Community Transit Proposing Fare Increases & Service Cuts

To plug a $11 million budget gap, Community Transit is proposing a 25-cent fare increase along with service cuts and suspensions.  The biggest blow to riders is a proposal that would effectively suspend Sunday and holiday service. For the past two years, the agency has been limiting budget cuts in non-service related areas with the exception of a 75-cent fare increase back during the summer of 2008 when fuel prices peaked.  If approved by the CT Board, the changes will go in effect in June.

Nearly all of Community Transit’s 64 local and commuter bus routes would be affected in an effort to eliminate service that is duplicated by other providers, streamline routes and make existing service more efficient. The agency is also proposing to suspend all service on Sundays and major holidays, including DART paratransit service and Swift bus rapid transit. By closing its base on these lower ridership days, the agency achieves 47 percent of the proposal’s savings with only 35 percent of total service hours cut and an impact to fewer customers.

The proposed fare increase would raise local bus and DART fares by 25 cents for all fare categories: youth, adult and reduced fare (senior/disabled/Medicare). Even with the proposed fare increase, Community Transit’s local bus fares would be comparable with other local transit fares in the region. The proposed fare increase would raise about $250,000 in the second half of 2010 and $500,000 in 2011.

Community Transit has a page up for exact route-to-route cuts and suspensions as well as more information on the fare changes.  The agency is also holding five public meetings over the course of January to keep its riders informed about the changes.

Jan. 12, 5:30-7 p.m.
Snohomish County South County PUD office, 21018 Highway 99, Edmonds

Jan. 14, 6:30-8 p.m.
Marysville Library, 6120 Grove St., Marysville

Jan. 19, 10 a.m.-noon
Everett Station Weyerhaeuser Room, 3201 Smith Ave., Everett, on the fourth floor
This meeting will focus on impacts to DART paratransit customers.

Jan. 20, 5:30-7 p.m.
Monroe School District Administration Building, 200 E. Fremont St., Monroe

Jan. 26, 6:30-8 p.m.
Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace

Ride Link Without Pants This Sunday

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If you’ve got nothing better to do this Sunday, here’s another excuse to take Link.  New York-based Improv Everywhere is having its 8th annual ‘No Pants! Subway Ride’ and invites cities around the world to pantslessly jump on board.  With light rail now up and running in Seattle, Emerald City Improv is snagging the chance for locals to participate in the global event.  The ‘No Pants’ ride, which was conceived in 2002, attracted 1200 participants in New York City alone last year plus 1000 more in other cities.  Here is some information about this year’s Seattle event (RSVP on the Facebook page):

Every January, Improv Everywhere in New York stages their annual “No Pants! Subway Ride.” Cities around the globe participate. This year, Emerald City Improv in Seattle invites you to participate in our first annual “No Pants! Light Rail Ride.”

This event will occur SUNDAY, JANUARY 10th, from 12:00- 3:00

REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTICIPATION:
1) Willing to take pants off on light rail
2) Able to keep a straight face about it

WHERE TO MEET:
Meet at the plaza at 4th Ave and Pine St, across from Westlake Center, at noon.

For the sake of decency, though, you’ll probably need to wear underpants.  Assuming ST police and security manage not to throw any fits, we should hope to avoid what happened in New York during their 5th annual ‘No Pants!’ ride:

The fifth annual No Pants ride was abruptly halted by a cop. All passengers, including those not participating, were forced to exit the train as it was taken out of service. 8 people were handcuffed in their underwear and taken into custody. A month later a judge dismissed all of the charges. It is not illegal to wear your underwear in public in New York City. Just ask the Naked Cowboy. The incident was reported by news agencies around the world. David Letterman made two monologue jokes, about it and staged a No Pants Cab Ride as a parody. Keith Olbermann interviewed Agent Todd about the legality of No Pants. Around 150 people participated in the ride.

Editorial: A Growing Gap Between Real Estate & Land Use

Bellevue Towers under construction in 2007

The issue I have with real estate developers these days is the fact that a number of them don’t see real estate as a “multiplier” (in other words, something that influences a bigger picture).  For some, it’s a businessman’s game, where politics and money sort of run the show– to the point where properties are nothing more than a “meaningful” investment of which a return is to be reaped.  And that’s it: if rent and revenue can exceed capital, contracts, and taxes, then the development is a fiscal winner.  On the other end, many of these businessmen aren’t terribly concerned with land use on the micro and macro scale.  A number of industrial and suburban tract developers have failed to realize the detrimental potency of their impacts.  To them, it’s nothing more than meeting codes and zoning, mitigating impacts, and just being superficially accommodating to the public.  It’s a necessity, or a hassle, for them to have to show for a bit of humanity by flashing a smile through the bureaucratic layers between concerned citizens and city planners.

‘Land use’ is pretty much a term that’s been dropped out of the corporatist developer’s handbook.  I think the humanism that really evolved with architects like Alvar Aalto hasn’t just been overlooked, but essentially forgotten. What does it mean to make a property really “meaningful?”  To be able to accommodate patrons and inhabitants is almost a qualifying prerequisite to conceiving any structure, but the real test is the relationship the property has with not just the neighborhood, but the precinct, the city, the region, and all its residents.  On a multitude of levels do we begin to understand how real estate establishes land use not just in environment and planning, but in form, functionalism, humanism, and more.  In this age, we’ve allowed the markets to drain the life and soul out of the very vessels we build to live, work, and shop in.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: A Growing Gap Between Real Estate & Land Use”

Can HSR Really Compete with Air Travel?

Yes, and it’s already happening.  Here’s a little Christmas gift for high-speed rail (HSR) fans.  I just pulled this Guardian UK article from August (via The Infrastructurist) about how the demand for HSR in Germany is really starting to crowd out the airline market.  For an option that was once better than taking the car, but not as good as flying, rail is becoming the predominant mode in the intercity travel market.  Many short-haul train trips are now faster than comparable plane trips.  According to Pierre-Stephane Austi, CEO of Rail Europe, trains are, on average, a quicker ride than planes for distances up to 1500km (932 miles– for comparison, roughly the distance from Seattle to Fresno) when factoring in check-in, security, and recommended buffer time for air travelers.

It’s a phenomenon that’s beginning to be realized across Europe, where 90% of travelers between London and Paris are now taking the Eurostar over any airline.  For a train to beat a car in the States is quite a feat, but winning over air travel is pretty unthinkable, at least for now.  From the Guardian:

The journey considered to be the nearest modern equivalent to magic carpet rides is the Cologne-Frankfurt route, which used to take over two hours but has been cut to just over an hour. Taking the car is hardly an alternative, when even whizzing in your BMW on the speed limit-free autobahn would take twice as long as the train. Berlin to Hamburg by rail now takes about 90 minutes, whereas a few years ago a flight would have taken at least two hours, taking check-in time into account.

Okay, Secretary LaHood and America, let’s get on it!

[UPDATE: This isn’t exclusive to just Europe.  The China Post reports that a Wuhan-Guangzhou HSR line will hit the airline industry hard there (H/T: Gordon Werner).]

APTA: Transit Ridership Down Nationwide

Link Departing Mt. Baker Station, by DWHonan
Link Departing Mt. Baker Station, by DWHonan

After we reported the largely meaningless Link ridership numbers last week, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) just released numbers from Q3 of 2009 (pdf), revealing a continuing trend in dropping transit ridership this year.  This comes a year after surging oil prices resulted in record ridership in 2008.  The primary contributing factor is the unemployment rate and the economic downturn, as nearly 60% of transit rides are commute trips.  According to Warren Millar, President of APTA, both public transit and unemployment rate correlate as lagging economic indicators.

Funnily enough, it should be no surprise that Seattle had an infinite increase in light rail ridership over last year (marked as a >100 percent change).  Here is the APTA’s breakdown of the numbers:

Paratransit (demand response) and trolleybus were the only two modes that saw increases in ridership.  Paratransit ridership increased by 3.7 percent and trolleybus ridership increased by 0.7 percent from January through September 2009.

Light rail (streetcars, trolleys) had a slight decrease less than one percent (-0.7).  Light rail systems in seven cities reported an increase in the first nine months.  They are as follows: Philadelphia, PA (17.5%); Oceanside, CA (17.3%); Baltimore, MD (13.9%); Memphis, TN (11.6%); Tampa, FL (7.0 %); San Francisco, CA (1.1%).  A new line on the light rail system in Seattle, WA has led to more than 100% growth in the first nine months of 2009.

Heavy rail (subways) declined by 3.0 percent.  Los Angeles Metro heavy rail continued its trend of increased ridership with an increase of 6.0 percent for the first nine months.  Ridership on the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority (WMATA) increased by 0.6 percent for the same time period.

Commuter rail ridership decreased by 5.1 percent.  Commuter rail ridership increases were recorded in the following cities:  Boston, MA (2.4%); New Haven, CT (1.4%); and Alexandria, VA (1.3%).  A major extension of commuter rail in New Mexico from Albuquerque to Santa Fe led to more than a 100 percent increase from January through September 2009.

Bus ridership declined by 5.0 percent in the first nine months of 2009.  In the largest bus ridership report, bus trips increased in San Francisco, CA by 1.1 percent.  Bus travel in the smallest population area (below 100,000) decreased by only 1.0 percent — the smallest percent decrease of all population groups.

Nationwide transit ridership from 1999 to 2009 (click to enlarge)
Nationwide transit ridership from 1999 to 2009 (click to enlarge)

Even with the recent dip, transit ridership is still historically higher than it was in the mid 2000s (when unemployment rate was at its lowest), indicating that the slumping labor markets have still been unable to offset the trips gained in 2008.

With an actual net gain in ridership since Q1 of 2007, the numbers aren’t as bad as news media like USA Today are making them sound.  It’s likely that falling oil prices may have had as much to do with diminishing transit use as unemployment did.

Say Goodbye to the Airport Connector Shuttle

[UPDATE: New media added below.] No more getting off at Tukwila and hopping aboard a musty old connector shuttle to the airport.  SeaTac/Airport Station officially opened this morning to the cheers and applause of many.

By all accounts, the opening of Airport Link was a success.  Dignitaries, politicians, members of the press, laborers, and those involved with the project were all on hand to christen the new station this morning.  Attendees were treated to refreshments and live music from the Highline High School jazz band.  After cutting the ribbon from the East entrance at the International Blvd skybridge, a speaking ceremony was held where all the important project people had words to say about the milestone, with Mayor Nickels emceeing.

The Mayor took a brief swing at Gabriel Campanario of the Seattle Times for titling an Airport Link editorial as “Light rail reaches airport, no longer a train to nowhere,” apologetically considering Columbia City, Othello, Beacon Hill, and all the other stations from end to end.  It wasn’t without irony, though, that the Mayor followed-up by saying that the train was already going somewhere, but now it’s going “somewhere better.”

Following the speaking ceremony, the second ribbon was cut at the West entrance from the parking garage skybridge. And it goes without saying that we all agree– the walk to the terminal is nothing.  I had more trouble getting from the bus bays at the south end of the terminal to the north end.  To honor the leaders that worked on the entire Central Link project, Joni Earl unveiled two bronze plaques dedicated to the Board and other influential persons, one to be placed at SeaTac Station, and the other at Mt. Baker Station, where the dedication ceremony of the initial segment was held.

After the second ribbon cutting, everyone trooped up to the platform to witness the first inbound train, which came in to break through the third ribbon shortly after 10am.  The entire blog staff, with the exception of Brian, gathered to meet some regular commenters and pose for a quick photo op.  By luck, John was able to join us via the first revenue train coming all the way from Westlake, without knowing it until reaching Tukwila.

Here is some media from the event:

Airport Link Opening Tomorrow: T Minus 17 hours

In preparation for the grand opening of Airport Link tomorrow, Sound Transit invited members of the press aboard Link for a quick preview ride to the airport and back.  With the Certificate of Occupancy signed, crews are now working on polishing up the station for Saturday’s big event.  You can read Martin’s detailed coverage last month of SeaTac Station and the opening day announcement, where Senator Murray was there to break the news, along with several other dignitaries.  Oran and Brian were on hand yesterday to take video and photos, along with Cian Hayes, who Ben mentioned was officially the first passenger to board a plane from Link.  You can visit our Flickr Pool with some new photos of the station, as well as the video of the preview ride above, shot by Oran.

Among the other firsts, Oran found the ORCA readers to be up and running and tapped in along with Brian, which we believe made them both the first revenue passengers to use Airport Link.  More of the preview ride below the jump.
Continue reading “Airport Link Opening Tomorrow: T Minus 17 hours”

Is Spokane the Next in Line for Streetcars?

Early last year, we uncovered some dirt on a potential streetcar study for Spokane.  The Spokesman Review is now reporting that new information has come to light about the Lilac City’s most recent efforts to employ streetcars in its downtown transit network.  The Spokane Transit Authority (STA) is using $360,000 in federal and state grant funds to commission the study. As part of the plan, the agency is asking local residents to become part of its Sounding Board to help plan for what it calls a High Performance Transit Network, which could either be implemented via electric trolleybuses, streetcars, or other modes.

While light rail has been a hot concept in Spokane for several years,  the political effort was ditched in 2006 when STA disbanded a LRT planning committee. However, Susan Meyer, STA’s CEO, has raised the possibility of some kind of tram/light rail hybrid with an exclusive right-of-way for the Spokane Valley corridor[UPDATE: Commenter Bobby Bebar says that Meyer is referring to an electric trolleybus.]:

Along with other alternatives, Meyer wants the agency to study the possibility of electric rapid transit on separated traffic alignment, which can be accomplished for about 15 percent of the cost of light rail. That Spokane Valley corridor study would update work previously done for a light rail project.

In related news, the Idaho Statesman is reporting that Boise’s proposed LID (local improvement district) for its streetcar loop is getting mixed reviews, particularly from tax-exempt non-profit organizations who will end up having to chip in anyway.

Smartly Disallowing Park & Rides along Central Link

Othello TOD Rising by Oran
'Othello TOD Rising' by Oran

Back in October, on a Sound Transit 554 Express to Issaquah, I overheard a conversation between an elderly passenger and the bus driver.  The older gentleman praised our bus system (in comparison to MTA in Los Angeles) and lauded the ease of traveling between Issaquah and Seattle.  After a few minutes, the conversation shifted to Link Light Rail, where the passenger further expressed content with the region’s efforts to expand rail.  The driver had an interesting response: “You know what’s really dumb, though?  They didn’t build any park and rides along the line!  How are you gonna take the train if you can’t even get to the station?”

With the exception of Tukwila/Int’l Blvd. Station, the decision not to add park and rides along Central Link’s initial segment has touched off this fiery debate among transit proponents: should parking be added at rail stations?  This issue has been a bigger point of contention when it comes to low-density suburbs, like South Bellevue.   However, the absence of park and ride facilities in the case of the Rainier Valley segment was probably a wisely measured decision by Sound Transit.   Most importantly, we should remember that the benefits of disallowing parking at rail stations aren’t generally realized in the short-term.  Rail and real estate development, being long-term investments, yield tremendous return when done right in the present.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Smartly Disallowing Park & Rides along Central Link”

Kevin Wallace Responds

Kevin Wallace (Wallace Properties)
Kevin Wallace (Wallace Properties)

We wanted to give Kevin Wallace a chance to address the many concerns that you had with his recent Vision Line proposal and to defend the premise behind his idea.  I had the opportunity to bring forth some of the questions that arose during our open question thread and hear more about Wallace’s reasoning for picking the controversial alignment.  Prior to asking him your specific questions, he briefed me on why he developed the Vision Line the way he did.

Wallace has four basic premises behind the proposal:

  • The minimization of impacts on homes, businesses, and roads.
  • An alignment within Sound Transit’s budget.
  • Rail that will enhance the city’s multi-modal transportation system and preserve city roads.
  • A system that provides potential for [transit-oriented] development.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Kevin Wallace Responds”

Vision Line Comments and DT Bellevue Workshop Recap

The C4A Preferred Alternative from Sound Transit
The C4A Preferred Alternative from Sound Transit

I attended last night’s workshop for the Downtown Bellevue segment of East Link.  After the meeting, I talked to Kevin Wallace briefly about the Vision Line.  I will be meeting with him on Friday to further discuss details about the plan.  I’ll also compile a list of questions or concerns that you might have, so leave a comment below if you have a question you want to ask Kevin about this new proposal.  As much as you may disagree with this proposed line or even the premise of it, keep the comments civil and practical.  Avoid statements like “What’s with the circusy station?  It’s ugly!”  I won’t be able to ask him all of your questions, but I will bring forth the most pressing issues.

Below is a recap of the workshop written in real-time.

WORKSHOP RECAP

I’m currently at the Downtown Bellevue workshop for East Link at Bellevue City Hall.  Like the three neighborhood workshops that came before this one, public comment booths for each downtown alternative are out with strip plots and maps detailing the plan and elevation of each alignment.  Vision Line Coalition folks are aggressively lobbying outside the meeting area and handing out literature to attendees about Kevin Wallace’s proposed alternative.  The turnout is fairly high tonight with at least 100, give or take, in attendance.  The minutes of the presentation are below the jump.

Continue reading “Vision Line Comments and DT Bellevue Workshop Recap”

Kevin Wallace’s ‘Vision Line’

Painting of the proposed 'Vision Line'
Painting of the Vision Line © 2009 J. Craig Thorpe commissioned by Vision Line Coalition, LLC

The Bellevue Reporter released details this morning on Kevin Wallace’s proposed alignment of East Link— what he dubs the ‘Vision Line.’  The proposal essentially calls for the use of the BNSF corridor (B7 alternative), which would bypass the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and an alignment along 114th Ave NE through downtown before crossing I-405.  This alternative would run right along the freeway and is furthest from the downtown core than any of the other DEIS alternatives.  To address the distance factor, the plan calls for a covered walkway that leads to the Bellevue Transit Center.  Wallace has stated before that he believes a surface alignment would be too disruptive and a tunnel would be too costly.

From the Bellevue Reporter:

The Vision Line aims to protect residential homes and downtown businesses. But it adds another option to a growing list of alternatives for Sound Transit’s East Link light rail project.

Wallace is asking that Sound Transit consider his plan as part of the East Link environmental-review process.

Arup, the San-Francisco based consulting firm that undertook the study, has full details of its Phase A study here.  One important thing to remember is that this first phase of the plan has not taken ridership into account, an integral factor into making East Link cost-effective.  However, Wallace believes that the ridership will be comparable with the other alternatives while still bringing down the costs of the Bellevue alignment.  We’ll have a follow-up soon with these concerns and questions addressed directly by Wallace.

Sound Transit to hold Downtown Bellevue Workshop

East Link rendering from Sound Transit
East Link rendering from Sound Transit

Sound Transit will have its fourth public neighborhood workshop for East Link on Wednesday, November 18th, from 4 – 7pm (presentation will begin at 5pm) at Bellevue City Hall.  This workshop will be specific to the Downtown neighborhood and will likely be similar to the ones held last month for South Bellevue, Bel-Red, and Overlake (you can read our recap of the South Bellevue workshop here).

From Sound Transit:

This workshop will be focused on the downtown Bellevue preferred route and stations, identified by the Sound Transit Board, as well as the tunnel alternatives. Additional public meetings will be scheduled throughout the East Link project area as Sound Transit continues to progress into preliminary engineering along the preferred alternative.

We expect a lot of folks coming out against the preferred surface alignment and South Bellevue residents still continuing to lobby for the B7 alignment coming into Downtown.  Also expect input regarding the new C9T tunnel option.  This is all part of a public outreach period to collect comments before Sound Transit publishes its FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) next year.  I will be there to cover the workshop and we’ll have a recap up soon afterwards.

[UPDATE:] On Thursday, the Sound Transit board was briefed on yet another new Downtown alternative.  This alignment would be an elevated-surface hybrid with the  main downtown station being just south of the Bellevue Transit Center along 110th Ave NE.  Considering that a surface segment is still part of the plan, it’s unclear how the council members-elect will react to the new alternative.  We expect to hear the details of Kevin Wallace’s full plan soon, so stay tuned for our continuing coverage of East Link.

Metro Reroutes for Friday Morning’s Procession

To accommodate Friday morning’s procession for slain officer Timothy Brenton, King County Metro has released the rerouted detours for all routes that will be affected by lie in the path of the procession, which is expected to last from 9am to 11am.  However, traffic is expected to be affected as early as 8am and as late as 1pm.  As far as we know, Metro has not made a clear update linking to all of the reroutes, so we’ve taken the liberty of identifying all of them (pdf).*

[UPDATE: 11:28am] *The procession is now over and Metro has pulled most, if not all, of the reroutes.  A statement was issued:

The procession has concluded.  All buses are back to regular route.  While there are still some delays, most buses are back on schedule.   Expect trolley routes to take a little longer to get back on regular schedule.

While there are no post memorial reroutes, you may experience delays due to heavy traffic around the Seattle Center during and after the event.

Thank you for your understanding and patience during this event.

[UPDATE: 6:53am] Metro has added information about the shuttle and more reroutes.  Commenter Transit Supervisor was also kind enough to post specific information about the Queen Anne Shuttle:

– From 2/Clay, via 3 Av, Broad St, Western Av, Western Av W, 2 Av W, via Rt 1 to Kinnear, via the wire to the Rt 2 terminal, continues as inbound 2 to Queen Anne/Galer, left on Queen Anne via Rt 13 to SPU. Opposite in reverse, except that the motor coach will follow regular Rt 1 routing SB on Queen Anne Av N. NB signed “W Queen Anne via SHUTTLE” and SB signed as “To Seattle Center West”

– The other is the Rt 4 Night/Sun routing between the top of the hill and 5 Av N & Valley St. Signed NB “4 E Queen Anne via Nite/Sun Rt” and SB “To Seattle Center East”

See the list of links to individual bus routes below the jump. Continue reading “Metro Reroutes for Friday Morning’s Procession”

Editorial: Reasons why Central Link wasn’t a political ploy

ZOOM!, by Mike Bjork
ZOOM!, by Mike Bjork

Frankly, I wasn’t around actively advocating for Sound Transit’s Central Link when it was being conceived, but one common criticism that I’ve heard rail opponents iterate time and time again is that the Central Link alignment was some sort of a political ploy or gimmick. “Why Tukwila of all places? People don’t go to the airport on a daily basis. Why not the suburbs first?”  First of all, it’s rather ironic that the same people wanting to block light rail to the Eastside (and anywhere else in general) are tied with those who criticize the Central Link alignment and throw their hands up in the air asking why the suburbs were not Link’s first destination.  It’s a fair indication that these people are just against rail transit in general under the pretense of a number of other excuses up their sleeves.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: Reasons why Central Link wasn’t a political ploy”

The Highway vs. Fixed Transit Debate

40mph, by Mike Bjork
40mph, by Mike Bjork

There is a lot of manipulation and fact distorting when it comes to the debate between highway and road benefits versus fixed rail transit.  One of the biggest claims to have been made against Link is that it’s a “boondoggle,” a “waste of money,” and that “no one” ever rides the trains.  I pulled up an old document from the American Dream Coalition (ADC), a big anti-rail group, which compiled a laundry list of “facts” against what it calls “myths” of rail transit.  It’s a long list of points, many of which we’ve already debunked, but I thought I’d highlight a few that are relevant to the comparison often being made between roads and rail.

Rebuttals below the jump.

Continue reading “The Highway vs. Fixed Transit Debate”

South Bellevue East Link workshop recap

Sound Transit
South Bellevue Preferred Alignment (Sound Transit)

[Ed. Note: Our newest Contributor, Sherwin Lee, wrote this last week at his Lingua Urbana blog. We’ll be cross-posting some of his greatest hits as he starts writing original pieces for STB.]

I’m currently at the South Bellevue East Link workshop to take notes and ask about some key issues facing Link.  I’ve got no access to wi-fi or internet, so I won’t be live blogging, but these are real-time notes as they happened.

5:16pm: I’ve arrived at Bellevue High School for the South Bellevue East Link workshop.  Supporters of the B7/BNSF right-of-way alignment are outside handing out literature in defense of that particular alternative.  I take one and politely brush past them.

5:20pm: An open workshop with a number of booths is set up for public input.  The presentation is scheduled to begin around roughly 5:30pm.  Each booth has renderings and drafts of different phases of the guideway that follows the preferred alternative.  I hear a very elderly gentleman utter “that from everything [he’s] read, those trains can’t run across the I-90 bridge!”  I hold my tongue.

More of the workshop below the jump.

Continue reading “South Bellevue East Link workshop recap”