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.

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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

by CHARLES COOPER

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”

Better Eastside Rail

As the Puget Sound region continues to grow, excellent transit connections between Eastside communities will be crucial.  The quality of transit options available to those communities will shape the safety, convenience and environmental quality possible for their residents and workers. Our vision for rail service to Issaquah would create new connections from Issaquah through Bellevue to Kirkland, would improve trips bound for Downtown Seattle, and would dramatically improve access between the I-90 corridor and North Seattle.

Issaquah Rail Map Continue reading “Better Eastside Rail”

Let’s Build Rail to West Seattle (Option A6)

Let’s get this on the table right up front: West Seattle should receive a light rail line in the next Sound Transit funding package (ST3). STB has covered this issue before with articles about possibilities, options presented, and even the hazards of regionalism. What might actually be included in the next regional package, and how does the study presentation impact the ST board’s decision? We think that a better presentation of the information contained within this study would serve the Sound Transit board and West Seattle well when it comes time to select corridors for ST3. As currently presented, the study makes the West Seattle line appear less cost effective than it should be. Seattle Subway has some suggestions to improve this.

As others have noted, this study is comprehensive to the point of being difficult to comprehend, and contains routes and options that cost more than $8 billion and are well beyond what the region will build in near future. We have two main requests to help make this information easier to understand and analyze.

1.  Option “A6”

Map by Oran.
Map by Oran.

Continue reading “Let’s Build Rail to West Seattle (Option A6)”

East Link Mercer Island 60% Design Open House

Mercer Island 60 Percent

Last Thursday, Sound Transit held an open house to present the Mercer Island Station 60% design. In addition, there were several preliminary design options for integrating bus and rail at the station.

An animation of a Link train traveling from International District Station past Mercer Island was playing when I arrived. I didn’t hear many comments and questions as I moved around the room except for one notable exception: Several people expressed concerns about the loss of the express lanes. (For those who are unaware, SOV drivers are currently able to use the express lanes between the Mercer Island and Seattle.)

The station platform will be located between 80th Ave SE and 77th Ave SE where the current I-90 reversible express lanes are. The center platform will be accessible from both ends of the station and will be served by an up escalator, staircase, and elevator at each entrance. In addition, a Kiss & Ride area will be added at the 77th Ave SE entrance, and each entrance will provide seating, ticketing, and ORCA readers. There is even an area near the entrance marked “Future Vending”.

For those looking for bike parking, Mercer Island Park & Ride currently offers bike lockers that can be rented by the month and several well utilized bike racks. In addition to these existing spots, the station will include 8 new bike lockers, a secured bike cage for up to 50 bikes, and a bike rack area. I was told the bike rack area is designed to be convertible to another secured bike cage, should demand warrant it. In short, Mercer Island residents should have no shortage of places to stash a bike when Eastlink opens in 2023.

4 different options were presented for integrating bus and rail operations. These included various bus pick up and drop off locations, layover locations, and routing options. There were two Metro planners discussing these options. Interestingly, they were openly talking about potentially truncating all bus routes that currently travel across Mercer Island into Seattle. Not many people appeared to be paying attention to this information, even though, with increased frequencies, it could provide far better bus service throughout a large portion of the Eastside.

While there are still significant details to work out, especially with the Bus/Rail integration, the designs appeared to be a good example of multi-modal design, especially given the site constraints.
The Open House Boards, Staff Presentation, and details maps can be found here.

ST Population Projections Much Too Low in LRP Studies

Ballard Seafood Fest (wikimedia)

The population projections in the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study (table 3-4) are very low and the methodology Sound Transit uses to create these projections should be updated. In the past the media has criticized ST for projections that seemed overly optimistic, but then proved valid post-recession. Sound Transit should avoid over-correcting by using excessively conservative estimates now. Beyond helping to decide which routes to build, the estimates will communicate a potential project’s value to stakeholders and make a case for funding to the federal government.

We were shocked to see that ST was using 29,580 for Ballard’s 2010 population, with expected growth by 2035 of 14% for a total of 33,820. We asked Sound Transit to explain why both numbers were so low. Their explanation was based on an area defined by the Ballard Existing Conditions Report:

The Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study used a definition of Ballard which covers the area from 8th NW to 32nd NW, the Ship Canal to NW 85th. This includes all of census tracts 30, 32 and 47 and approximately 80% of census tracts 31 and 32 (which extend west to Shilshole Bay). The total population of the five complete census tracts in the 2010 census was 32,502; the 29,580 number reflects the reduction of the western portions of census tracts 31 and 32.

The area covered is where all the growth in Ballard has occurred in the past and is occurring now. Additionally, nearly all of the larger development since 2010 has been apartments; there are currently only two condominium buildings under construction. This makes the comparison pretty easy. We asked the apartment market experts at Dupre & Scott if they had numbers for Ballard since 2010. For this example, to be conservative we assumed anything built 2009 or before was 100% absorbed and anything built in 2010 was 50% absorbed when the census was taken at the end of that year. We will also assume apartment occupancy of 1.8 people per rental unit and 2.3 people per sold unit per the census numbers for Seattle.

Here is what Dupre & Scott sent us:

Ballard Development

Continue reading “ST Population Projections Much Too Low in LRP Studies”

SDOT is Working to Improve Night Owl Service

I wanted to respond on behalf of SDOT to Bruce’s post last week about the structure of today’s Metro Night Owl service.

Our main goal in saving the Night Owls is to avoid any interruption and preserve service for late- and early-shift workers and other people who depend on those routes now. Although ridership seems somewhat low at 150-170 boardings per day, divided among six trips (two each on routes 82, 83, and 84), the numbers are not too bad and represent far more than 150-170 individuals – although most riders are probably regular riders, many ride only occasionally — and this is the only late night service to most parts of the routes.

SDOT and Metro did not have enough time between the April 22 failure of Prop. 1 and the normal June deadline for defining the September service change to seek public input then negotiate and implement a restructure. So initially, SDOT funds are proposed to be used to save existing trips on existing routes, which will include both the loop routes (82, 83, 84) and, if a Seattle Transportation Benefit District measure passes, late night service on high-ridership regular routes like the 7 and 36.

After we have secured continuing service on the existing night owl routes, we and our partners at King County Metro are committed to work on a proposal to modernize the late night bus network in Seattle. In the longer term, our goal — funding permitting — is a late night network that is better than the one we have today, which would add trips in the 2:00 – 4:00 a.m. time frame to most of the busiest routes.

In general, SDOT supports and is working towards many of the goals outlined in your post. In particular, we agree that large-diameter one-way loops are not a rider-friendly service pattern; that the lack of post-1:30 AM service to dense, outlying neighborhoods such as Northgate, Lake City, and Delridge presents an opportunity for improvement; and that Night Owl service should be provided by routes which are as similar to daytime core routes as possible. This is similar to what Metro and SDOT accomplished working together on the C and D Lines, each of which now has a pair of night owl trips which fully replaces a less rider-friendly Night Owl loop route.

Thanks for listening, and for continuing to suggest improvements to the Metro system in Seattle!

Bill Bryant is Manager of Transit Programs at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Let’s Build a Sand Point Crossing! (Option “SP1”)

Purple Line From Ballard to MSFT
Seattle is defined by its waterways. Seattle congestion is defined by its water crossings. Focusing on existing crossings of Lake Washington may have unnecessarily constrained Sound Transit’s study of the best northerly route across the lake.

Their options to get from UW to Kirkland on to Redmond are on pages 3-9 of the Central and East HCT Corridor Study. Each of the options presented misses opportunities to connect major population and employment centers and contains enormous challenges, such as a new bridge crossing of the Montlake Cut.

STB previously covered many of the problems with a 520 light rail crossing. Using 520 forces ST to double back on the west side of the bridge and deliver riders to the east side far from good transit destinations. Below, we will focus on what we want Sound Transit to study, why we want it, and why you should join us in supporting it.

The Sand Point Crossing (Option “SP1”) Continue reading “Let’s Build a Sand Point Crossing! (Option “SP1”)”