10 Ways King County Metro is Better than Ever

We shouldn’t lose sight of many ways King County Metro service has improved in the past several years.  It is easy to do so in the midst of the constant financial struggles, plans for service cuts and measures to shore up funding (Plans A, B, C and now D) that dominate the news lately.  This post catalogs 10 improvements that Metro has introduced over the past years – in case you are new or forgot how it used to be.

I began riding Metro buses around 15 years ago, and for many of those years catching a bus meant pulling out your trusty printed schedule, seeing when the next 30-minute frequency bus was scheduled, walking to the stop at the appropriate time, waiting 0 to 10 minutes for arrival (it was impossible to know when the bus would actually arrive), instinctively knowing whether to pay upon boarding (cash, paper ticket or flash pass ready) or later when exiting, after watching the surroundings carefully to know when I had arrived. Some people in some places still travel this way on transit, but Metro has provided lots of better options.

The top 10 Metro improvements begin after the jump.

Continue reading “10 Ways King County Metro is Better than Ever”

Please Photograph Transit

Black & White of SoDo Station as Central Link Train is About to Arrive

My black & white conversion of a Central Link train approaching SoDo Station

I encourage you to please take photos of transit.  That full or almost full bus you’re riding on?  Get a picture – then post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group.  It helps lobby politicians for more transit service a lot more than just a quick, polite e-mail (which is always good).  I’m certainly not asking for perfect pictures – just a quick iPod or phone picture will do.

When you see something innovative like Swift Bus Rapid Transit, Seattle Streetcar or a transit operator doing a great job?  Get a few pictures, then post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group what you got please.

When you see something newsworthy or understand the need to build up stock photography for editorial copy?  Post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group what you have, please.

When you can, please take a helicopter flight (perhaps using this Groupon as I did) and get some aerial photos involving transit.  Then post to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Group what you have, with some comments on what you saw.  Perhaps also add a paragraph about how you think the land use is or isn’t compatible with mass transit plans.

Also I moderate a group called Photoshopped Transit.  That’s for folks like I that like to use mass transit as an opportunity to practice post processing techniques such as black & white conversions, selective saturation, photoshopping logos and the like.  Even if you just use an iPad, iPod or iPhone with the VSCO Cam app adding easy color – that’s good enough for my group.  Not asking for epic artwork here, just some artistic effort.

Why?  Ultimately transit photography can be a non-confrontational way to advocate for transit.  I know many of us in the Seattle Transit Blog community wish away election campaigns and shy away from politicking for a litany of reasons.  Transit photography is a way to campaign without having to play the political games we have to play and play to win.

What is Financial Sustainability for Metro?

Kevin Desmond, King County Metro Transit General Manager
Kevin Desmond, King County Metro Transit General Manager

As the County Council deliberates the 2015-2016 budget, one of the most important discussions is how to maintain Metro’s current level of bus service today without increasing the risk of even greater service cuts in the future when the next, inevitable recession hits our region. Here at Metro, our goal is to avoid past experiences in which overly optimistic revenue forecasts failed to materialize and, as a result, we were unable to deliver the services promised to the public.

The topic is hotly debated, including on this blog. We welcome public discussion and ideas for developing a long-term sustainable funding model for Metro. I read Mr. Whitehead’s recent analysis, and while it includes good observations it overlooks two important aspects: the inherent volatility of sales tax revenue, and the disconnect between the formal economic forecast that predicts uninterrupted growth and the well-established cycle that our region experiences a periodic recession.

This is an important and honest debate. We’ve taken major steps over six years to preserve service through innovation and continuous improvement.  The proposed 2015-2016 budget reflects these realized savings and finds new ways to preserve some additional service previously proposed for cuts. For the first time in preparing Metro’s budget, we analyzed historical impacts of mild to severe recessions. Through this analysis, it was determined that a prudent reserve target should be set at levels that would allow us to ride out something in between:  a moderate recession lasting three to four years. The reserve account is aptly named the Revenue Stabilization Reserve and was created by the County Council in 2011 to serve exactly this function of moderating and absorbing the unpredictable swings of our economy. Until now there was insufficient revenue to put into this fund.

Over the longer term, we also want to have a budget and finances that we believe are sustainable. Let’s remember, twice since 2000 Metro has relied on optimistic and ever-growing forecasts of future revenue only to have recessions (the dot-com recession of 2001-02 and the Great Recession of 2008-10) wipe out expected revenue as people stopped spending – causing Metro to scale back promises of added service. (See sales tax volatility chart – which shows recessions in the 1990s, early 2000s and 2008.)

salestaxgrowthUnder county code, Metro must use the independent Office of Economic and Financial Analysis forecast which in its most recent forecast shows uninterrupted sales tax increases from 2011-2024.  Such sustained growth would be without precedent, but Metro accepted these forecasts in the past: in 2000 after the 0.2 percent sales tax measure that partially replaced MVET, and in 2006 with the 0.1 percent sales tax for Transit Now.  The 2015-2016 budget the Executive submitted and that Whitehead refers to also must use this forecast. Therefore the near and mid-term financial balance sheet shows substantial cash in our Revenue Stabilization Reserve (aka rainy day fund).  Readers must remember this is a forecast; we have not collected this money, it exists only on paper. Continue reading “What is Financial Sustainability for Metro?”

How to expand transit service, one neighborhood at a time

Blue Moon

A few weeks ago, a neighbor of mine in the Issaquah Highlands noted that the 1,000-parking-space Park and Ride near our neighborhood was filled to capacity on a recent weekday. I got to thinking, if people wanted to use public transit in our relatively dense neighborhood, that park and ride is all we have. The majority of our neighborhood’s homes aren’t within 1/4 of a mile of the bus routes, and there’s a decent sized hill between many homes and the park and ride.

I decided to seek a rush hour shuttle service that would take people from where they live and get them to the park and ride, where there are several rush hour bus routes to Bellevue, Issaquah and Seattle. At a time of service cuts at Metro, there is no chance of a service expansion — in fact Metro recently cut service on several of our city’s routes.

However, Metro does have a program to allow cities to buy service. I contacted Metro and spoke with Michelle Allison, a self described “transit geek” working on the Community Mobility Contracts project, which allows cities to purchase Metro service. Community Mobility Contracts are a “full cost recovery” program, meaning that cities pay 100% of net costs to Metro. So if the route would cost $200,000 a year, that’s what it costs your city.  Also, even if your route happens to recover an above-average amount at the fare box, they charge you the system average. For example, if you collect $100 in fares on your route that costs $200, Metro only gives you credit for collecting $60.  For a low-performing line, this could be a benefit.  For a high-performing line, it would be a drawback.  My quick math (based on this article) is that a shuttle service like this might actually net higher than average cost recovery, so this makes Metro’s service look less desirable than it might otherwise look.

Next, I approached Hopelink, a social service provider on the Eastside. Many people don’t know that Hopelink provides all of the buses for Metro’s DART Bus service. They quickly returned messages, and came back with an estimate of $75/hr (almost 1/2 of what Metro’s average cost is). Even without any farebox recovery, that brings the cost to approximately $113,000 per year.

Finally, I spoke with the neighborhood association to see if there was interest in paying for this service.  Initial comments included concern about the cost and whether the City of Issaquah and service users would be paying for part of the costs. I’m working on scheduling a meeting with the President of my association to assess next steps.

I’m excited about my nascent effort to expand transit options in my neighborhood, and curious if my efforts will bear any fruit. I’m hopeful that this service upgrade could mean fewer car trips and perhaps allow some people to downgrade from 2 cars to 1.  The Issaquah Highlands is never going to be downtown Seattle, but perhaps some additional transit options can improve people’s lives. I hope to share my findings soon.

Are Metro’s planned cuts necessary? A quick look at the numbers

David Lawson’s recent post very nicely laid out the contrasting views of Metro general manager Kevin Desmond and Council member Rod Dembowski regarding the need for Metro’s proposed 2015 and 2016 service cuts. Higher forecast sales-tax revenue and Metro efficiency improvements have raised the issue, and the disagreement now has centered on two reserve funds.

Generally speaking, there are two important questions to answer: (1) is the current service level (annual service hours) sustainable in the long term?, and (2) is there sufficient reserve to respond to un-anticipated, shorter-term dips in revenue? If current service IS long-term sustainable, it seems unfortunate to cut service levels in order to sort out reserves.

In any event, I think it might be useful to take a look at the numbers.  I reviewed the most recent Metro proposed financial plan (see p. 776 of this download, reproduced below) and estimated what the plan would be without the proposed 2015-16 service cuts.

The results suggest that the cuts are NOT necessary.  Even without the cuts and with an unusually large capital spending program in 2015-16, Metro’s overall reserves would increase from now to the end of 2020.  So Metro looks to be long-term sustainable with current service levels.

On the other hand, the Council and Executive DO face the task of developing a policy for the RSR – what fraction of a year’s operating expense should it have? – and sorting out how to achieve and maintain that level.


Continue reading “Are Metro’s planned cuts necessary? A quick look at the numbers”

The Statewide Case for Sound Transit 3

Given the broad regional enthusiasm for transit expansion, the real question is why wouldn’t the legislature support the region’s request to tax itself to provide adequate transit? The answer is a statistically relevant national trend going back over 130 years of data: rural district measures are nearly twice as likely to pass state legislatures than urban ones. In Washington, conventional wisdom is that rural and suburban legislators (who today are mostly Republicans) will hold the Puget Sound region’s needs hostage to a transportation package that they may or may not be interested in passing, as happened during the prior term.

The legislators who take this position ignore the fact that the state rises or sinks as a whole (as does our budget). For example, what will it take to get all of the Pierce County delegation (relatively split between Democrats and Republicans) to vote as a block in favor of the transit expansion so vital to Tacoma and Pierce County? They will likely expect funding for the $2 billion completion of SR167 to the Port of Tacoma in exchange for the right of Sound Transit district residents to choose to tax themselves. But, shockingly, not even that may be enough for legislators to allow the fastest growing big city in the country to keep its economy–and the state’s tax rolls–humming.

A business with a cash cow would ensure enough investment so that it could power the business for years into the future. As far as state budgets go, that cash cow is the Seattle metropolitan region area comprised of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. This metro region—home to half the state’s population—is the source of 75% of the state’s $381 billion in economic output in 2013 with all the tax revenues that go with such an intensity of people, goods, and services.


For this reason, the metro area is a net contributor to the state’s tax rolls.  King County specifically only got back 62¢ for every $1 in taxes it generated the state in 2011. Lack of alternatives to congestion is killing productivity (due to car drivers’ 37 hours per year spent stuck in traffic) and limiting job growth. Sound Transit’s service area includes 80% of the population of the three-county area, as well as an overwhelming proportion of the economic output of the area and the state. Preventing investment to keep the region moving undermines the metro economy and therefore the tax collections that help power the rest of the state.  

In addition to the indirect importance of the Puget Sound’s transportation on the state budget, there is a more direct argument. Sound Transit impacts two areas directly. First, it has employed 100,000 people—mostly in the construction industry—to build a system that will likely last us 100 years. Secondly, Sound Transit pays sales tax on its capital projects directly into the state general fund.  That money comes from taxes Sound Transit collects only from the urban parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.  This is not an insignificant sum. The state gets an average of $63 million per year from 2014 to 2023 inclusive, for a total of over half a billion dollars over ten years. By authorizing Sound Transit to build more, the state would actually be directly collecting a percentage as general fund tax revenue. ST3 could easily increase state revenues by $30 million or more per year once ST3 capital projects were in the execution phase.

Regional leaders recognize the great importance of transportation investments to the regional economy. Legislators must understand that what is good for the regional economy is also critical for the State’s economy.

PSRC: Unified in Pursuit of 2016 ST3 Vote

Regional voters overwhelming favor system expansion.  So why might legislators not allow it? (Scientific Phone Survey, Spring 2014, from Sound Transit LRP Update Brief to PSRC Executive Board)
Regional voters overwhelming favor system expansion.  So why might legislators not allow it? (Scientific Phone Survey, Spring 2014, from Sound Transit LRP Update Brief to PSRC Executive Board)

Last week, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Executive Board turned their attention to Sound Transit’s decennial update to the Long Range Plan (LRP). The board expressed surprising unanimity for getting a Sound Transit 3 funding package on the ballot in 2016, but was aware of the significant obstacles to such a commonsense effort.

presentation by ST staff opened the conversation with scientific surveys outlining overwhelming public eagerness for additional bus and rail system expansion within the ST district. Staff then informed the PSRC (and the Sound Transit Board later in the day) of additional study corridors following the LRP comment period. These options included new HCT study corridors in Pierce County, a commitment to examine a Sand Point Crossing in North King subarea, a rail extension from Issaquah to Issaquah Highlands, and some additional bus corridors throughout the region.

Because increased authority for new Sound Transit projects requires legislative approval, our rapidly growing region may find itself politically blocked in Olympia.  For various reasons, unity of city and county leaders in the region is essential to getting ST3 on the ballot in 2016, but might not be sufficient. To vote on and grow our system beyond the 50 miles of Link already funded, it may take private citizens from both dense and less dense parts of the region to make this a reality.

Continue reading “PSRC: Unified in Pursuit of 2016 ST3 Vote”

Sound Transit Listens to Public, Seattle Subway, Will Study Sand Point Crossing

When Sound Transit presented planned updates to their Long Range Plan  to the PSRC last Thursday, there was some blockbuster news for local transit advocates: Sound Transit is adding a Corridor 14, The Sand Point Crossing, to its long range plan for additional study. The Sand Point Crossing was first covered by Seattle Transit Blog here, and then Seattle Subway advocated for it during the Long Range Plan comment period. A lot of you echoed our thoughts to the board and Sound Transit Staff — and they listened.


This post is to say thank you to all of you who sent your comments to Sound Transit. Thank you to Sound Transit staff who reversed direction and decided to add this corridor to the Long Range Plan. And thank you to the Sound Transit Board for your leadership on this issue.

To those who question whether advocacy works and whether Sound Transit listens to the public, I present this as exhibit A. The Long Range Plan explicitly said that they were not going to study this corridor due to the findings of the Trans-Lake Washington Study. Seattle Subway countered that argument and, with your help, the Sand Point Crossing will now be studied.

We will now get objective answers about whether or not the Sand Point crossing is the best option for a Lake Washington Rail crossing. We think it is – but now we can be absolutely sure. When a large agency like Sound Transit is responsive to the public, we all win.

If you have a chance, please take the time to email the  Sound Transit Board and ST Long Range Plan Staff and say thanks. As advocates, we often focus on what is wrong more than what is right – lets acknowledge a job well done.

Thank you all.

The Space Fallacy of Aisle-Facing Seating

On urban bus routes, interior capacity is often cited as a pressing issue. A frequently proposed solution is to reconfigure the interior of transit vehicles to use more aisle-facing seats instead of forward-facing benches. In theory, aisle-facing seats use up less space, which provides more interior standing room and space to maneuver the carts, strollers, and various objects customers bring on board.

In theory. In practice. . .

View post on imgur.com

This picture was taken aboard an evening-peak NABI 60-BRT vehicle on the MAX route, operated by Transfort (Fort Collins, Colorado). In front of the rear wheel-well is a forward-facing pair of seats, with three aisle-facing seats occupying the wheelchair securement location. According to the website of the seat manufacturer, transverse (forward-facing) rows are manufactured to be between 35-37 inches in width, resulting in an individual seat width of 17 to 19 inches.

Notice how the feet of passengers sitting in aisle-facing seats protrude more into the aisle than the passenger in the transverse row.  The aisle-facing seats above the wheel-well have a gap behind them, as the wheel-well is wider than the length of a seat; but the seats in front of the transverse row are up against the interior sidewall. The customer in the transverse seat protrudes slightly into the aisle, perhaps an inch or two, and also has their foot rotated slightly outward into the aisle. In comparison, the foot of the customer in the aisle-facing seat protrudes further into the aisle.

Continue reading “The Space Fallacy of Aisle-Facing Seating”

Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff Events this Week

Yes for BusesThe Yes for Transit campaign in support of this November’s Seattle Transit Proposition No. 1 is holding two volunteer events this week.  The campaign kickoff event is on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fado Irish Pub and, for those who can’t attend, the Transportation Choices Coalition is hosting a campaign volunteer happy hour at their office today at 4:30 p.m.

David Lawson covered the funding measure here earlier, but in short, it will protect King County Metro bus routes in Seattle from proposed service cuts by raising an estimated $45 million per year.  The funding sources are the same as in the failed countywide proposition earlier this year: replace the expiring $20 CRC annual vehicle fee with a $60 vehicle fee and increase the sales tax rate by 0.1%.

At both events transit supporters can learn about the campaign, donate and sign up as a volunteer.  It may be exhausting to gear up for yet another campaign to save buses, but it is critical to avoid the devastating cuts Metro has planned for 2015.  Seattle-only transportation measures have failed with voters in the past, so advocates should not be overconfident.

About Wednesday’s kickoff Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition says:

Please join Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Transportation Choices and fellow Seattle transit supporters to celebrate the kick off of this important campaign!

There will be beverages to drink, appetizers to enjoy, and plans to be made to keep our transit system moving. And of course, invite your friends!


What:        TCC Volunteer Happy Hour
When:       Tuesday, September 16 at 4:30 p.m.
Where:     Transportation Choices Coalition, 219 1st Ave S., Suite 420, Seattle WA 98104

What:       Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff
When:       Wednesday, September 17 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where:     Fado Irish Pub, 801 1st Ave S., Seattle WA 98104

SDOT: Improvements at 1st/Denny to speed QA, Magnolia, Ballard routes

SDOT Blog announced more upcoming transit improvements around 1st/Denny. They will:

  • Add a signal phase that allows left turns to Denny from northbound 1st Avenue’s right-side bus lane. This will allow outbound Magnolia routes and Ballard expresses to use the bus lane all the way to the intersection instead of merging into the often congested general-purpose lanes to turn left. Details of the signal phase are not given, but there’s precedent for short, vehicle-actuated queue jump phases in similar situations throughout Seattle. The biggest question I have (as someone that doesn’t ride through here regularly) is whether more advanced detection is needed at this intersection, to check whether multiple buses need to get into the intersection. When the 44 bunches (or when the 44 and 16 go through 45th/Wallingford together) its queue-jump signal phases aren’t long enough for both buses to get through. When it’s two buses on the same route giving the first a head start doesn’t matter much (the second, emptier bus will catch back up to the loaded first bus within a few stops), but this turn serves five different routes.
  • Move the bus stop just after this left turn west, to make more room when multiple buses approach the stop. The need to do this suggests that multiple buses indeed go through the left turn together often.
  • Extend bus lane hours on northbound 1st approaching Denny. Currently it’s open for a few hours in the evening peak. A few hours in the morning peak will be added as well. This is good news as it helps out the D Line and all-day Queen Anne routes making counter-peak trips. It’s not quite the all-day bus lanes requested here, but it’s an incremental step.

Investments at this intersection suggest SDOT isn’t imminently planning to let northbound buses turn left from 3rd to Denny, for better or worse. I haven’t seen any exact dates, but the blog says “complete by fall 2014”.

Repurpose This Building

Space at a transit center in the heart of a growing downtown should be at a premium. Strangely, The Bellevue Transit Center has a 2,100 square foot building uselessly taking up space. Here’s why I think it should be repurposed, and I’d love to see some ideas on how that could happen. First, a bit about what is there: the Bellevue Transit Center has 12 bays, 23 bus lines, and thousands of passengers every day. It also has the Bellevue Rider Services Building, which Sound Transit described in 2008 as

…adjacent to the Bellevue Transit Center. Several rider amenities are available including transit schedules and other rider information, public phones, community information, bike racks and public restrooms. The building also houses a station for the Bellevue City Police.

The majority of the stations users are workers in the core of Bellevue. They are extremely likely to have access to transit schedules via computer or smartphone. They are also unlikely to need a public phone (wait, there are still public phones?), or access to paper community information. There are no bike racks in the building (though there are *many* in the nearby area), and the police station closed 3 years ago.  A bike shop apparently was in the building several years ago, but it failed. In addition, just a few feet away is a small building attached to the transit center that housed a ticket office at one point. Now, it is a very expensive and big map holder so you can find your bus in the 12 bays of the transit center.

Continue reading “Repurpose This Building”

StopInfo for OneBusAway

Earlier this year, my research team at the University of Washington launched StopInfo, a prototype system linked from the OneBusAway iOS application that provides detailed information about bus stops, primarily to help visually-impaired riders to locate them. This information comes from a combination of King County Metro’s internal information about bus stops and information entered directly from transit riders using the OneBusAway application, typically while waiting at the stop. At the outset of the project, we hoped that this community-entered information would supplement and verify what Metro had already provided us, so that we could include additional types of information such as how well-lit a stop is at night and the bus sign’s position relative to the curb, while making sure information is kept accurate and up-to-date.

Since initially launching StopInfo in late February, we have collected over 1,300 submissions for 845 unique stops in King County. We have also studied the use of the system with six visually-impaired transit riders over a five week period, and found that StopInfo is generally helpful for blind and low vision riders and can promote more spontaneous travel as well as trips to less familiar places. Additionally, all six of our participants said that they wanted to keep using the system even after the study ended. Full details on this study can be found in this paper, which will be published and presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing annual conference in October.

We are now in the midst of evaluating the system more fully, and are considering the underlying values associated with the use of the system for a full range of stakeholder groups, including transit officials at King County Metro, visually impaired transit riders, bus drivers, and transit riders who might potentially contribute information. So if you are a Metro driver, a person who is blind or low vision, or are interested in potentially contributing information or have contributed information before, please contact us at stopinfo@onebusaway.org if you would be willing to answer a few questions for our study. If you are a OneBusAway user interested in contributing, you can also take a quick online survey, which offers a chance at winning a $50 Amazon gift card in a drawing.

Screenshots of StopInfo in OneBusAway iOS. Left screenshot shows the stop details page with the info button to access StopInfo. Right screenshot shows the StopInfo page for the corresponding stop.

Image:  (left) Where to access StopInfo within the OneBusAway iOS Application. (right) StopInfo’s information screen.

Continue reading “StopInfo for OneBusAway”

Island Transit Budget Is 25.7% Grant Dependent In 2015

Island Transit Big Bus Somewhere on Whidbey Island
Island Transit Photo by author

Although not in receipt of the audio yet from the August 22nd Island Transit Board Meeting, initial reports and a review of Island Transit’s 6-year Transit Development Plan (TDP) indicate Island Transit has a dangerous dependency on grants and a debt problem.  A review of the TDP indicates for 2015 alone budgeting for $3,174,612 in state & federal grants out of budgeted revenue of $12,350,648 – for a whopping 25.7% grant dependency.

This is also an agency with $739,149 in budgeted 2015 debt service costs.  So if, say, the State of Washington doesn’t grant the projected $600,000 or the Federal Government decides not to grant the projected $685,000… or if the $1,889,612 in “transit allocation grants” are below budget… or if the interest goes up on the debt for a multitude of reasons… then transit service is going to be in trouble.

Continue reading “Island Transit Budget Is 25.7% Grant Dependent In 2015”

Transit Geography Visualization

Transit users and STB readers use – and like to use – route maps. Routes are tangible, and are how we think when we actually use transit. This post uses some geographic analysis – focused on population and walking access – to show more of the big picture.

In April Metro recommended several phases of service cuts, for a total of about 16% of current service hours, corresponding to the estimated shortfall revenue following the defeat of county Proposition 1. It estimated loss of existing riders (10.8M rides – about 10%). This is indeed a key metric but I’ve not found quantitative answers to another seemingly basic question: what effect would the full set of recommended Metro cuts have on residents’ access to service (measured by 1/4-mile walking distance to service stops)?

So I’ve built some tools marrying Metro service details with a geographic information system (GIS).  Here’s a sample map showing areas of 15-minute frequency service during commute hours, after the cuts (green) overlaid on current (orange). Compare this to route-oriented maps from Metro and Oran Viriyincy’s remarkable before-and-after route frequency map.
peak ge4

Translating this information to population impact for Seattle (county-wide to come soon):

Service hours cut Loss of served population
30-minute freq. 15-minute freq.
Peak 16% 2.3% 6.4%
Off-peak 16% 6.4% 12.6%
Night 16% 9.1% 11.9%

On these results, Metro’s planning, following the Service Guidelines, looks to be quite effective, including restructures that increase the population that can be served with limited revenue.

Continue reading “Transit Geography Visualization”

Potential Gondola Ridership

El renacimiento de los teleféricos

For every gondola idea I’ve posted here I’ve been careful not to plan a line in the same place where it would make sense to build rail. A subway is more permanent, faster*, and generally has much more capacity than gondolas. Yes, gondolas are potentially much cheaper, but cost shouldn’t trump good design if we can afford it. Because of this, I think gondolas are best run as feeder branches to a subway system, or on its own in areas that doesn’t make sense for rail.

This said, I would like to call your attention to the city of La Paz Bolivia, and its first gondola line, Línea Roja. In their opening month they served 1,000,000 passengers, or around 36,000 riders per day. This is well beyond Seattle’s Central Link’s opening numbers, and it took Link over 5 years to reach one million riders in a month. La Paz is on course to build a total of 8 lines.

Of course there are a dozen reasons this line isn’t comparable to Link, or anything we would build in Seattle. And it hasn’t changed my opinion that gondolas belong mainly as branch feeder lines if we can afford real grade-separated rail. But occasionally the issue of capacity comes up, and I think La Paz shows we don’t have to worry about it.

* depending on frequency and distance

Rainier Station 60% Design Open House


Rainier Station Platform Rendering
Rainier Station Platform Rendering

On Thursday night Sound Transit hosted the last 60% design open house (30% report here) for East Link at the Northwest African American Museum. The event was well attended with an estimated 50 people seated for the presentation. The presentation included comments by the project managers Tia Raamot & Cynthia Padilla, project consultant architect David Hewitt, STart program manager Barbara Luecke (with an assist from Tia Raamot) and a short Q & A session. Of note:

  • Construction on the I-90 express lane reconfiguration starts in 2015
  • Construction for EastLink starts in 2017 and continues until 2022

David Hewitt (Hewitt Architects) gave an overview of the design enhancements including acoustical and aesthetic treatments to sound walls (see above). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Rainier Station 60% Design Open House”

Rider Report: The New SR-520 Freeway Stations

92nd/Yarrow Point Freeway Station Platform

As part of the Eastside Transit and HOV project, WSDOT recently opened replacements for the Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point Freeway Stations. For the latter, Metro refers to the station as Clyde Hill/Yarrow Point but WSDOT refers to it as the 92nd Ave Transit Station. Regardless what name you call them, each of these stops are located in the center of the freeway and are a vast improvement over their former roadside counterparts. Evergreen Point opened June 16, and Yarrow opened July 14.

If you’ve used the freeway stops at the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, you’ll feel right at home at the new pair of stops on 520. There is a small plaza connecting to the roadway overpass and a pair of platforms in the median below. All platforms are completely weather protected. The platforms can accommodate at least three 60 foot coaches simultaneously, and there is enough shoulder space for coaches to pass each other. I measured sound levels and each station averaged around 74 dBC during commute hours. Mountlake Terrace was about 3dB higher, or twice as loud. Mountlake Terrace is surrounded by 10 lanes of traffic versus Evergreen and Yarrow’s four.

Continue reading “Rider Report: The New SR-520 Freeway Stations”

In Summary: The Long Range Plan

The Vision
The Vision

Seattle Subway’s Comments on the Sound Transit Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental EIS

This is the final post in a series we’ve been doing related to Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”). The comment period is over on Monday, so be sure to get your comments in to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org before the deadline comes. This post calls out conflicts between the goals of the LRP and its content.  If you want to skip the wonkiness but agree that we should push for the best quality rail system possible for future lines in the region, you can copy our comments and send them to Sound Transit in support.

Sound Transit uses its Long-Range Plan to identify and select corridors and technologies for future transit packages. We are currently in the comment period for the Long-Range Plan Update, which means there is an opportunity to give feedback to Sound Transit in regards to the big picture. Sound Transit last updated this document in 2005, four years prior to Central Link opening, and it shows. Sound Transit must review decisions that were made in its early days and are still affecting its direction now, as Seattle and the region have changed a lot in the 15 years since Sound Transit’s inception. We will frame our comments in the context of  Sound Transit’s DSEIS’s Goals and Objectives for their Long-Range Plan (page 1-5).

Section 1: “Provide a public high-capacity transportation system that helps ensure long-term mobility, connectivity, and convenience for residents of the central Puget Sound region for generations to come”

  • “Increase the percentage of people using transit for all trips”
  • “Provide effective and efficient alternatives to travel on congested roadways”

Grade separation provides the most efficient and effective way to move people. It eliminates interference from other traffic and maximizes transit’s speed. Grade separation is a true alternative to congested roadways. The higher speed and frequency that a grade separated system enables creates the greatest increase in ridership as well. This, combined with the fact that nearly all of the 55 miles of lines Sound Transit is currently building are grade separated, make the following section of the LRP DSEIS out of place:

Continue reading “In Summary: The Long Range Plan”