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North by Northwest 31: Island Transit Updates…

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Two updates:

  1. Looks like Island Transit on Friday will have an interim director in Kenneth J. Graska according to multiple sources.  Although his past service at Community Transit was controversial, it appears he learned from his mistakes there and has been a successful transit exec ever since.  With an Island Transit Board many – including I – think needs to go, skepticism is abound.
  2. On Thursday the 20th at 1 PM, the State Senate Transportation Committee has invited the State Auditor’s Office to present their findings into Island Transit’s finances to the committee.  Kelly Simpson, a staffer with the Senate Transportation Committee confirmed there will be no public comment on the presentation.  However, TVW.org will likely cover the presentation.

North by Northwest 30: Mukilteo’s New Transit Terminal by 2020?

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Washington State Ferries Simulation of New Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal

Mukilteo by 2020, assuming the state funds the second and last phase of the actual $129 million construction, will have a new multimodal transit terminal that’ll be a net gain.  For one, Mukilteo’s waterfront will no longer have unsightly abandoned US Air Force fuel tanks and the pier they were on that served Paine Field (aka KPAE) when Paine Field was a US Army Air Corps & US Air Force base defending the Pacific Northwest & training WWII P-38 Lightning & P-39 Aircobra pilots.  Mukilteo will also happily lose “four percent of the remaining creosote-treated timber piles in Puget Sound” (SOURCE) on its shoreline.  The Mukilteo waterfront will also no longer have a significant walk between the Sounder North platform and either the State Ferry Terminal or the bus stop.  With Mukilteo-Clinton being the busiest Washington State Ferries (WSF) ferry run in sheer demand with over 2 million vehicles per year & almost 4 million total riders per year, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) decided the time was right to start replacing a seismically deficient & disruptive WSF terminal with something out of the 21st Century that is environmentally friendly.

I decided to write about this project because as my Flickr followers or browsers of the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Pool may have noticed, I use when able Sounder North to make connections between Everett Station & Mukilteo – mostly in the late afternoons.  Not too happy about the bad connections that a 1,850 foot walk entails as per page 6 of this PDF discussing Multimodal Connections.  In fact, here’s the existing terminal status quo versus the changes that will happen if Phase II, the actual building of the new Mukilteo terminal occur:

ST to WSF passenger building Bus to WSF passenger building Bus to ST
Existing terminal* 1,730 190 1,850
Project (New terminal)* 745 225 970

*Distance in Feet

So I decided to reach out to Laura LaBissoniere Miller, a WSDOT communications consultant who according to her bio, “supports a range of public involvement programs, specializing in implementing community engagement for NEPA/SEPA environmental review processes. … A skilled communicator, Laura also handles citizen correspondence for some of the most controversial projects.”  Having worked with her on this report, tend to concur.

For instance when asked about putting TransitScreen into the new terminal after this great Frank Chiachiere post Laura promised, “it’s certainly something the design team, Sound Transit and Community Transit can look into. Thank you for the suggestion! ”  Considering Sounder North, multiple Community Transit & Everett Transit routes and a very-high-demand Washington State Ferries run all will be serving this terminal… hope TransitScreen happens.  Especially if perhaps somebody waiting on a bus can walk off the ferry or Sounder North could dive into the terminal, pick up something from concessions and/or use the restroom and make their connection…

As part of my Paine Field commutes these days involves the bus stop along the Mukilteo waterfront, also was happy to hear buses would have their own lanes through to the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal.  Currently buses have to make a turnaround right in the thick of the WSF terminal traffic flow.

Noting heated waiting for bus passengers

One thing also noticeable in reviewing the voluminous documentation of the project library is that the new terminal will provide a covered, heated place with restrooms for transit users to make our connections in health & frankly basic human dignity.  The below is the current status quo as I pictured around 5:30 PM 10 November 2014:

2014-11-10 Mukilteo Transit Experience

If you browse through the pictures, you’ll notice some construction in the background.  It’s the expansion of the Mukilteo terminal for Sounder North which according to the Sound Transit website, “includes a second platform on the south side of the tracks, a pedestrian bridge over the tracks connecting the two platforms, permanent passenger shelters and public art”.  Sharon Salyer, an Everett Herald Writer noted in her write-up the project is costing $11 million dollars and, “Currently 280 people board the train at Mukilteo Station each day, part of the 1,100 passengers traveling between Seattle’s King Street Station and Edmonds, Mukilteo and Everett.”  A review of the WSDOT project library notes the plan is to design multiple walking paths for Sounder North users to/from the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal.

Ultimately, if the state legislature can please fund the construction of the actual Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal – it’ll greatly improve the transit connections from here to/from Whidbey (assuming Island Transit financial condition doesn’t further worsen) but also Everett to the north and Mukilteo, Lynnwood plus Seattle & points further south.  The Puget Sound environment will also be greatly improved by the removal of harmful abandoned docks & petroleum infrastructure along the Mukilteo waterfront, and ST3 can help provide even more high quality transit connections to this new transit hub. Plus with much improved transit service to Paine Field, this terminal could be a great hub for transit connections to the many tenants

North by Northwest View 03 – A Pep Talk

I’ll be acute.  I’ve read the bloody hand-wringing in the post-election comment thread that oh we didn’t get Democrat majority in the State Senate, oh the Republicans are just going to automatically oppose transit, oh the sky is falling.  Frankly somebody needs to give a locker room speech.  Perhaps this Pete Carroll one is a good start:

You see we’re in the winning business, we need to have a vision to win getting ST3, and as per the proverb “Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it”.

Because frankly: We are doing transit and doing a lot of transit mostly right.

On light rail, ridership continues a beautiful climb.  We’re about to hit 40,000 monthly average weekday boardings of light rail and 5 years ago it was less than 15,000.  No kidding that’s the free market.

On buses, we’re having local communities vote for the bus service they want – just like Proposition 1.  That’s local control.

On congestion relief, we could have our transit agencies do a better job.  That should be goal #1 – putting our transit investments towards congestion relief.  Congestion relief is what the middle class voter wants – and what transit opponents claim to want.  Goals for creating congestion relief are what will get Republicans and Chambers of Commerce on board – and we’ve already got a lot of allies in local government.  Congestion relief means less agitation for more roads and more sprawl which is as we know 180 degrees from… congestion relief because all those Single Occupancy Vehicles are going to be stuck in a currently inadequate Interstate Highway network.

This sort of reminds me of a locker room speech the actor who played Herb Brooks gave in “Miracle” in which he said the team who would throw the Soviet game back at them of attacking would win.  Instead of hand-wringing and hearing how great it is give up… we throw the bipartisan Road Bullies’ anti-transit game right back at ’em.  Right back at ’em.  Just like Herb Brooks would:

So it’s up to YOU the transit advocate.  You want to win with ST3 or not because I got no time for quitters?

So while I’m throwing the Road Bullies game right back at ’em, if I can quote Jonathan Hopkins:

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.  

Furthermore, I traded some e-mails with House Republican ace staffer Mary “Marummy” Lane Strow who told me, “As for an official House Republican position on transit, we will be developing our ideas for how best to allocate transportation funding as session approaches.”  Well then folks we better help them along and make our case, shall we?  Get ’em on board.  Quit whining about hard work to grow because if you don’t put the hard work in, you’ve already lost and I got no time for quitters.

So here’s my vision:

  • We get ST3 by hard work and compromise and collaboration so it’s on the ballot in November 2016 with the best chance to pass, period.
  • We get long term a transit net that is targeted towards serving neighborhoods and connecting neighborhoods to jobs, life (e.g. civic participation, sporting events, museums), and family.
  • We modernize a State Republican Party and make this state a two-party state.  That’s better for democracy and that’s better for transit when we put transit on an upward spiral of bipartisan support and continual improvement.
  • We let people decide at the ballot box because: “Let’s let the people who want transit pay for it and, and not make people pay for it that don’t want it.”  That’s the conservative way.  That’s how we’ll win.

So here you go to help you jump-start the effort to get ST3 on that ballot, the Super Bowl we want and deserve:

I hope by now you’re fired up for the ST3 fight ahead.  I sure hope so… because if you’re not, if you want to quit… I got no time for quitters.


For the uninitiated: Road Bullies are those whom think transit sucks, those whom want to shut transit down and those whom want just more sprawl.  They’re bipartisan and not interested in solving problems but just interested in getting highway pork at everybody else’s expense.

North by Northwest 29: Island Transit At A Tipping Point?

Island Transit 411W Arrives

After a withering State Auditor’s Office audit, reports Island Transit has dipped into the red and the former Executive Director forced out by the Oak Harbor Mayor deployed by his City Council to get Island Transit manageable again; one easily can perceive Island Transit is at a tipping point.  One can also perceive Island Transit is making occasional correct turns as Island Transit recovers from burning through no less than $7.72 million in reserves since January 2008 and damaged public trust – trust so damaged its disgraced former Executive Director is under criminal investigation.

 Two rounds of route eliminations became necessary.  The first round was to eliminate the Camano Island to Everett part of the Tri-County Connectors, which meant now that Camano Island residents to get to Everett had to go north up to Mount Vernon then connect on crowded Skagit Transit 90X buses to get to Everett.  Furthermore, Skagit Transit now had to connect to Island Transit at the March’s Point Park & Ride on Fidalgo Island instead of Mount Vernon with a new bus route the 40X in order to keep that link alive.  The second round which resulted in layoffs of operators and maintainers resulted in the loss of Saturday service throughout Whidbey – a huge blow to Whidbey’s valued but small tourist economy, cutbacks in Paratransit and the loss of several fixed routes.  Over 20 employees lost their jobs as well…

If you believe the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is fair, then according to a SAO report publicly released 27 October, “The Board and management did not effectively monitor the financial activity of the Transit to ensure revenues were adequate to cover increased operational and capital expenditures.”  Only one board member has publicly apologized and resigned while others attempt to spin, igniting the anger of the Oak Harbor Mayor who will now campaign for a new Island Transit Board.

One may recall there was a letter from 10th District state legislators pointing out suggested targets for the SAO.  A spokeswoman for State Senator Bailey said, she was “very happy with the job the State Auditor’s Office has done and happy the formal process work the way it’s supposed to”.  Appreciates STB “staying on top of it” too.  The House Republicans through a spokeswoman communicated a wait-and-see approach to events…

However, in the SAO reports are plans submitted by Island Transit staff for audit compliance.  One will hope for Island Transit’s future, plans to – among other things – monitor closely Island Transit’s cash balance and hold accountable the new Executive Director will be followed through.

It’s important the Island Transit Board either show a realization of the errors of its ways or steps aside as the biggest aftershock from the Island Transit fiscal mismanagement has not hit yet.  Especially as Island Transit is deferring paying insurance premiums to the Washington State Transit Investment Pool (WSTIP) in an act that could always be called back, is over 25% grant-dependent and Island Politics exposed recently some of the overspending on their necessary new headquarters (HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE).  One grant cannot be applied for until November, and with the recent controversies may not win approval.  Island Transit currently has only one Board member – the City of Oak Harbor Mayor – putting forward ideas to raise revenue outside of grants.

At least grassroots transit advocates can take action to help Island Transit rebound – especially since the Whidbey News-Times in a 1 November editorial is supportive of the Oak Harbor Mayor’s efforts:

  1. Sign the petition demanding a forensic audit into Island Transit to get answers as to what happened to Island Transit and what is doable to repair Island Transit’s fiscal position: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/forensic-audit-into-island-transit
  2. If you live in Island County, join with me in demanding Island Transit Boardmembers Helen Price-Johnson, Bob Clay and Jim Sundberg publicly apologize and resign as those three boardmembers were on during at least most of the loss of Island Transit’s reserves – among other issues.

Ultimately though, for Island Transit to recover, Island Transit must regain the trust of the public and do so quickly.  Especially as the Tri-County Connector grant linking Skagit County to Whidbey Island is up for renewal in January – vital to keeping Island County connected to the rest of Washington State and to Island Transit’s survival… and the State Legislature normally does not grant money to transit agencies that cannot prove they operate in a responsible manner.

North by Northwest View 02: Why Should Washington State Legislative Republicans Back Transit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aidaneus/8178821710

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney Photo – “The Washington State Capitol; Olympia, Washington”

Voters tonight decided to keep a divided State Legislature for a multitude of reasons. But those reasons aren’t the purview of Seattle Transit Blog/STB.

The problem for us at STB is now we need to make the case to Republicans why Republicans’ self-interest is in supporting transit.  So here goes from the STB Republican-in-Chief:

Argument For 1: Republicans should realize transit is fiscally conservative versus building more highways that encourage sprawl that will require more of the following:

  • First Responders
  • Public utlilities – water, sewer, the like.
  • Public schools
  • Even more roads
  • More support staff

All of this will require more government which will require more taxes. Transit instead works to create density to protect scarce taxes – all of which confiscated from hard-working taxpayers for public services.

Argument For 2: Transit enables the disabled who cannot drive a place in our society. Instead of having disabled folks dependent on relatives or welfare, transit is an important means to a J-O-B, to community and to life.

After all, do you want an Aspergian with 1.5 good eyes and PTSD behind the wheel and running somebody over? If so, you’re certainly NOT pro-life. Transit is therefore vital to folks like I.

Argument For 3: Transit is good for the economy. Transit allows tourists to not have to rent a car or hail a cab to visit a community. Transit also pivots spending away from the automobile towards other forms of spending such as food, lodging, clothing and the like.

Argument For 4: Transit also can provide congestion relief when done correctly. Transit allows families to own only one or no car instead of two – therefore providing congestion relief. Transit allows folks to take up much less space on a road going to work than a Single Occupancy Vehicle/SOV. Transit also when serving areas of high residential density, high commercial density (malls, museums, etc) plus job creators (Paine Field, downtowns) does excellent congestion relief by taking many cars off of the road.

Argument For 5: Transit support will translate into votes with more Millennials using transit. According to a Rockefeller Foundation study, “Almost two-thirds of Millennials (64%) say that the expense of owning a car is a major reason they want be less reliant on one, including 77% of Millennials who earn less than $30,000 a year.” Furthermore from the same source, “Almost all Millennials (91%) also believe that investing in quality public transportation systems creates more jobs and improves the economy.”

Realtor.org – no progressive website – recently wrote,

Cars are a hassle. In 2008, only 31 percent of 16-year-olds and 77 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license — numbers dramatically lower than the 1978 numbers of 50 percent and 92 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Even as millennials age, they’re driving less than prior generations. In 1995, 20.8 percent of autos were driven by 21-30-year-olds, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2010 Household Travel Survey. By 2009, that number had dropped to 13.7 percent.

“For baby boomers, owning a car was a coming-of-age, life-stage thing,” explains Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis. “The coming-of-age toy for the next generation is the smart phone.”

Several factors contribute to millennials’ negative perceptions of cars. “One is the expense,” says Ryan. “Millennials are the most unemployed generation, and their college debt compared to that of their baby boomer counterparts is exponentially higher. Millennials also believe cars are ecobombs — that they’re inheriting a planet that’s totally messed up, and they don’t want to contribute to it. The final kiss of death for cars? You can’t text and drive. All these things together create a perfect storm against cars.”

I can keep citing sources from Google or Yahoo or Bing upon request – that transit is an important part of winning the millennial demographic just now doing this thing called voting. Not sign-waving, not Tea Partying, not public comment sorties; but actual voting that wins elections. So unless Republicans find joy only pontificiating in the minority instead of governing in the majority; it’s time Republicans started supporting enthusiastically transit.

Argument For 6: Transit is a means of letting suburbs and cities exercise local control over transportation options. We just saw tonight Seattle vote to tax itself more to fund transit – that’s only proper, with the regressive tax code we have in this state it’s only right to have a public vote on taxes and support transit. It’s also only right for those of us who are conservative to champion local control and let local people decide what’s right for them through local governance. Republicans aren’t supposed to be the party of big mandates but the exact opposite – and as such unless we have some reforms we on the Right would be able to impose to make Sound Transit more awesome, then let the voters decide on ST3 for local control’s sake.

It’s also worth noting ST3 is necessary in the eyes of the City of Everett, Snohomish County, and the Puget Sound Regional Council for starters with more to come. All those local government folks have hit “a critical level of frustration” – and if we Republicans are truly pro-local control as we distrust Big Government, then it’s time to support the local government folks in the trenches.

That said the way Scott Dudley representing the largest city on Whidbey Island has stepped up and taken the fight to save Island Transit on is how Republicans could tackle transit. We show that we’re the ones who will be fiscally responsible, use transit as an economic growth tool and grow transit in a fiscally sustainable way. We’ve seen the progressive alternative with Island Transit – and its incompetence.

Ultimately, I’d rather see a Republican positive plan to reform transit than the obstructionist approach we’ve seen in recent state legislative sessions. If not, this whiff of power Republicans have gotten in recent years is going to slip away…

A Reminder From Your North-by-Northwest Correspondent….

VOTE

Just do it.  Do not delay and if you need an endorsement list, I got one.

Think this doesn’t matter?  Well then be apathetic in a midterm and get what you deserve Election Night with the same silence you showed on Election Day.  At the very bottom I will post links to ballot drop boxes in Puget Sound counties.  But first, the endorsements:

At a national level, important Congressional Districts need your vote.  Here are my picks and why:

Congressional District 2, Rick Larsen (D): Congressman Rick Larsen is a reliable pro-transit voice, having been there to get our fair share of federal funding for Washington State Ferries, been there in defending our transit infrastructure and even been there in helping Community Transit’s Swift Bus Rapid Transit get started.  His opponent is a class act through and through but sadly the US House of Representatives is a seniority club – not a meritocracy.  Personally I hope B.J. Guillot – although an excellent debater is lacking a position on transit – will get the name recognition from his efforts and run again when Representative Larsen retires.

Congressional District 3, Jaime Herrera Beutler (R): I think frankly the last thing we transit advocates need is another transportation boondoggle to deal with in our state that would have been on par with Bertha, been too low for Columbia River barge traffic and already taken money away from genuinely pressing transit goals.  Congresswoman Herrera Beutler helped pressure if not lead the way in slaying the CRC boondoggle for now and has earned one more term.  For helping impugn the monstrosity that was the Columbia River Crossing project while her opponent Bob Dingethal publicly supports the Columbia River Crossing I-5 Bridge Replacement Project and for being a Republican, AvgeekJoe endorsement for again one more term.

Now for the State Senate, I will just say this: I am of the view Washington needs a Senate Majority Coalition to keep a lid on taxes and make sure the political left cannot run wild.  If we had a Republican House and Republican Governor, I hope I would feel the same way.  When it comes to transit, I sure hope Republicans get their heads around the fact if we’re going to win in the suburbs and not have to make deals with wobbly Democrats-In-Name-Only Republicans are going to have to accept transit & make a case for Republican management of transit.  I am also of the view the new taxes in the name of “climate change” if imposed may scare away just enough voters from ST3 to sink it so we transit advocates in a genuine damned-for-going-Democrat, damned-for-going-Republican here so you have to decide between Door D of Climate Taxes and ST3 failing at the polls and Door R of Worst Case Scenario no ST3 & no transportation package.

The STB Senior Editorial Board has made many endorsements in regard to the State Senate.  One in particular I support enthusiastically – namely Democrat Marko Lilias.  Considering his opponent didn’t get back to me to clarify “Use Public/Private Partnerships to fund transportation infrastructure; end inefficient public transit monopolies by allowing private companies to bid for services?”, that increases fears this is about more than having a private operator of public transit systems.  Furthermore Liias will be “championing ST3″, “voting for more state and local funding” for transit and fight for light rail to service Paine Field.  His opponent is awkwardly silent on all of those.  Hence the AvgeekJoe endorsement for leadership.

As to the State House, here’s the final list (I’m merging the STB Senior Editorial Board & mine):

As to county races, I’ll just be acute:

  • Island County Commissioner, Rick Hannold (R): is the only candidate with a plan and an interest to work with with Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley in saving Island Transit.
  • Kitsap County Auditor, Dolores Gilmore (D): Her Republican opponent sat on the Island Transit Board as Island Transit imploded.  Need I say anything more except “Payback time“?

NOW YOUR BALLOT DROP BOX HYPERLINKS FOR YOUR PUGET SOUND COUNTY… FROM NORTH TO SOUTH

Please make sure you fill out your ballot without delay and if you can – get that ballot to a drop box box by 8 PM tomorrow the 4th of November.  It’s the least you can do – a lot of brave people, from suffragists to soldiers to SEAL Team Six risked their lives for love of American democracy.

As they said on “The West Wing”: “Decisions are made by those who show up!”  Now go do one of your more easier patriotic duties if you haven’t already.

North by Northwest 28: Looping from Skagit to Whidbey to Snohomish to Skagit

North by Northwest 28


Photos from my trip

Part 1 – The Ride to Island Transit HQ

Having been inspired by Glenn in Portland and fueled in part by a genuine fear of losing Island Transit’s 411W due to Island Transit cutbacks; I decided with the very genuine need to park a video camera at the Washington State Auditor’s Office (hereafter SAO) Exit Conference with Island Transit on 24 October for STB purposes to make a loop trip.  I started from Skagit County around to Island Transit HQ south of Coupeville to the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry to the Future of Flight and then back to Skagit.  I’ve also decided to instead of imbedding every photo to hyperlink most to the Imgur album.

I decided due to the very real threat the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) Exit Conference being moved up before 10 AM to where I could not arrive and video the entire conference to take A Better Cab [(360) 755-9262] (which I recommend for your Skagit taxi needs since 2007) to the Chuckanut Park & Ride.   Yes, the same Park & Ride I’ve written about before where I’ve seen folks relieve themselves around the station or against a lightpost due to lack of basic amenties.

I then boarded the Skagit Transit 208 south to Skagit Station.  A nice half hour ride and happy to pay the $2 for an all-day in-county pass to Skagit Transit, which is saving me a buck for the day.

Especially as thanks to Island Transit pinching pennies Island Transit no longer has 411W stop at Skagit Station but now March’s Point Park & Ride.  This now means a $1 fare or using your $2 all-day in-county Skagit Transit pass from Skagit Station on a small bus with hard seats to March’s Point.  A short wait later, Island Transit’s 411W arrived.  On board, surprisingly & shockingly for a fare-free transit agency in fiscal dire straights was this ad:

Washington State Ridesharing Organization Ad for Trip to Alaska

Yes, Island Transit is deferring its insurance payments but has these ads all over their buses.  Profligate spending if ever… especially as dues to Washington State Ridesharing Organization are somehow a higher priority than the state’s transit insurance pool.  Paging Mayor Studley… paging Mayor Studley…

At least I had a pleasant ride with another avgeek who was my driver over to Oak Harbor in a comfortable seat.  Once in Oak Harbor I had about 20 minutes to cross the street, use the public restroom and then cross back to board the Route 1 bus.  After politely informing the driver I was writing for STB about Island Transit, I had a driver helpfully pull me off at the closest bus stop for Island Transit.  Through no fault of the driver, the bus stop was a gravel lot with no sidewalk a 10 minute, 0.5 mile walk from The Transit’s HQ.  Not exactly conducive to having riders hold Island Transit to account… in fact I was the only transit rider to attend the SAO Exit Conference.

Part 2 – Island Transit HQ to the Clinton Ferry Dock

Island Transit HQ Sign

As a transit user who genuinely wants Island Transit to succeed and be accountable; I was not too happy with the fact Island Transit spent money on artsy fartsy benches, a rarely used exercise room & conference room, unused golf carts and refrigerators, gazebos and snow removal equipment, a time-out room and BBQ equipment.  Nor am I happy at all the CPA for Island Transit couldn’t take a few basic questions for an upcoming post on Island Transit right now sitting on my editor’s desk…

Even worse was sitting through the Island Transit Board’s mini-meeting I took a black & white still of and also put on video – where the Island Transit Board could not make basic decisions on allowing public comment and recruiting for a permanent replacement for an Executive Director.  Having stood though that as the only transit user I agree with Oak Harbor Mayor Dudley the Island Transit Board need to start multitasking or needs replacement.

I’ve written up all about the SAO Exit Conference so will spare you another 1,500+ word commentary.  Enjoy this picture though.

After standing and video’ing all that accountability, I had a ride from a new friend to the nearest Island Transit southbound bus stop lacking a bench or shelter.  I boarded Island Transit’s Route 1 again from that stop and Route 1 was running behind schedule.  At least the seats were comfy… and I did get to my final destination.  Namely here:

Island Transit Route 1 at the Clinton Ferry Terminal

Part 3 – MV Tokitae to Future of Flight

MV Tokitae

As Island Transit Route 1 was running late, I did not get to ride the MV Kitsap but instead as you can see the MV Tokitae.  Brand new ferry, desperately needed part of renewing the state ferry system fleet.  I was hoping for a chance to get some external photos of this beaut before taking interior pictures, but oh well.

The MV Tokitae is kept very clean, has a closed sun deck due to US Coast Guard crew requirements versus budgetary constraints but open small decks over the car deck, has dignified advertising, a dining area, a nice cafe, the personnel were professional.  I then got to go outside and enjoy seeing the Mukilteo lighthouse.  Once landing on Mukilteo, I had an about 3 minute walk to a Community Transit bus stop.

At this point, I began to truly appreciate urban transit.  So far this day I’ve had to deal with rural transit where runs are every hour.  At Community Transit, service with Community Transit Route 113 is every half hour.  So instead of standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for a bus, the wait’s only a few minutes to get onto Route 113.  Although this bus’s interior is dated, I was in no position to complain for a short ride.

With a GoPro taking stop motion on my head, the time soon arrived to accomplish the second big video sortie of the day.  Namely a stop-motion of the hike up to Future of Flight.  I’ve made this YouTube to provoke some discussion so here you go:

I think now you know why I’m so pushy on getting a bus stop at Future of Flight.  It seems after talking to the City of Everett this will require Community Transit re-prioritization.  So will be covering the new Community Transit service.

Part 4 – The Ride Home

No pictures as I was frankly tired and shook up by tragic events a short distance away.  I had a friend drop me off at the SWIFT, then barely missed Skagit Transit 90X.  The jerk driver wouldn’t stop as he pulled out, I ran and yelled “WAIT, WAIT” so I got stranded for an hour at Everett Station.  Called the supervisor to complain, torqued off the driver couldn’t wait a damn 30 seconds.  Then I got on the next Skagit Transit 90X, then a 45 minute wait due to a route detour & Stilliguamish River bridge repair, then the Skagit Transit 300 and got home.  Again, I had important video to compile and upload.  Hard to have good transit connections when transit can’t stay on schedule – and the Stilliguamish River bridge work + a special detour is totally messing up connections.

Overall, this day trip loop is worth making if you have the time.  Due to Island Transit cutbacks a loop trip on Whidbey Island can only be done Monday-Friday which seems indefinite until Saturday service returns.  Also need to make sure you can miss a mass transit connection or two.

Continue reading “North by Northwest 28: Looping from Skagit to Whidbey to Snohomish to Skagit”

The solution to Sammamish’s Transit Problems is a Gondola

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Last year I was in Olympia for transportation lobby day and I heard something absolutely stupefying. A State Senator advocated for light rail on the Sammamish Plateau. My thought at the time was that a streetcar would be more than enough to serve all of Sammamish transit needs for the foreseeable future. Since then I have learned a great deal about different transit technologies and how the geography of Sammamish makes implementation difficult.

How steep the hills are, both going up to the plateau and internally in the city of Sammamish, precludes all streetcars and cheaper surface light rail alignments (many steep areas are over a 9% grade and some points over 15%). The alternative in my view is a gondola which would uniquely serve trips between Sammamish and Bellevue.

Why Serve Sammamish?

At first glance Sammamish seems to be the exact opposite of the kind of community one would want to serve with transit. It is not dense, nor walkable, bikeable, transit dependent or lower income. People tend to live in houses with two car garages and drive everywhere. An aerial picture of Sammamish could be in the dictionary next to the word sprawl.

The problem is that Sammamish is not going to go away anytime soon. Right now they have a surplus, “AAA” rated bonds and host national events at Sahalee CC (Most recently the 2010 U.S. Senior Open). Furthermore they are part of Sound Transit’s tax district and will feel entitled to some transit in the future. Indeed the Eastside members of the Sound Transit board are already advocating for them to get better coverage in the long range plan.

It’s a matter of opportunity costs in my view. Assuming that people continue to live there and we must serve them with transit, then we want to serve them with high quality transit, so that they won’t feel the need to advocate for more expensive options like Light Rail or high quality BRT.

What are Sammamish’s Transit Problems?

Immediately the problem is that the current transit situation is awful. The 927 was providing the only midday service to Sammamish and only served the center of the city on 2 hour headways because of having two tails. It was the kind of slow, circuitous and infrequent route that gives transit a bad name. However now that it is gone there is a gap between 10AM and 3PM, and on weekends, where there is no service at all. This is a problem because it strands the young, poor and transit dependent people of Sammamish. (I know they exist because I was one.)

Other buses currently serve the area. The 216, 217, 218 are peak expresses to Seattle via I-90. The 554 operates as an early morning and late night alternative for those moving in the peak direction. The only local is the 269 which goes between Microsoft’s campus in Overlake and Issaquah TC. As the core bus service in the area the 269 ought to run all day at reasonable frequencies. However 269 improvements won’t satisfy Sammamish residents. (Also the 269 must be a hard route on the buses due to the hills involved.)

The alternatives to local buses are constrained by geography. The grades are a problem I’ve already mentioned, another problem is the lake. As the crow flies Crossroads mall is the closest to central Sammamish. But Redmond and Issaquah are faster trips because Lake Sammamish creates an over 7 mile gap in east-west transportation.

So what Sammamish needs is a transit system unconstrained by steep grades, that can hook it into Link and Metro’s frequent bus network (such as Rapidride B), and ideally provide a way to bridge this transportation gap as cost effectively as possible. I think a 3S gondola on the route shown above could do that.

Benefits of a Gondola

The proposed gondola would travel from Sammamish, with a station around NE 8th ST and 228th Ave, to Crossroads Mall, with a station at about NE 8th ST and 156th and from there it would continue to Downtown Bellevue going few degrees south at each tower in order to get to Downtown Bellevue Link Station.

The station vicinity in Sammamish has a grocery store, several apartment complexes (one being the only current mixed use area in Sammamish), a teen center, and even some townhouses.

Along the way the gondola would cross Lake Sammamish requiring a span between towers of slightly less than 3 KM (about 1.85 miles); which while an impressive distance, is slightly shorter than the tower distance on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola at Whistler.

Because a 3S gondola is required for the cross lake span, you also get the benefits of the higher speeds. The travel time from Sammamish to Crossroads (assuming a gondola run at 18 MPH) would be cut down to 15 minutes and Sammamish to Downtown Bellevue would be 26 minutes.

Compare this to the current fastest bus trip of 49 minutes from Bellevue TC to Sammamish with most trips being closer to an hour. Also compare 46 minutes from Crossroads mall to Sammamish with most trips taking an 1 and 10 minutes or more. Even the Crossroads to Downtown Bellevue time of 9 mins is faster than the B Line which is can get point to point in 15 minutes and usually takes around 20.

In simpler terms it doesn’t matter how much faster the buses go (in a potential Sammamish BRT system) because they have to go around the lake. Even against driving the gondola is faster between Sammamish and Crossroads Mall and time competitive to Downtown Bellevue and probably faster if there’s traffic on I-405.

The last wonderful thing about gondolas is they are remarkably cost effective. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola was only $57 Million. Of course the Sammamish Gondola would be on a different scale entirely,  it would be more than twice as long, feature an intermediate station and would have to account for land acquisition costs for towers (likely over a dozen of them), air rights over property owners (including wealthy lakeside homeowners) and lawsuits from people who don’t like the idea of a gondola going over their (previously) private suburban houses.

This project would cheap enough to be done as a joint effort by the cities of Bellevue and Sammamish and cost efficient enough to be done by Sound Transit. The strengths of gondolas makes them ideal for projects that no other kind of transit can handle.

Special thanks to gondola expert enthusiast  and all around good guy Matt Gangemi for his help in writing this.

To The San Juan Islands by Transit, Part 4: Slowest Trip Back

Bel Air Airport Bus at Anacortes Ferry Terminal
BellAir Airport Van at Anacortes Ferry Terminal, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I ventured north from Portland through Seattle and returned as part of an all-transit trip to the San Juan Islands in very late May of 2013.

In very early August of 2013, I decided to try another trip north. A few days of this would be spent in the San Juan Islands, but on the way back I thought I would hit the Anacortes Arts Festival. Sadly, this works best on Friday, since transit service in that area is extremely limited on Saturday and nearly non-existent on Sundays.

As I noted in Part 2, I have my hesitations about trying to make any sort of tight connection coming south, thanks to an experience in 2010 that turned what should have been a reasonably quick SoundTransit express bus trip into a very long, slow trip on I-5. I thought that trying to leave Anacortes too late in the day would get me into trouble trying to transfer to Amtrak 509 coming back to Portland.

So why not try the Bellair Airport Shuttle? After all, it goes a bit faster than local buses, it doesn’t have the mid-day break in service of the Skagit Transit connector, and goes right to King Street Station, so what’s the problem?

It USED to go to King Street Station. That part of the service got chopped out in May of 2013, and the downtown Seattle stop was moved to the convention center. Also, the downtown Seattle stop became only three trips each day – none of those were particularly helpful for this particular trip.

However, they do go to the airport, and backtracking to King Street Station on Link isn’t too bad. The effective trip becomes slower, but is still competitive with the series of transit buses on I-5. There is also the possibility of going from the SeaTac airport to Tacoma on an express bus if needed, and getting Amtrak there.

So, I made a reservation for a very early afternoon departure from Anacortes, and some requisite Amtrak reservations. Arriving at SeaTac at 3:45 pm, it seemed like this would still be more than enough time for a connection to train 509.

As the title implies, unbeknownst to me the Murphy fields (the somewhat more sinister cousin of magnetic fields) were somewhat stronger than normal that day.

Going North

The trip north in very late July of 2013 is described in Part 3.

On The Islands

For the record, I had no trouble getting around on either San Juan Island or Orcas Island using San Juan Transit. The very limited schedules were, well, a bit limiting.

The Trip South

As noted in Part 3, I timed this trip so that I could visit the Anacortes art festival. I plotted my return trip so that I could go from the ferry terminal to Anacortes proper on Sakgit Transit 410 and spend a few hours at the Arts Festival before heading south. I was able to enjoy pretty much the entire arts festival, including the juried show in one of the old port warehouses at the far north side of town.

The Bellair bus stop listed for Anacortes was “Anacortes Shell Station”, but this didn’t describe very well the situation. The bus stop was a very obscure sign in the exact center of the block, surrounded on all sides by private parking and gas station related development.  Even with the directions listed on the web site I didn’t find it easy to find.

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“Airporter Shuttle” Sign on light post by Shell station air pump shows location of Bellair Airporter bus stop, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

Several passengers were standing outside waiting when it started to rain fairly hard. An attendant at the nearby Westside Pizza parlor invited us inside to stay dry, and I dropped a couple of bucks in his tips jar for his efforts. Other than this, there really isn’t any shelter, or even a painted waiting spot that is segregated from the surrounding parking lot traffic.

Bellair’s shuttle arrived and departed on time at 12:30 pm. This is a small van (see photo at top) that only serves to connect Bellair’s main line north-south bus route to Anacortes and the ferry terminal. It’s a tight fit for those with lots of luggage, but its not a long trip and it is the appropriate sized bus for the trip.

After the relatively quick trip to Burlington, the bus pulled up to a portable office structure, and everyone was invited inside for the brief wait for the carefully timed connection for the southbound bus.

Half an hour later, we were still waiting, and we were then informed that the bus would be there soon, but was stuck in heavy traffic on Interstate 5.

Eventually, the bus did in fact show up, and southward we crawled in a traffic jam that stretched as far as the eye could see.

If there were opportunity to get off somewhere, and transfer to local transit heading into downtown Seattle, I would certainly have taken it at this point. However, the only stops between Burlington and SeaTac are the Tulalip Casino and Stanwood (which must be reserved far in advance and was not utilized this trip). It is unfortunate that such a connection to other services isn’t offered. Physically there in the middle of I-5 is South Everett Park and Ride that could serve as a decent transfer point on the north side of town, but politically / management wise it doesn’t work for a bus to the airport to stop there.

Somewhat south of Everett, the driver announced that the dispatcher had told him to take Interstate 405 around Seattle rather than I-5 though Seattle, as that would be faster. Thanks to the HOV lanes northbound traffic was moving fine, but southbound traffic was definitely not.

Half an hour later the bus was still crawling through congested traffic and people were making frantic calls to their airline companies.

Ultimately, the bus crawled to a stop at SeaTac at 5 pm, some hour and 15 minutes late.

My options to Go South?

As it takes around 45 minutes or so to get from the SeaTac airport to King Street Station on Link it was going to be very tight to get to train 509 that way, and considering the state of traffic I doubt any alternative short of a jet pack would have worked any better.

The BoltBus web site said the evening 8:00 pm departure to Portland was sold out.

I looked into the SoundTransit express bus to Tacoma and trying to catch up with my train there. Sadly, the scheduled time for this express was an hour and 10 minutes, and even with train 509 leaving Seattle at 5:30 it would still be gone from Tacoma by the time I got there.

Trying to get from SeaTac to the Tukwila station yielded a trip a little over an hour – the best result would be getting there about 15 minutes after the 509 had left.

Taxi to Tukwila might have been an option, but at an estimated cab fare price of $30, it was almost as much as I had spent on the bus trip from Anacortes to SeaTac, less than I had spent on the Amtrak ticket, and was a bit more than I wanted to spend.

Resolved that there was no way to get between SeaTac and any Amtrak stations in time to catch the southbound, I cancelled my reservation with Amtrak. As long as you do this before train departure time, there is no real penalty.

I thought I would at least show up at the BoltBus stop and see if they had an extra seat, but there were several hours to kill in the meantime. I went over to the car rental office just to see what one-way car rental from SeaTac to Portlad would run, and the cheapest walk-up fare I could find there was $250.

I could get a fairly decent hotel and get the morning train and still come out ahead on that one, so I certainly didn’t consider that an option, but it was interesting to see what the competition was charging.

As it happened there were two empty seats on the “8:00 pm” BoltBus departure, after all the ticketed passengers had borded. These empty seats are sold on a whoever makes the loudest noise first to the driver first, who overseas the cash sale transaction. They are cash only. I happened to have enough cash on hand and managed to grab one of those empty seats.

I can definitely picture this becoming a bidding war with the driver winding up with some decent cash bonuses.

Even at the 8:45 pm departure (BoltBus isn’t immune from traffic delays either and the bus had to go through the same mess that Bellair just had), traffic was still a horrific mess from downtown Seattle through a middle of nowhere point somewhat south of Tumwater. The bus finally arrived in downtown Portland around 11:45 pm, with the driver saying “We managed to do it in three hours, which is slower than usual but it is still faster than you can do it on Greyhound or Amtrak.”

It had taken essentially 11 hours from Anacortes to Portland.

Doing This Trip Today:

The timetables I used at Bellair are virtually unchanged from 2013. As BoltBus now has regular priced seats as high as $27 listed on their web site, I would imagine that the walk-up cash ticket price is higher than what I wound up paying.

In apparent acknowledgement of the traffic situation, BoltBus has increased its scheduled time between Seattle and Portland. Even the last evening trip is scheduled for 3 hours 15 minutes. As with the previous timetable, I’m sure they usually do it faster than this.

Another timetable change: thanks to the addition of RapidRide between Tukwila International Boulevard and Tukwila Amtrak / Sounder stations, it is now possible to make the SeaTac Airport to Tukwila station in a blistering 45 minutes instead of the hour required in 2013. With the 5 pm arrival of Bellair at SeaTac this might have allowed me to get my originally intended train. The 2013 timetable, as well as today’s timetable, has Amtrak 509 going through at 5:44 pm, so I probably would have at least attempted this. However, had I missed the train I would have lost the Amtrak ticket due to not being able to cancel the ticket before the train departed from Seattle.

I might consider purchasing a refundable 6:30 pm departure on Greyhound (BoltBus doesn’t offer this option) so that should I have been able to actually make my intended train I would have a ticket I could cancel. I would have to do some research into how Greyhound’s policies work on this.

Some Room for Improvement:

  • It would be nice if BoltBus had a way of registering people for walk-up tickets so that it was clear what order the line should be. As it was the bus driver happened to point to me, but could just as easily have pointed to any number of other people waiting in the standing crowd of walk-up ticket people.
  • Some sort of transit alternative that doesn’t involve Interstate 5. One of the reasons why Sounder North is so expensive per passenger is that there are no reverse train moves, so the crews are only used once per direction per day. There certainly seems to be more than enough traffic demand to support at least one reverse move. Maybe try to combine funding with the state for an additional train originating at Bellingham?
  • Based on my experience over at the car rental facility, there must be somewhere around 20 buses in circulation at any one time at SeaTac to serve the car rental facility. For the most part . This seems like a huge waste of money, and most of the time the buses seemed to be laying over at the car rental facility. If someone could figure out how to send one of those down the hill to the Tukwila Amtrak / Sounder station a few times per day to meet the trains when they are operating, the 45 minute transit trip becomes about 10 minutes.
  • It would sure be nice of Bellair and the various agencies could figure out a way to get an additional stop somewhere on the north side of Seattle that would work as a transfer point between Bellair service and the various other transportation services. This could be particularly important in another 10 years, as I’m quite certain that most of my fellow passengers would have preferred to get a Link train at Lynnwood to SeaTac rather than continue the southbound freeway crawl with its late arrival at the airport. I might have still been able to make my train had I been able to connect with one of the express buses at South Everett. Lynnwood would not have been an option due to the I-405 routing chosen by the dispatcher for this trip.

North by Northwest 27: State Auditor’s Office vs. Island Transit

2014-10-24 Washington State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference With Island Transit

2014-10-24 Washington State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference With Island Transit

Island Transit yesterday had an exit conference with the Washington State Auditor’s Office (hereafter SAO) with video taken and the release of the severance agreement with former Exec Director Martha Rose.  Most exit conferences are staid affairs, such as the one with the City of Oak Harbor where SAO employees explain any issues with collaboration between auditor & auditee.  In the case of Island Transit; there were audible groans, arrogant grilling and even attempted gifts in what for most state & local governments is a quiet act (1) of meeting with SAO employees to ensure fiscal responsibility.

Midday through 24 October, members of the Island Transit Press Gallery (e.g. IslandPolitics.org, Whidbey News-Times) scooped us (2) with the galling news that former Exec Director Martha Rose thanks to the personal feelings of Island Transit Board Chair Bob Clay towards her Island Transit will now pay over $100,000 to this individual.  Last night, a Seattle Transit Blog Page Two writer interviewed Island Transit Board Member & Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley who said for the record he had sought Martha Rose’s resignation letter (3) since her resignation and that the Island Transit Board never approved former Island Transit Exec Director Martha Rose’s “separation agreement” signed back on 20 October 2014.  The document was not supposed to be released until she signed it and as such, was not released to the public until 24 October 2014.

That same 24 October 2014, the SAO Exit Conference with Island Transit unfolded.  For the first time the general public also learned that former Exec Director Martha Rose was getting special, improper and possibly unconstitutional at a state level treatment from the Island Transit Board.  In SAO documentation publicly released at that meeting, the SAO notes with my emphasis:

The Transit’s personnel policy requires the salary schedule for all Transit employees be approved by the Board of Directors. We found no evidence of the Board approving the salary schedule. The only evidence of salary approval is in the budgeting process in departmental lump sum amounts.
The contract between the Transit and the former Executive Director requires the Board to review annually the Executive Director’s performance, contract and salary. However, this annual review did not occur. The last documented review was conducted in 1996. The former Executive Director received salary increases approximately every two years without specific Board approval.
We identified a lack of oversight of the former Executive Director’s leave usage. The Executive Director was self-approving and self-reporting any leave used to the Payroll Specialist. The former Executive Director’s calendar identified the following:
o Attendance at a conference for 16 days in April 2013 when flight records indicate the Director was only in the same city as the conference for four days.
o Vacation for four weeks that spanned July and August of 2013
o Attendance at a conference for 19 days in September 2013 when flight records indicate the Director was only in the same city as the conference for five days.
o Vacation for three weeks that spanned June and July of 2014
Despite the above items noted on the former Executive Director’s calendar, we identified only six days of leave were deducted from the former Executive Director’s leave balances from August 2012 to September 2014.

That same document also notes on page 1 of their Exit Conference agenda:

Preliminary audit results and recommendations were shared in detail with Transit management and personnel as they were developed during the audit

So there was quite a bit of shock and groaning when Island Transit Emergency Executive Director Bob Clay – with no board approval – entered into a “separation agreement” signed back on 20 October 2014 with former Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose.  Within that document is this stipulation:

Payment of Vacation Time. The Parties acknowledge and agree that Rose has accrued unused paid time off with Island Transit, the value of which totals eighty-eight thousand one hundred ninety dollars and forty cents ($88,190.40), subject to lawful deductions. Rose acknowledges and agrees that this unused paid time off that Rose has accrued with Island Transit will be paid in monthly installments to Rose of the lesser of either eleven thousand dollars ($11,000) per month or the remaining amount due to Rose for payment in full of her accrued unused paid time off. Such monthly installments will begin on February 15, 2015 and will continue until her accrued unused paid time off is paid in full, and such payments will include lawful deductions.”

As Island Transit Board Member Scott Dudley noted in an interview, “If we were following up the vacation and leave status, we ended up paying for almost nine months of vacation.”  As such, there are cogent, logical calls for a criminal investigation into who knew what when in regards to former Island Transit Exec Director Martha Rose’s “separation agreement”.  Especially as Martha Rose told the Whidbey News-Times when she left she was only staying on after Island Transit’s new facility was complete due to the Island Transit fiscal crisis.  But perhaps these developments should be no surprise – more after the jump.

Continue reading “North by Northwest 27: State Auditor’s Office vs. Island Transit”

Let’s Build Another Transit Tunnel

History

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel has improved transit in Seattle more than any other project. Long before it served trains, it served buses (and still does). Thousands of buses have gone through it, saving passengers thousands of hours in travel time. Now it is an essential part of light rail — by far the most important part. It wasn’t cheap to build, but compared to the rest of the system (such as the Beacon Hill tunnel, the surface rail on Rainier Valley or the elevated rail to the airport) it is a tremendous value.

Future

At a point in the not too distant future, the tunnel formerly known as a “bus tunnel” will only serve light rail. This is a good thing, but it means that some buses, especially those from the south, will be forced to the surface through downtown or rerouted elsewhere. At the same time, we are in the midst of planning for high speed transit from Ballard to downtown and West Seattle to downtown. We should build a new tunnel to address all of these issues.

Proposal

I propose a new transit tunnel through downtown that will support both buses and light rail. From the southern end, it would start (and connect seamlessly) with the SoDo busway. In the middle, it would parallel the existing tunnel at least in part, allowing for easy transfers along the route. The northern route is trickier. The big question is whether to pay the extra money to include Queen Anne, and if so, which parts of Queen Anne. Corridor A includes stops on upper and lower Queen Anne. This wouldn’t be cheap, but it would certainly be popular. Corridor B only include a lower Queen Anne stop, and saves money in the process. Arguably the best value would be a modified Corridor C. This would be significantly cheaper, especially if much of the tunneling work could be done as cut-and-cover (just as the original tunnel was built as a mix of cut-and-cover and boring). I really don’t have a strong opinion on which northern route is best, as the costs are so sketchy. In general I would say that each proposal has merit, and that each route would be a good value. It is simply a case of how much extra we want to spend for the extra ridership. This decision (the exact northern route) does not alter the basic proposal — a second, mixed use tunnel would be a great value for the city.

The Southern End

Bus riders who live or travel south of downtown Seattle would benefit greatly by this tunnel. The SoDo busway is a great asset for buses. It connects freeways in the area with downtown (through the existing tunnel). With relatively inexpensive changes, the buses could connect from the south to downtown in a fast, exclusive way. WSDOT is currently improving the HOV lanes and has plans for more. Fairly soon, there will be HOV lanes continuously from Tacoma to Seattle. The state has also proposed adding a ramp to better connect I-5 to the SoDo busway (they don’t have a project website, but it is the second proposal listed here). This would enable a rider to go from Tacoma to downtown Seattle in an exclusive lane the entire way. Similar changes could be done for West Seattle. Parts of the West Seattle freeway are already HOV only, but more could be done on the freeway itself, as well as to connect the freeway to the busway. This isn’t cheap, but it is a lot less expensive than new light rail because much of the work has been done, and buses can travel a more steep grade than trains. For a lot less than the cost of the cheapest light rail line to West Seattle  (serving only one station) you could add miles of exclusive lanes and  ramps. With the money left over, you could fund countless improvements to the buses in the neighborhoods (exclusive lanes, traffic light priority, offsite boarding, etc.).

Speed Now and More Capacity Later

Unlike the existing tunnel, this new tunnel could be designed for off board payment from the very beginning. It would also be designed to handle buses and trains the day it opened. Like the transit tunnel, it could accommodate future rail expansion. If West Seattle ever gets populated enough to justify the extra capacity and cost of light rail, then the tunnel could handle it.

Alternatives

One alternative is to build light rail from West Seattle to this tunnel immediately. I could spend a lot of time explaining why I think this is a bad value, but consider, just for a second, how exactly that would be better for folks in West Seattle. The population in West Seattle, as in much of Seattle, is spread out. This means that you wouldn’t get very high ridership unless you funnel people (via buses) to the station. There is nothing wrong with that — it plays a large part in why I think this route makes so much sense. But in the case of West Seattle, it makes a lot less sense. Buses in the area can, in many cases, get to the freeway faster than they can get to a subway station in West Seattle (assuming there is only one subway line). This means that there would not only be a transfer penalty for most riders, but little to no time savings while riding. The transfer penalty could be substantial — Sound Transit expects headways on the West Seattle line of ten minutes (and that is during rush hour). It is important to remember that buses and light rail travel at about the same speed. The time savings come from grade separation, not vehicle capability. For this corridor, it is a lot cheaper to build that grade separation for buses, not rail. Rail is still better from a capacity standpoint, but at this point, it simply isn’t needed for this area.

Buses from Tacoma could simply use one of the other stations (such as the one in Tukwila). But that would cost riders a lot of time. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the system, the train moves very slowly, and very infrequently between Tukwila and Seattle. Even transferring riders from Renton to a station at Rainier Beach would cost riders a substantial amount of time.

Another alternative is to use the SoDo station as the endpoint for buses. To do that, you would need to build a bus station there to allow buses to turn around. For this type of system to work, you would need very frequent rail service (think Toronto, not Washington D. C.). Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever happen. Trains from the south will never be able to travel very frequently through the Rainier Valley. Sound Transit could add a turnback station in the SoDo area and send additional trains there, but there are significant limitations with that approach. Headways are limited in our central core, and some of those trains will branch off to the east side. Simply put, I don’t think we will be able to have the kind of frequency from SoDo to make such a transfer painless. The transfer would not be as bad as the one in West Seattle, but it wouldn’t be good, either.

Another approach would be to build a short tunnel from the southern entrance of the existing tunnel to the International District station. That would allow someone to make one transfer to any other part of the system. Furthermore, this puts it much closer to the heart of downtown. Even if SoDo becomes more popular, I doubt it will never be as popular as the area surrounding the International District. If not for the work being considered for Ballard, this would make a lot of sense.

Conclusion

As Bruce Nourish mentioned, the most important part of the Ballard to downtown line is from Mercer to downtown. The rest of the route can be done on the surface, with little time penalty (less than a minute). But through downtown, you need a tunnel. It makes sense to run this tunnel as far south as the SoDo busway, and have the southern end serve buses not only from West Seattle, but from Tacoma, Renton and other areas.

North by Northwest 26: A Tale of Two Island Transit Board Members

[UPDATE IN RED BELOW – TIME CHANGE]

Indeed, this is a tale of two Island Transit Board Members in Jim Campbell and Bob Clay.  One of whom graciously recursed himself from the Island Transit Board, the other decided to attack the media.

First, Oak Harbor Councilmember Jim Campbell who decided to recurse himself from the Island Transit Board so Mayor Scott Dudley could be the permanent representative until 31 December with great class and dignity as per the below video:

I clipped away from the video the many minutes of minutiae parliamentary i-dotting and t-crossing to ensure a legal & professional change of representation maneuver.  You can watch these maneuvers on the City of Oak Harbor website starting about a minute inA formal letter by the City on the 22nd is issued.

Then there’s Island Transit Boardmember & Emergency Director Bob Clay representing the Town of Coupeville attacking the media.  When asked to provide context to the below rant, he declined:

Mr. Clay’s recent attack on the media without spelling out what the “misconceptions of what really is going on” are frankly is unhelpful.  It’s unhelpful for Island Transit employees, watchdogs (of which he’s supposed to be one) and the media.  Unhelpful from a  media perspective as it creates the presumption Mr. Clay has contempt for his fellow watchdogs.  Unhelpful as clearly when Island Transit went into the red for several days in September, there is a serious structural deficit in Island Transit.

As certainly many are aware, at 0900 Hours (9 AM) Friday at Island Transit HQ, Island Transit will have a special meeting on an executive director and the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) will be giving an exit conference into their findings into Island Transit – the updated agenda is on Scribd.  A senior SAO official in the Bellingham branch kindly informed your correspondent there is no scheduled public comment, once the first business item is addressed the board will get a formal presentation (probably no PowerPoint slides though) of their findings, discussion will depend on questions from the board and there will be no public comment period as per the agenda on Scribd which as per RCW 42.30.080 means only the items on the agenda are actionable.  It is also worth noting one Island Transit Board Member has publicly said there will be State Auditor’s Office findings into Island Transit for financial health and not having records available for starters.  So please make a hole for me as I will need a seat, then get on Island Transit Route 1 to the Clinton Ferry Dock to the Future of Flight (a potential write-up in of itself, eh?).


Continue reading “North by Northwest 26: A Tale of Two Island Transit Board Members”

To The San Juan Islands by Transit, Part 3: All Afternoon Effort

Everett Station is Modern, but Also Attractive
Most all northbound transit routes lead through Everett station, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I ventured north from Portland through Seattle and returned as part of an all-transit trip to the San Juan Islands in late May of 2013.

In very early August of 2013, I decided to try another trip north. A few days of this would be spent in the San Juan Islands, but on the way back I thought I would hit the Anacortes Arts Festival. Sadly, this works best on Friday, since transit service in that area is extremely limited on Saturday and nearly non-existent on Sundays.

As I noted in Part 2, I have my hesitations about trying to make any sort of tight connection coming south through Seattle, thanks to an experience in 2010 that turned what should have been a reasonably quick SoundTransit express bus trip into a very long, slow trip on I-5. I thought that trying to leave Anacortes too late in the day would get me into trouble trying to transfer to Amtrak 509 coming back to Portland.

So I came up with a different, but somewhat more expensive plan, as I will explain in Part 4.

Going North

The northbound trip was a fairly typical one in terms of the methods: Amtrak Cascades #506. My hope was to get Sounder North to Everett that left at 4:03, and with train 506 arriving at 3:45 (remember this is the 2013 timetable when things ran a bit faster) this could work. Right out of the gate, however, things went awry when the Willamette River Bridge was opened for several ships, putting the train behind by 20 minutes after less than 5 minutes on the main line. They did OK in terms of making up a little bit of time, but there is only so much that can be done. Train 506 arrived just before the Sounder train was leaving. I might have been able to do it if the station arrangement allowed for a cross-platform transfer rather than going all the way up to street level and back down. An on-time arrival at 3:45 pm would have been pretty close to a perfect transfer.

I high-tailed it over to 4th and managed to get the 510 instead.

With the 2013 timetables, either way yielded a fairly nice set of reasonably timed transfers using Skagit Transit 90X, Island Transit 411W (now operated as Skagit Transit 40X) and Skagit Transit 410 to get from King Street Station to the Anacortes ferry terminal in 3 hours, arriving there about 7 in the evening.

It’s an interesting contrast between the Amtrak Thruway bus (see Part 1) and the Skagit Transit 90X. The 2013 fare from Everett to Mount Vernon was $2, and as you would expect the passengers are mostly working class folks trying to get home from work. The young woman sitting next to me was very worried that she might not be able to get the connection she needed as this was the last bus of the day that made her required connection. She was surviving on very little money, so to her the ability to get from north of Mount Vernon to Everett for work for $3.50 ($2 of which was for the 90X) was a huge help. Sometimes she would have to take Island Transit routes for part of the way if she ran short of money.

This series of connections was also the last scheduled 410 trip of the day, so all this worked out decently enough, though I would have preferred there to be one later trip so I could get something to eat in Anacortes instead, and since the boat to Friday Harbor doesn’t leave until 8:20 pm anyway there’s no reason to immediately get to the ferry terminal, had their been a later bus. I got a little bit of highly overpriced food at the snack bar at the ferry terminal instead, and thought maybe I could get something a bit more food-like once I arrived at Friday Harbor.

The boat, however, had mechanical issues, and was taken out of service. Once the Chelan had arrived from Sidney at 8:30 and gone through the customs process and unloaded, it was pressed into service as a replacement. My 8:20 pm departure turned into a 9:15 or so. It was certainly my first time on a Washington State Ferry with a duty free shop on board.

Having spent much of the afternoon in seats of various types, I would have been quite willing to walk to Anacortes at that point since it really isn’t that far, but the road really isn’t something that is good to walk next to as it is narrow, busy and lacks any real walk space. There is an attempt to develop a path between Anacortes and the ferry terminal, but it is very incomplete: it currently connects an obscure dead end street with vacant lots to a large no trespassing sign.

End of Guemes Channel Trail at Nowhere at All
Guemes Channel Trail connects a dead-end street near the ferry terminal to this sign. The hope is that one day this really nice trail will go all the way to downtown Anacortes, or at somewhere more useful than this End of Trail sign. By Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

That’s OK. I had an additional hour to kill at the ferry terminal and did what I could to explore.

I called the hotel where I was staying, which closes its front desk 10 pm, and  let them know I was on the way but was being held up due to ferry issues. They said they were already planning to close late as they check the ferry status regularly – they have to do so since they “live and die by the ferry” in the hotel manager’s own words.

On The Islands

For the record, I had no trouble getting around on either San Juan Island or Orcas Island using San Juan Transit. The very limited schedules were certainly a constraint but at least the service was there – which it wouldn’t be in another month.

Making This Trip Today

There is now an expanded set of timetables on Skagit Transit 90X over what I remember from 2013, and the segment of the 411W that used to run from Mount Vernon to March’s Point is now operated by Skagit Transit as well rather than Island Transit.

The slower 2014 Amtrak schedule to Seattle of train 506 means an arrival in Seattle at 4:05 pm if it is on time. This means using the next possible 510 for the 1 hour 10 minute slog going north or using Sounder North, and if everything is on time then there is a two minute layover at Everett to the 90X to Mount Vernon at 5:32 pm. This bus will hold for up to 10 minutes to guarantee a connection for the Sounder train that left Seattle at 4:33 pm, and arrives at Mount Vernon at 6:10 pm. The 6:15 departure of 40X gets you to March’s Point at 6:40, but there is another trip an hour later if you miss it, but that is the last one of the day.

The 6:40 pm timed transfer at March’s Point to the 410 to Anacortes is the last scheduled trip of the day for the 410. If you are desperate enough and transferring from the last 40X, Skagit Transit will make one more run out to the ferry terminal an hour later but it isn’t regularly scheduled to do so and won’t stop to pick anyone up anywhere. The only passengers allowed are those coming from another bus.

One interesting item of note for 2014: San Juan Transit operated weekend service late into September this year.

The Trip South

The trip south was a bit more interesting in terms of transit events, but due to the article length I will save the return trip for Part 4.

North by Northwest View 01: What It’s Going to Take for Island Transit to Rebuild Trust

An Island Transit Bus Banged Up...

Below is my view of the simple tasks Island Transit is going to need to do to restore transit advocacy community confidence.  Am publishing the day before Island Transit Board Meeting the 17th at 0930 at Island Transit HQ so the Island Transit Boardmembers get the cold water memo.  Because quite frankly… we need to fix Island Transit before we fund Island Transit or we transit advocates are done here.

  1. Island Transit must be 100% forthcoming about its financial struggles: Any further deception or opacity, especially with Island Transit still bleeding red ink, is just going to make us transit advocates turn on Island Transit.  A backdrop of Island Transit scandals will only detract from the good work done by Skagit Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro and Sound Transit for starters.  Already we transit advocates will have to contend with addressing state legislation being drafted that could significantly alter the operations of the many, the good transit agencies of this state.
  2. Island Transit must stop accruing debt and create a Strategic Recovery Plan: Island Transit needs to assure its creditors and general taxpayers alike that Island Transit will stop accruing debt, pay down the debt Island Transit accrued, get back on track with paying its insurance pool premiums, become less dependent on grants and if the Federal Government requests it the repayment of certain grants.  If Island Transit can do these things, then folks will start to entrust Island Transit again with their money.  If not, well then…
  3. Island Transit must develop and execute immediately an Audit Compliance Plan: Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley – Oak Harbor’s alternate Island Transit boardmember – recently said at a Citizens for a Better Island Transit meeting that there will be State Auditor’s Office findings into Island Transit for financial health and not having records available for starters.  There are also concerns the grant money used to build the new Island Transit ornate headquarters were abused.  I personally have also tasked the State Auditor’s Office to look into the serial meetings the former Island Transit Executive Director held with Island Transit Boardmembers as well.  Without a plan to be in compliance with the State Auditor’s Office, how can we trust Island Transit with our money when other transit systems can and do comply but are starving for funds?  Frankly we got transit agencies here on the mainland with issues of our own… why should we transit advocates advocate subsidizing audit noncompliance and Heaven Forbid disrespect towards our State Auditor? WHY?
  4. Island Transit needs to have a backup budget not dependent on grant funding: Treating grants as entitlements is not just insulting to the taxpayers whom provide those grants, but also bad fiscal practice.  Some would argue this policy alone led to Island Transit having 5, going strong on 6 end-of-fiscal-year deficits.
  5. If Island Transit wants state grants funded by 38 other counties, then it must provide reliable service to connect to Skagit Transit and the Clinton Washington State Ferries Ferry Terminal: Even if this means cutting folks off of other runs/routes; why should Washington State pay into a transit network that the other counties cannot access?  Why not then just have Island County with the highest sales tax possible for transit pay its own system and its own way?  With Paine Field – a major Washington State economic generator – needing more transit service and a few transit agencies still in the hole who haven’t acted immorally why should users of those systems such as Pierce Transit, Everett Transit and Community Transit carry the load for Island Transit’s leaders’ prioritizing an ornate headquarters over fiscal stability?
  6. Island Transit needs a new Executive Director whom is not from Island County, preferably soon: The tardy departure of Martha Rose and her insubordinate financier mean that Island Transit’s rudder is broke but replaceable.  One would hope the Island Transit Board would focus on getting this vital task done – and preferably hire an Executive Director outside of Island County loyal to no Island County political clique.  Having a real leader will go a long way to rebuilding public trust.
  7. Island Transit needs to be implementing an advertising program: Island Transit needs the money, period.  If that means having an ad for Oreos or preferably an Island County business on the side of an Island Transit bus, okay then.  There was a time when progressives such as this Canadian Tyee.ca fellow could write gleefully “Blessedly ad-free” regarding Island Transit; but Martha Rose’s focus on an ornate headquarters instead of a basic headquarters replacement and not service makes Island Transit seeking advertising funding to address points 2 & 3 an immediate necessity.
  8. Island Transit needs to study charging fares with public input: At this time asking riders to pay for the mismanagement of Island Transit is unfair as I’ve explained.  But Island Transit needs to lose the dependency on grants with fiscal constraints at federal & state levels.  A study into fares with public input into both scoping and a draft is necessary to rebuild trust.
  9. Island Transit needs to have a Zero-Based Budget: Things like participating in a trip to Alaska promotion for somebody who uses fare free Island Transit just really lacks sense at any time – especially now.  Nor does deferring the insurance premium.  Nor does setting up your budget to where you have to hold a check because you were too grant dependent and budgeted with the wrong priorities.  It’s time Island Transit budgeted on priorities like paying insurance, fixing the reported problems with its headquarters and Paratransit instead of for instance having a trip to Alaska promotion.
  10. Island Transit needs to serve their primary customer US Navy a heckuva lot better: Yeah, for 239 years the US Navy has been the “Shield of the Republic”.  With NAS Whidbey Island and its flight operations being not just vital to the safety of the free world plus the survival of Island County’s economy, but also the enjoyment of aviation geeks worldwide why is there no Island Transit shuttle to Ault Field north of Oak Harbor?  It’s time for Island Transit to build on the success of serving America’s OLF – aka NOLF Coupeville.  Heck yeah!

Let’s just be clear here: It’s just not fair for transit advocates on the mainland with issues of our own to defend a transit agency that wastes grants funded by the same pools of grant funding that could rehabilitate transit agencies with both moral conduct and transit cuts to repair.  Transit cuts that hit riders during the Great Recession while Island Transit did not make any route or staff cuts to restore an honorable financial position until June 2014, after $2,100,000 of operating debt had piled up while the new Island Transit HQ was being built.


One last thing: This is solely about working to inoculate other transit systems in this state from the Island Transit fiascoes.  January is coming up in the window rather fast and when the State Legislature is in session, we better get it together or cut from the team Island Transit.This is a personal editorial with many sources, not a news item.  Also furthermore these views are not necessarily the views of the Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board, hence the title.

North by Northwest 25: Island Transit’s True Financial Position

“You can’t serve the public good without the truth as a bottom line.”
Source: Carl Bernstein

Technicolor of an Island Transit Bus at Oak Harbor Transfer Station

I post this Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) quote for a reason and I’ll get into why.  Thanks to Jeff Lauderdale of Citizens for a Better Island Transit going though the Island County Treasurer Reconciliation Reports, we have a good idea of Island Transit’s cash flow.  Below is the actual table:

View post on imgur.com

For those of you who don’t do spreadsheets, let me put into text.  Feel free to ask for clarification…

Island Transit’s been bleeding red since 2008.  Not to mention burned through $7.72 million in investments starting out with January 2008.  Not to mention accumulated $2.35 million in operating debt since July 2013.

Island Transit did not make any route or staff cuts to restore financial position until June 2014, after $2,100,000 of operating debt had piled up while the new Island Transit HQ was being built.  After the grants for the Camano-to-Everett Connector got veto’d by the State Legislature in part because Island Transit was supposed to find other sources of funding.

Island Transit has written up budgets with grants embedded into them, although it’s not legally required and has dug in against an alternative.  Only the City of Oak Harbor’s alternate Island Transit Boardmember Scott Dudley has forced the issue, getting an admission out of an Island Transit senior official, “Island Transit is not mandated to include potential grant funds in the budget, however, the majority of Island Transit’s Board is choosing to include these as a part of budgeting practice” (emphasis mine).

Island Transit’s excuse for a “budgeting practice” of writing “potential grant finds” into their budgets has been various grants require the grant moneys be written into a Transit Development Plan (TDP) budget to be given to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to apply for federal & state grants as per this WSDOT PDF.  Yet for the sake of convenience the TDP and the annual budget are merged.  One can only wonder what the State Auditor’s Office has to say about this business practice… and they will speak about the financial health of Island Transit on 24 October at 1000 Hours at Island Transit HQ.

Overall, we have an Island Transit that :

Meanwhile King County Metro is debating how much in reserves to hang onto with its Executive Director campaigning here at STB for hanging onto more reserves.  Two agencies run mostly by left-of-centre folks.  Just to help create some perspective.


A few editorial comments since this writer is part researcher, part editorialist: Perhaps we overuse references to Watergate in American culture, but quite frankly I sought a non-Heather Brooke quote in part to protect the luster of Heather “Newsbrooke” Brooke being used in my mastheads and in part because truth has not been the bottom line out of Island Transit’s senior leadership.  Multiple Island Transit employees have reported a culture of intimidation.   Efforts were made to opaque the coming State Auditor’s Office Exit Conference with Island Transit.  Island Transit has always budgeted with grants embedded into the budget so if they vaporized there was no “Plan B”. Island Transit leaders also did not advise the media when the Camano Connector was cut as both the Stanwood-Camano News & Whidbey Newsgroup have reported. Island Transit executive leaders did not advise or consult with the Island Transit Board either about making the second round of cuts (the 1st round being the Camano Connector to/from Everett) or deferring its insurance premium.  All bordering on if not untruthful and dishonest.  Yet somehow we’re supposed to rally the troops and fight the “Road Bullies” as I’d say come January?  Even I’m saying NO.

Frankly I wish my Whidbey neighbors had an Island Transit Executive Director write on STB as King County’s did, “The question of reserves is a legitimate policy issue and open to honest debate and one our customers are watching carefully as they make life choices based on what transportation system we can commit to over the long haul. … I am confident we can arrive at a solution that responsibly secures Metro’s present and future – so that when the economy changes, as we know it will, our riders won’t be left to wonder what’s going to happen to their bus.”

There you go.

To The San Juan Islands by Transit, Part 2: A Return to Portland

Deception Pass from Island Transit #411W, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

The well documented trials of Island Transit discussed on Seattle Transit Blog remind me of some of my adventures in dealing with transit in northwest Washington. This is a continuation of the late May of 2013 trip to the San Juan Islands by transit described in Part 1 of this series, in which I ventured north from Portland, through Seattle and eventually arrived in the San Juan Islands.

This is the return trip.

Returning to Portland: At First Glance

Under the 2013 timetables, the first southbound Amtrak Cascades train of the day went through Mount Vernon at 9:15 am.  I did not think that it would be that easy for me to get all the necessary connections to get over to that train due to the early morning differences in timetables. Also, my intent of visiting the San Juan Islands was to, in fact, visit the San Juan Islands rather than return to Portland as early as possible. Unfortunately, at first glance that 9:15 am train was the latest southbound service I could find until afternoon rush hour. The other options (Amtrak Thruway or Skagit Transit 90X) were afternoon trips that didn’t leave much time for a connection to southbound train 509 out of Seattle at 5:30.

For a time, the return Thruway bus from Bellingham stopped in Mount Vernon at 2:50pm, was scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:00pm, and connect well with train 509 leaving at 5:30 pm. I knew that in practice this rarely actually worked due to afternoon traffic on I-5. Today this bus is scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:40 pm, just mssing train 509 – a more frustrating but realistic representation of the reality of transit in Seattle in the afternoon.

More Than One Way to Skin a Bus

It is a more obscure set of transit connections compared to the main I-5 transit routes, but the only mid-day regularly scheduled transit service linking Seattle to Anacortes is Island Transit and its backbone Whidbey Island routes. From my 2010 experience, I already knew of the problems with a transfer at Mukilteo but it beat a skin of the teeth set of connections coming back along I-5 in the afternoon and evening to try to get train 509.

I made my reservation for train 509, and figured I would come up with some way of getting to that train at least, even if it took most of the day to get between Anacortes and Seattle.

Whidbey and Fidalgo in 3 Hours

Thanks to the very well timed connection at March’s Point, getting to Oak Harbor wasn’t much of a problem from Anacortes as the connection between Skagit Transit 410 and Island Transit 411W was planned so it works going both directions. The bus trip across the Deception Pass bridges is more scenic than anything on Interstate 5, and as a whole the trip down the length of Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands isn’t too bad.  With Island Transit #1 having a very well planned timed transfer with the ferry at Clinton, and the 411W having a well planned transfer to 410 and other routes, it was inevitable there would be one spot where connections wouldn’t exactly mesh.

Travel Photo
Oak Harbor Transit Center by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

The 20 minute layover in Oak Harbor gave me time to use the restroom in the park across the street from the transit center. Among things of interest in the park, you will find what is probably the world’s only 5 ton two seat roadster:

The Flinstone Car at Flinstone Park
Flinstone Park, across the street from the transit center, has a few features worth exploring and at the very least can serve as good use of the short layover time in Oak Harbor, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

The trip south on Whidbey Island is reasonably scenic and gave me a few ideas for future trips to this part of Washington, and average speed isn’t too different from I-5 express routes (see Let’s Compare, below). The connection at Clinton to the Ferry still worked just as well as in 2010, with the bus driving onto the ferry pier minutes before the ropes were untied.

Travel Photo
Unlike the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, Island Transit # 1 gets very close to the ferry at the terminal in Clinton, is closely timed with ferry departures, and requires no road traffic crossings, by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

Perhaps 20 or so passengers made the transfer to the ferry.

Then Came Community Transit and SoundTransit 

Now, if only there were a Sounder train on the other end, the trip from Mukilteo to King Street Station would take about 50 minutes. That was certainly not an option for me, so I trudged up to Community Transit 113 and expected a slow ride to Seattle. During the time waiting at the bus stop, one of my fellow IT#1 riders asked if this was really the best way to get to Seattle. When I told him that I had no idea, he commented that normally he would take the Everett Transit bus from Mukilteo to Everett and get an express from there, but usually the connection there was terrible, so he was trying this instead.

In the end, I wound up at King Street Station well before the departure of Train 507, which would get me into Portland at 6 pm, rather than train 509 arriving at 9 pm. I cancelled my train 509 reservation with the ticket agent and rebooked for 507.

Making This Trip Today

Please note that as of 2014 most transit services in northwest Washington have very little to no service on Sundays. So, making a weekend trip to the San Juans on transit doesn’t work unless your return is Monday.

Under the current timetable, the earliest possible connection is to leave Friday Harbor at 5:45 am, arrive in Anacortes at 7:05 am, and use the 410 and 411W connection to get to the Mount Vernon Station 25 minutes before Amtrak train 513 is scheduled to go through on its way to Seattle and Portland.

Island Transit and Skagit Transit #410 to #411W still have good timed transfers in the morning for going south to Oak Harbor from Anacortes, but the timed transfer becomes a standard issue 15 minutes layover in the afternoon.

Today, with the new timetables, the layover in Oak Harbor is scheduled for 15 minutes (no longer 20), and so in the mornings you can still make the Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton trip in 3 hours, and 3.5 hours in the afternoon. Island Transit still has an across the platform transfer to the ferry.

Afternoon trips operated by Skagit Transit between Mount Vernon and Everett now start at 2 and may be hazardous due to afternoon congestion on I-5. It wouldn’t be too bad if your destination is Seattle and environs, but Portland is a different matter with having a further connection in Seattle.

This is made even worse due to the break in service on the 40x March’s Point to Mount Vernon route, which now has a break in service from 10:10 am to 3:40 pm, but a few local alternatives are available. Island Transit #1 is still a valid alternative for going south due to these breaks in service though.

As of September Community Transit #113 now has what appears to be a good transfer from the ferry in Mukilteo. It has also returned to Lynnwood Transit Center rather than the Ash Way Park and Ride. If all goes according to plan Mukilteo to King Street Station now takes 90 minutes. (Having spent 2 hours on an ST express going from Lynwood Transit Center to Denny Way, I would not rely on this in afternoon peak.)

For those that live in Seattle or are overnighting there, it is possible to leave Friday Harbor at 4:15 pm, get to Mount Vernon at 7:00 pm, have dinner or something there, and then get train 517 going south at 8:20 pm. Skagit Transit #410 has a final departure from the ferry terminal at 6:55 pm, but when it arrives at March’s Point the only transfer available is to Oak Harbor.

So, Lets Compare:

  • Seattle to Anacortes Ferry Terminal via well executed timed connections in 2013 (no longer possible with today’s timetables, see Part 1 ): 2.5 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 33 miles per hour.
  • Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Seattle via today’s Skagit Transit and SoundTransit bus schedules leaving Anacortes at Noon: 4.3 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 19.5 miles per hour.
  • Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton via 410, 411W and 1: 3 hours. Reasonably executed transfer times using local bus service the whole way. Distance: 60 miles. Average Speed: 20 miles per hour.
  • Mukileo to Seattle via CT#113 and ST express with today’s timetable: 90 minutes with today’s timetable. Distance: 26 miles. Average speed: 17 miles per hour – including time on an express bus on Interstate 5.
  • If Sounder North operated some “reverse commute” trips this 90 minutes might be almost cut in half to 50 minutes.

Observations:

  • Every single transfer I made between these various routes and services were also made by other passengers – with the ferry to CT 113 Mukilteo connection only being dared by one other passenger. I may have been the only one going all the way through, but the well planned schedules, when possible, sure helped lots of others too.
  • Island Transit 411W was a fairly important route for both Skagit County and north end Island County residents. It is unfortunate that the current service has split this route into two separate routes, an important part  (Mount Vernon to March’s Point) of which now has a gap in service in the middle of the day.
  • Island Transit #1 had few vacant seats for its entire length – pretty good for a route through a rural area.
  • The lack of fare on Island Transit 411W was a key piece of this route, since it served northern Skagit County as well as Island County. It also was a key piece for keeping #1 and #411W on time, and thus maintaining the closely timed connections.
  • Skagit Transit 410 arrives at March’s Point at 7:25 pm, and then deadheads over to the Skagit Transit shops, right next to the BNSF main line, where the empty bus gets a nice view of an Amtrak Cascades train in each direction (516 and 517).

Glenn Laubaugh is a native of Portland and is employed as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.

Thoughts on Pronto

Pronto bikeshare has been open for two days now, and so far I’ve just been watching it and deciding how much to use it. I knew it was coming to town but I never expected a station practically at my front door (Bellevue & Pine). So I have a convenient station, hooray. But when I look at other nearby stations I could ride to, they’re the same trips that have the most frequent bus service. So why bother? It’s more likely to attract people who don’t like buses than me with a bus pass. Especially if I’d have to pay $10 a day when I’d only use it once or twice that day. What I’d more use it for is longer trips that require a bus transfer, but the one I’d most frequently do is to Children’s hospital and back, and that’s beyond the 30-minute limit so I’d have to pay $2 extra per trip (even if I had an annual pass). Again no thanks, at least more than occasionally. I suppose I could “transfer bikes” along the way to get another 30 minutes, if it let me.

But another more promising use occurred to me this afternoon. When University Link opens I’ll be halfway between two Link stations, and Convention Place Station will close soon after.  I’ve been wondering what to then, whether to stay where I am or move closer to a Link station. Some people point out that if Link had stations at Bellevue, 15th, 23rd, and Montlake, it could completely replace the 43. But it won’t. Normally now when I go to Westlake I take a Pine Street bus, or if I’m too impatient I walk. But with Pronto I could take a bike down to the Link station.

And that may become one of Pronto’s most widespread uses, to extend the reach of Link stations and fill in the “missing” stations. Some would say, “That’s nice, but they should have put in those extra Link stations in the first place.” But a bikeshare station costs 1/1000 as much as an underground Link station, and nobody has said where the money for those stations would have come from or how we would have gotten voters to approve them. People are more willing to vote for more stations now that Link is open, than they were beforehand. That’s the tradeoff of being the first line. But in any case, Pronto could end up being a way to fill in for those stations, if it eventually adds bike stations in those areas.

Spot the ADA violation(s)

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This is on a New Flyer Articulated coach, operating in Boulder, Colorado on the University of Colorado Buff Bus route. First person to find one of the violations this bus has of the Americans with Disabilities Act (I can identify two; if you can find another one I haven’t thought of and justify it, I will accept that answer) will win the group a historical bilingual bonus from this bus.

EDIT: Commentor John Slyfield chimed in with a correct answer. The next picture may explain more (apologies for the blurriness):

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Without measuring, the two violations of note are:

1. The aisle may be too narrow for a wheelchair or similar device to fit. Only the front door has a ramp; a passenger in a wheelchair couldn’t use the second door because of the height difference between the curb and bus floor.

2. No forward-facing securement location is available (the ADA requires no less than two forward or rearward facing securement locations, but at least one must allow securement facing forward).

My conjecture is that the bus in question is a second-hand coach from a Canadian operator, probably either Ontario or Manitoba (a Quebec bus would have the French on top). Because Canadians aren’t Americans and are thus not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, universal access law is left up to the provinces to write, which allows for differences in standards between the United States and Canadian provinces to be introduced. If an agency wanted to have bilingual stop request signs, Spanish would have likely been chosen instead, as local Spanish speakers far outweigh French speakers. Another giveaway is the English message is “Exit at Rear”; the Buff Bus is fare free and the operator opens all three doors at all stops, allowing passengers to board and alight though all doors.