 174 and attract 2.5 million riders annually within the next 5 years, a 50% increase over the 174’s ridership. We also learn that RapidRide buses will have onboard Wi-Fi service.

Clock for Trains Spotted at Mount Baker and Rainier Beach

The count up clock

Reader Michael Arnold tipped us off to new clocks at Rainier Beach and Mount Baker stations that count the time since the last train left the station. At Rainier Beach, the clock is installed on a pole by the northbound track before the crosswalk near existing train signals. At Mount Baker, it is installed on the overhead catenary support just south of the platform for southbound trains. “They’re designed to help keep the trains from bunching up on MLK,” according to Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray. He says the “shorthand for operators is this – if flashing, hold. If solid, make your signal call to proceed.”

Every time a train passes by those points and leaves a station, the clock resets to 0:00 and begins counting up. The elapsed time flashes until 4.5 minutes have passed at Rainier Beach or 5 minutes at Mount Baker, then stays solid. Although trains are nominally 10 minutes apart during the day, I observed that trains depart as soon as possible which can be a minute or two under ten.

Watch the clock in action in this video.

Changes in the Priority Seating Area

2+1 flip-up seats and a barrier
The new priority seating area

You may have noticed a change in the priority seating area on some of Metro’s buses lately. Metro is retrofitting its 60-foot low-floor articulated bus fleet with a new configuration for the priority seating area that matches the one found on the newest hybrid buses in service (6800 series). The new configuration features a split 1+2 flip-up seat and a barrier in front of the first row of front-facing seats. The barrier replaces the flip-up front-facing 2-person seat. Metro fleet procurement says this arrangement will “enhance passenger safety.” In addition to enhanced safety, the new arrangement adds an extra seat while a wheelchair user is occupying the space, even if it means a net loss of 2 seats per bus.

In related news, Metro is currently evaluating rear-facing ADA seating positions for passengers with mobility devices and a passive restraint system. The rear-facing position and passive restraint system is widely used on European and Canadian transit buses and can be seen locally on Swift BRT buses. No decision has been made to proceed with their installation, which could be on all new buses or specific buses like RapidRide.

Marko Liias Speaks at the Meetup

For those of you who never had a chance to attend our meetups, this is a glimpse of what it’s like. After some mingling, Martin introduces the bloggers and other notable guests. In the last meetup, Representative Marko Liias of Edmonds, a champion of transit in the State Legislature along with Geoff Simpson, got to speak briefly on the last legislative session. He expressed the need for a “broad base coalition” to get the Legislature and Senate to help transit agencies in crisis.

Many thanks to punkrawker4783 for producing the video.

Breaking: B2M and C9T is Preferred East Link Alternative

The Sound Transit Board unanimously moved to modify the preferred alternative for the East Link project as reported yesterday. B2 modified (112th Ave SE) and C9T (downtown tunnel) are now selected as the preferred alternative for the South Bellevue and Downtown Bellevue segments for East Link.

The Board also adopted a new fare policy and ST Express bus and Link light rail fare changes.

[Update from Sherwin:] Here is a press release (PDF) from ST that breaks down the meeting and motion.

Scans from the Central Link EIS

Elevated Alaska St (Columbia City) Station on MLK
Elevated Alaska St (Columbia City) Station on MLK

I wasn’t around for the public process of Central Link and I was curious to what was being considered before the preferred alignment was selected. I found a book of drawings from the 1999 Central Link Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) at the UW’s Engineering Library. Combing through the pages, I took some photos of a few pages that I was interested in. You can view the entire set on Flickr. Here are some findings that you may find interesting. It would be nice if someone who was involved could share their stories.

Focusing on the south section, there were quite a few alignment options. Getting to Mount Baker, there’s a I-90/Rainier path and the SODO/Beacon Hill path. Between Mount Baker and Othello, Link could’ve gone down the side of Rainier with a station at Columbia City then tunneling to a Graham St Station or elevated down MLK to Graham. There’s even a cross-section of a Graham Station in a cut below grade.

There was consideration of a center platform for Mount Baker Station. The Mount Baker Transit Center was going to be right next to the station instead of across the street. Rainier Beach Station had a full-fledged transit center. Both of them would be served by trolley buses.

You can see what Boeing Access Road Station might’ve looked like, complete with a Sounder platform and bus bays. Then there’s the Tukwila surface alignment on 99 or a Southcenter alignment with a station by the mall and an integrated Tukwila Sounder & Link station. We all know what we got in the end.

What I wasn’t aware of was the multiple options for serving Sea-Tac. Yes, there was an option with a station next to the terminal. There’s also one that expected shuttle buses to get people to the terminal, one integrated with the automated airport shuttle trains, and one that actually veered away from the airport before heading back to a station at International Blvd and S 200th St.

First Ad on Link Spotted

Apartments ad
Looking to Rent? Light Rail Stops Here!

Presenting the first advertisement on Link light rail. It is an ad for III Marks Apartments next to Tukwila International Boulevard Station. I like the station symbol included, as it gets people thinking about locations relative to Link stations (and transit lines, in general).

Last November, Clear Channel Outdoor was awarded a contract from Sound Transit to manage all revenue-generating advertising for the agency. This likely explains the absence of ads in the first few months of service of Link. Even after November, there’s a dearth of advertising on Link. The economy obviously affects ad sales but there must be some other reasons why we haven’t seen more ads. I’ve joked that we should have some ads for the blog on the train. Is it a policy to only allow businesses along the line to advertise on Link? Neither Sound Transit nor Clear Channel Outdoor have responded to a request for more information.

Metro’s February Service Change Now Online

Details on the changes in Metro bus service, effective February 6th, are available online. New red timetables and a special rider alert brochure will soon be available. The changes are now live on the Trip Planner and timetables will be posted online on February 5. This is a major service change, with over 80 bus routes affected. Highlights are:

  • New Route 156 to replace part of Route 140 service in McMicken Heights and will serve Southcenter, SeaTac/Airport Link, and Tukwila Sounder stations.
  • Route 194 replaced by Link light rail and expanded service on ST Express routes 574, 577, and 578.
  • Route 140 now serves Tukwila International Blvd station via Southcenter Blvd. It no longer serves McMicken Heights (use Route 156), the airport (use Link), and Air Cargo Rd (use Route 180).
  • ST 560 and 574 will be the only routes serving the Sea-Tac Airport terminal stops. All other routes will serve SeaTac/Airport Station (including ST 574)
  • Routes 76, 77, 216, 218, and 316 move to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
  • Long-term construction reroutes for 73, 77, and 316 373 in the Northgate area.
  • More frequent service on routes 8, 9, 36 and 60 to improve connections to Link
  • More trips on routes between West Seattle, SODO, and downtown Seattle as mitigation for Viaduct construction.
  • Trip reductions on approximately 40 Metro routes

Previously covered: Sound Transit service changes, also on Feb 6.

Shield Your ORCA with Aluminum Foil

Many people, like myself, now have ORCA cards issued by their employer in addition to the personal card they own. I carry both of them in my wallet. The problem is I can’t tap my wallet on the reader with two cards. The reader tells me “one card at a time please” and prevents double-charging, which is a good thing but it requires me to take the card out to tap. My solution to this is to wrap my personal card in aluminum foil, then keep the card separated from the other ORCA card with the other cards in my wallet. The first time I did this was with 10 layers of foil but I tried with just a single layer and it works. The metallic foil effectively shields the card from radio waves and prevents it from being read. The other cards keep the foil far enough from the card you want to be readable. This means only the side of the wallet that the unwrapped card is on can be read.

I’m aware that there are similar products for passports, enhanced drivers licenses, debit cards and other contactless cards but this is a quick and cheap solution you can do at home. This trick also appeals to people who don’t want strangers ‘sniffing’ their contactless cards for potentially malicious purposes.

Disposable ORCA Card Coming?

MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo by Oran
MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo: author

Low-income transit riders and tourists may not have to pay $10 to get an ORCA card if a disposable, low-cost version is offered. According to an article by Krista Kipp of the Seattle Jobs Initiative in the November 2009 issue of the ATU Local 587 News Review, a disposable card was planned to be offered when ORCA was being developed, but it was dropped due to security concerns. Kipp writes that the ORCA transit agencies are bringing this option back. It is currently under development and won’t be available after mid-2010, at the earliest.

A 2004 press release from Phillips, the vendor providing the MIFARE smart card technology for the ORCA project, reveals more details about what the disposable ORCA card would’ve been like. The disposable card is “specifically aimed at the collector, tourism and human service program application areas” and “will have specialized graphics and be pre-valued with a set amount of money (e.g. $20), a set number of rides (e.g. 10), or a set period of time (e.g. 7 days after first use).”

The article also mentions King County Metro’s efforts to mitigate the impact of ORCA on low-income residents by extending the Commuter Bonus Voucher program for human services agencies and allowing those agencies to purchase ORCA cards for $3 with a $3 minimum load. The vouchers can be exchanged for bus tickets, which will continue to be sold.

Low-income transit riders and tourists are affected by the transition to ORCA because of the initial cost of acquiring the card and new fare policies. Inter-system transfers and intra-system transfers on most agencies except Metro and Pierce Transit will require an ORCA card beginning January 1, 2010. After January 31, an ORCA card will cost $5 and $5 is the minimum value that must be loaded on the card at purchase, for a total cost of $10.

An example of a disposable smart card is MARTA’s Breeze Ticket, which costs 50¢, expires after 90 days and has limited functionality.

Swift Preview Ride

Swift bus at Airport Road (photo by author)
Swift bus at Airport Road (photo by author)

Community Transit conducted a dry run (simulated operations) of Swift BRT on Monday and STB was offered an opportunity to ride. CT is doing final testing and driver training before service begins on Sunday afternoon.

I boarded Swift with Community Transit representative Mike Allende at the Airport Road Northbound Station for Everett. The Swift bus pulled in really close to the curb and the doors lined up with markers on the platform called “welcome mats”. This process currently takes about 10 seconds but should be reduced as drivers get used to it. As to why no level boarding? CT considered it but decided to go with a slight step. One reason given was that roadway and vehicle conditions can vary, making it difficult to guarantee a level boarding every time. A fully loaded bus, tire pressure, ruts in the roadway, for example, creates a height difference. Combine that with the expectation of level boarding and people might trip when it isn’t truly level. The bus dwelled for 10 seconds and then we were on our way. Swift will make stops at every station like a light rail train. There are no bell cords but there’s a special request button for wheelchair users.

Continue reading after the jump…

Continue reading “Swift Preview Ride”