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Transit Day: Rogue Valley (Medford, Ashland, Klamath Falls)

The Rogue Valley region of southwest Oregon is a very challenging place to visit without a car. Medford is the largest city (pop. 80,000) and the only place with commercial air service. Klamath Falls (pop. 21,500), located about 75 miles east of Medford, has once-daily passenger rail service in each direction via the Coast Starlight. Ashland (pop.21,600) is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University but Ashland has no airport or rail service. Nevertheless, despite the distances that separate the population centers and the low overall population density, there is a basic public transportation system that stitches together the communities of the Rogue Valley. Just be sure to carefully plan your trip if you hope to use the public transit system.

The local transit system is operated by the Rogue Valley Transportation District. The RVTD provides bus service on 8 routes, all running through the Front Street Transit station in downtown Medford. The service pattern is based on half-hourly pulses and most routes start at 5am and run until about 9pm. Three of the routes have 60 minute headways, 4 routes run every 30 minutes and the route that connects Medford with Ashland and Southern Oregon University runs every 20 minutes on weekdays. On Saturday, all routes operate hourly and there is no Sunday service. Service to the Medford airport runs every 60 minutes.

Unfortunately, land use patterns in Medford are pretty typical of many mid-sized American cities. On the list of US metropolitan cities, Medford ranks #206, which is very similar to Bellingham (#201). Medford’s downtown core is one-way main aterials mostly lined with bars, antique malls, pawn shops and empty storefronts. There is no visible urban revitalization movement in central Medford and the only new businesses that are locating near downtown Medford are the cannabis retailers. Shopping malls with big box national retailers are still under construction on the edges of town as Medford sprawls into the adjacent farmlands. Meanwhile the local transit system is centered on the disused downtown transit center.

The picture in Ashland is more hopeful. Shakespeare attracts over 400,000 visitors a year to the centrally located theaters and the adjacent downtown streets and parks are active and full of pedestrians. Yes, the local economy is based largely on tourism, but Ashland seems to elevate the experience above the level of “tourist trap”. Hotels, restaurants and shopping are all located within walking distance of the OSF theaters. The RVTD route that serves Ashland, SOU and Medford is the only route that offers somewhat frequent service.

From downtown Medford there is a once-a-day bus line to Klamath Falls, Southwest POINT. The route is managed by the Oregon DOT. Arrival and departure times in Klamath Falls are convenient for Coast Starlight passenger connecting to/from California. Riding to/from the north will require overnight stays in Klamath Falls.

Medford and Grants Pass are connected 5 times on weekdays by the Rogue Valley Commuter Line. Greyhound also offers 4 daily trips to Eugene (220am, 505am, 905am, 405pm) with a scheduled trip time of 3:30 to 3:45.

Car-free travel to the Rogue Valley is possible, but it requires some careful planning ahead of time. You can fly into Medford but I would recommend staying in Ashland where there are more car-free options. Using Amtrak round trip from Seattle would require 2 overnight stays in Klamath Falls or long bus rides to/from Eugene.

When will Kitsap County join Sound Transit?

It is inevitable that Kitsap County will join Sound Transit, with light rail reaching under Puget Sound to serve the current 266,000 residents, and likely 500,000 residents by 2040.

When ST3 is complete in 2041, the residents of King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties will be connected by rail, tram, and bus rapid transit from Everett to Tacoma out to Bellevue, Redmond, and Issaquah.  By then there will be more than 4 million people squeezed into those three counties, and the pressure to fit in more will no doubt spill across Puget Sound into Kitsap County.

Ferries make for a pleasant commute, but not a fast method of travel.  Unlike a light rail train, it takes up to 10 minutes to load and unload the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry, which turns a 35 minute rush-hour ride into a 50-60 minute journey, not counting the time to get to and from the ferry terminal.

This inconvenience is the main reason Kitsap County’s population is growing less than 1% per year, less than half the 2.5% rate of growth in King County.

The Bainbridge Island ferry terminal is only 8 miles from Colman Dock in downtown Seattle (as the seagull flies), and the Bremerton ferry terminal is just another 6.3 for that same seagull.  By car, those two terminals are 32 miles and 55 minutes apart.  By transit, Google suggests the fastest path is 90 minutes, hopping the ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle and switching to the new, fast ferry to Bremerton.

Meanwhile, when ST3’s East Link is done, the 6.3 miles (as the crow flies) between Downtown Bellevue and International District/Chinatown will take just 10 minutes.  Similarly, when ST3 finally reaches Ballard in 2035, the 7.3 mile trip from Ballard to Westlake center will take just 15 minutes, including stops in Interbay, Smith Cove, Seattle Center, and South Lake Union.

We can fix this commute time and open up Kitsap County to the inevitable population growth by adding Kitsap County to Sound Transit’s service, designing and digging a transit tunnel under Puget Sound.

Puget Sound is deep, more than 650 feet deep in the channel between Eagle Harbor and Elliot Bay.  But deep, underwater transit tunnels have been built in Japan, Norway, and most famously, under the English Channel.

It is only 6.3 miles from the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal to the future ST3 station at Smith Cove.  An ST3.5 line from there to Bainbridge Island and continuing underground to Bremerton would be a total of 12.6 miles long.

These are two communities that already have large number of public transit riders.  3.3 million foot passengers between Bainbridge Island an Seattle in 2017, plus another 1.7 million foot passengers between Bremerton and Seattle.  Because of that ridership, Kitsap County is well covered by Kitsap Transit’s bus system.

Connecting Kitsap County to Sound Transit is inevitable.  The question is not if, but when.  The key question is the cost of 12.6 miles of deep tunnels and two deep, underground stations.  But the alternative isn’t free.  The alternative is the cost of expanding and operating the ferry system to support the next 240,000 Kitsap County residents who want to reach King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties including SeaTac Airport and whatever high speed rail makes it to Seattle.

Ensuring Quality Transit Service around Northgate Station

In 2021 light rail will begin operating to Northgate. I’ve waited my entire life for this, as I am lucky enough to live close by to the station. I’m thrilled about the upcoming redevelopment of Northgate Mall, and the upcoming density to the area. However, traffic delays that could result from this is a significant concern of mine, not because of the delays to cars, but because of the delays to buses. The amount of people wanting to come to this area will increase drastically over the coming years, so steps should be taken to ensure that transit is a reliable option.

5th Avenue is an easy start. Between Northgate Way and 103rd St, there are two car lanes in each direction and relatively low amounts of traffic during the day. This is a perfect location for bus lanes. On this segment, there is a bus about every 4 minutes on average even on Saturdays. During peak, there are a lot more. This is more than enough bus traffic to justify a lane.

The same can be said for Northgate Way between 5th and Roosevelt, where buses show up less than 5 minutes apart on average.

These decisions are logical although politically difficult. My main worry is that SDOT will try to pit cyclists and transit riders against each other. 5th Avenue, for instance, has bike lanes in the Bicycle Master Plan. The best solution here would be either to provide separate bike paths or to widen the roads to allow for protected cycle lanes. As Northgate redevelops their property, it would be a good idea for the city to purchase just a little bit more right of way (10-12 feet) to ensure the space needed for cycle paths.

Here are what some of those future scenarios could look like:

5th Avenue Looking North Today

Street View

5th Avenue Looking North Near Future

5th Avenue Looking North with Cycle Path

Northgate Way Today

Street View

Northgate Way Future

The transition between 5th Ave and Northgate Way would have a dedicated left turn bus lane.

Northgate Way Current

Street View

Northgate Way Future

This is my first post and I’d love to do more of these! I have a lot of ideas I’d like to share with the community and I’d like to see if any of them stand up to critique.

A more affordable strategy for 405 BRT

As we start to plan for BRT along 405, we’re finding that it consumes huge sums of cash to rebuild freeway segments that can provide direct access to buses in the managed express lanes at the center of the roadway. Just one of these stations, at NE 85th Street in Kirkland, is expected to cost $250 million–most of which is the cost of rebuilding the interchange to accommodate direct access to the Express Toll lanes. Little of this cost would be necessary if we could manage our roadway capacity more effectively. Easier said than done? Consider this…

Our roadway capacity is a finite resource, yet most roads have no means for managing the demand other than waiting in a line we call “traffic.” During peak hours, people sit in cars, burning fuel, wasting time, and keeping anyone from going anywhere. Could we somehow re-shape traffic so that everyone can get where they need to go without clogging our roads?

Consider the last time you went to a popular restaurant. Did you have a reservation? Or did you have to wait for a table? Now imagine a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, yet the crowd extends far beyond its doors.

This is what we see on many freeways today, but the negative impact is much larger, spanning our economy, environment, and families. On-ramp meters that limit the flow into the freeway actually exacerbate this problem on local streets, shifting the congestion from the freeway to local streets, impeding access to local destinations (and impacting the speed, reliability, and cost of local transit services).

Instead, imagine if you could make a freeway reservation, perhaps via a website, SMS, phone call, smartphone app, or even integrated with navigation software–which is even easier than making a restaurant reservation. So now you have a reservation. Where do you put your car if it isn’t on the road?

We often exclaim, “The freeway is a parking lot!” But this mocking also hints at the solution: cars at rest should be in parking lots, not roads. And there are many grocery stores, coffee shops, malls, churches, schools, and restaurants where parking spots are abundant. Any vehicles that can’t be handled on the roads should be diverted to queue in nearby parking lots rather than gridlocking streets. Instead of being trapped in traffic, drivers could park their car and read a book, grab a snack, sit and chat with others, or just put in a few extra minutes at work. The reservation might suggest a place to park and wait; this provides another revenue opportunity for our transportation system: advertising. Your freeway reservation might even include a coupon for a discount at a nearby shop or cafe where you relax or run some errands while you wait.

But sometimes you can’t wait for a reservation. Maybe you need to pick-up kids from child care before the late fees kick-in, you’re running late to catch a flight, or you absolutely can’t be late for work. In these cases you’d be willing to pay a couple bucks if you could just go now. If you can’t spare any time, you should have the option to pay with your money.

Or maybe you simply forget to get a reservation. If that happens, you’ll be charged the prevailing freeway access fee when you enter the freeway.

And if you’re sharing your ride with anyone else (carpool, bus, or other HOV), you get a free pass as a ‘thank you’ for helping increase the capacity of our transportation system.

What if there’s an accident that blocks traffic? People holding reservations could be contacted with an suggestion to postpone their reservation, perhaps including some kind of incentive to encourage them to delay their travel, such as a coupon for a local business.

With peak hour freeway reservations, tolls, and rideshare incentives, we could convert time wasted in traffic to do something useful while significantly reducing roadway congestion. Recent advancements in communication technology make it easy for drivers to easily request reservations and drastically reduce freeway congestion.

The end result? More time with families, living life, earning money, or connecting with others…and less time and energy wasted behind the steering wheel. Freeway reservations eliminate the need to build and manage dedicated HOV lanes or toll lanes, optimizing freeway capacity for greatest efficiency with minimal initial cost. We’ll spend a lot less money on circumventing poorly-managed capacity by properly managing the capacity we have. People will spend more time getting stuff done, rather than sitting in traffic. And buses will move faster, more reliably, both on freeways and on local streets.

Connecting our cities to BRT on 405

In 2024, a new rapid transit line will connect to cities along I-405 every 10 minutes, providing direct service as far as Lynnwood and Burien.

But there’s one big problem: the stations aren’t close to where people need to go.

Consider the proposed station at NE 85th St in Kirkland: the BRT station is separated from Downtown Kirkland by a mile-long hill that climbs the equivalent of 22 flights of stairs, a 40-minute round-trip journey for a fit and capable walker. Sound Transit’s proposed solution is to build a set of bus lanes between 405 and the edge of Downtown Kirkland–throwing $50,000,000 at the least congested segment of the connection, mind you. To travel to or from the station, you’ll spend probably 5 to 10 minutes waiting for the shuttle, and another 5 to 10 minutes for the bus to trundle along thru Downtown Kirkland traffic, just like everyone else.

Isn’t there a better way? Something that’s more pleasant, or maybe even beautiful, fun, distinctive, or inspirational?

Instead, imagine…stepping into an aerial gondola for a four-minute ride with a glorious view of Downtown Kirkland and Lake Washington. Or glide down the hill on your bike, and then roll your bike into the gondola to return to the top of the hill. You know what’s even more amazing? It seems that many on Kirkland’s City Council are already on board with this idea, including Dave Asher, Penny Sweet, and Mayor Amy Walen. Kirkland’s City Manager, Kurt Triplett, has been promoting creative transportation strategies like this for years, and is also excited about the possibility of this aerial connector.

But providing a great connection at one station isn’t enough. We need to think creatively about how to create effective connections between BRT and the places where people need to go, all along this route. How do we create more efficient connections to stations in Bothell? Renton? And Woodinville?

Would you rather trundle along in another bus…or enjoy a unique view of our lovely city from above? Which of these will bring more people to businesses in our urban centers? Which of these will actually compel our residents, customers, employees, and visitors to ride transit instead of further clogging our streets…or taking yet another parking spot? Or maybe you have a better idea? Perhaps a series of covered escalators and walkways? Or just some frequent automated electric shuttles? Maybe some kind of monorail? A mini-metro? Or a cable car on an elevated steel truss guideway? Whatever it is, surely we can do better than just another bus.

The UW Escalator Event: A Quantitative Analysis

On March 16th, the two downward escalators between the mezzanine and sub-mezzanine at the University of Washington Link Station failed. With only elevators available to move people into the station for four hours, a line snaked around the station. On April 4th, a presentation to Sound Transit’s Operations Committee reviewed the event and discussed changes that could be made to prevent and mitigate future outages. While the presentation recognized the poor customer experience during the event, it described the impact in a strictly qualitative fashion.

This is a quantitative assessment of the escalator outage event. Any mitigation or preventative measure is going to have a cost to put in place. Without the ability to assign a cost to the event, it would be difficult to understand which actions should be on the table.

This assessment uses a measurement called Spontaneous Accessibility, published in this year’s Transportation Research Record. At a high level, this measurement describes how well an individual can make an unanticipated, unplanned transit trip throughout a given area. From a technical standpoint, it divides an area into a high-resolution grid of sectors. For each sector it computes, for every minute of a time window, the number of other sectors that can be reached within 30 minutes using transit and walking. This yields a heat map of how easily reachable each sector is, as well as a Network Accessibility Ratio that measures the proportion of time-origin-destination combinations that can be reached within 30 minutes against the total number of combinations. By making modifications to the modeled transit network and calculating the change in the Network Accessibility Ratio, it is possible to make a quantitative assessment.

To model the outage, Spontaneous Accessibility was computed under two circumstances. The first considers the scheduled transit service within the city of Seattle on March 16th, between 3:30 PM and 7:30 PM. The second uses the same temporal and spatial parameters, but eliminates the University of Washington stop from southbound Link trains. This is not a perfect model of the outage, as customers could still reach trains at UW Station after a substantial wait. Nevertheless, to a person arriving at the station and viewing a long line, the station may be considered effectively unreachable. This analysis yielded a change in Spontaneous Accessibility of -0.339%. A maximum reduction of 12.3% was observed in the vicinity of the Capitol Hill Link station, with other measurable reductions clustered largely around Link stations and a portion of the Aurora Avenue corridor. This Spontaneous Accessibility map shows the distribution of impact.

To extract a meaningful cost from the change in Spontaneous Accessibility, it is necessary to bring in some additional data. Over the four-hour period of the outage, there were 1988.28 vehicle-hours of in-service trips serving the city of Seattle. Using King County Metro’s $140.86 cost per vehicle-hour figure as an estimate for operating costs across all transit providers, the cost of in-service trips for the four hour window was approximately $280,069. In the same period, the Network Accessibility Ratio for the unimpaired network would have been 0.10378. Thus $280,069 was necessary to sustain a 0.10378 Network Accessibility Ratio in Seattle over those hours. When impaired, Seattle had a 0.10342 Network Accessibility Ratio. Sustaining this for four hours should cost approximately $279,097. Thus, from a Spontaneous Accessibility standpoint, the cost of the outage was $972.

It is important to be cognizant of aspects of the measurement that may distort this value. Because Spontaneous Accessibility is an isochrone-based measurement, it is not sensitive to the outage’s impact on trips that initially would have taken longer than 30 minutes. Spontaneous Accessibility measurement also acts as though riders have perfect knowledge of the transit network. Actual riders may not be aware of the other options that they have for completing their journeys, and thus may queue at the station instead of finding alternatives. Even if riders were to have this knowledge, Spontaneous Accessibility does not incorporate vehicle capacity, and thus would not account for alternate routes becoming congested as riders switched to them. Particularly thorny in this case is that Sound Transit would largely be relying on King County Metro to absorb that missing capacity.

Any attempt at assigning a single cost to an event is going to have limitations, and this is a basic one using publicly available data, open source software, and back-of-the-envelope math. At this point, however, it describes the impact more quantitatively than Sound Transit has put forth at this time. Sound Transit plans to evaluate certain mitigations by the next Operations Committee meeting on April 20th. These will surely have a price, and it will certainly be interesting to see how they compare to this assessment of the UW escalator event’s cost.

Seattle to improve pedestrian crossings

Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is presiding over a growing city facing transportation challenges, ended the first quarter of 2018 with a cliffhanger for the streetcar. This, after getting pressure from Bellevue to improve matters for pedestrians after Seattle did not nothing but worse than nothing, leaves a bad impression on Seattle’s leadership.

Fortunately, in the time after becoming mayor, Durkan had planned up some “early wins” that can be rolled out in short order that would greatly improve matters, and today the city is launching a much needed improvement in pedestrian walk signals.

As you know from experience, most pedestrian walk signals do nothing (except to tell the signal not to stop you from crossing even though you have enough time to cross, but that doesn’t really count). Of course there are a few oddballs where it does make a difference, but these are usually in places where the green signal is normally so short anyway (1-5 seconds) that a push-button is needed to allow enough time for pedestrians.

Nothing is more frustrating than running to an intersection and missing the light turning green by half a second and you don’t get your walk signal. Also frustrating is a group of people waiting to cross, just to find that none of them pushed the beg button, and now everyone is waiting another cycle.

This is why on April 1st, 2018, Seattle will be rolling out automatic button pushers on all intersections, relieving the frustrations of thousands of pedestrians in a single day. Sure, it’s not anything on the scale of fixing Mount Baker station, but it’s certainly an improvement. Plus the numerous construction projects that close the sidewalk often require pedestrians to zig-zag across major arterials, and this is a helpful mitigation. Never again will you experience the frustration of missing a pedestrian walk signal in Seattle.

Frequent Everett Bus Routes Serving Lynnwood Link

Lynnwood Link will dramatically alter transit in Snohomish County. There will be substantial savings that come from truncating long distance runs into Seattle, and with that money, the opportunity to better serve the region. This is a proposal for three frequent bus routes that would connect the Lynnwood Transit Center to various parts of Everett.

Current System

There are three agencies operating in the area: Sound Transit, Community Transit, and Everett Transit. Sound Transit has four routes there. The 513 is rush hour only, and picks up less than 20 people per bus north of Lynnwood. It performs poorly, and is not worth expanding. The 510 and 511 are both rush hour express buses to downtown Seattle. The 510 serves Everett and South Everett stations, while the 511 serves Lynnwood and Ash Way stations. The 512 does not operate during rush hour and essentially serves all of those locations. Those three buses would undergo changes with this proposal.

There are numerous buses serving the area. Everett Transit doesn’t go to Lynnwood, but is worth mentioning because it would complement the proposed routes. Community Transit has several routes in the area, but most of them run only every half hour. The 201/202 are an exception. These buses run every 15 minutes from Everett to Mariner, Ash Way (the street as well as the Park and Ride) and Lynnwood. The three ST buses (510, 511 and 512) along with Community Transit 201/202 serve as the basis for this new alignment.

I am proposing that we run buses frequently (about every 15 minutes all day long) like so:
map

  1. The 201 and 202 would retain its existing frequency (15 minutes combined) and simply be truncated at Ash Way Park and Ride.
  2. The 510 is largely the same (merely truncated at Lynnwood) but would run frequently all day.
  3. The 514 is a new bus that would also run frequently all day.
  4. The 511 and 512 would go away.

Faster Running

One of the key elements of this proposal is to speed up the travel between Everett and Lynnwood. Sound Transit already does that with the design of the 510 and 511. In both cases, there are bus stops along the way connected to HOV lanes on both ends. This means that buses spend very little time serving those stops. In contrast, because there are no north end ramps connecting the Ash Way transit center to the freeway, the 512 spends extra time dealing with the traffic lights and general purpose lanes. My proposal is to continue the basic idea of the 510/511, but extend it all day long.

Better Connections

The bus serving Ash Way (the new 514) does not get on the freeway north of there. It is instead extended to serve the neighborhoods to the north. By overlapping the 201/202, it allows those Community Transit buses to be truncated at Ash Way. If you are headed from Everett TC to Lynnwood, you would take the 510. Between 128th and 164th, you can take the 514 to Lynnwood.

The 514 manages to serve most of the densely populated areas north of Lynnwood. It connects with both Swift Lines as well as a lot of Everett Transit and Community Transit buses. It can take advantage of the right of way granted to both Swift lines. For many in the area, it would provide a much faster connection to Lynnwood. Someone on SR 99 who happens to be close to a stop can get to Lynnwood using one bus, instead of three. The bus also provides a little extra service along the two main corridors being served by Swift. While Swift is relatively frequent (12 minutes during the day), adding an extra bus along that line would likely be welcome, and not excessive.

Other Options

The 514 is fairly long (about 12 miles). If money is tight, then it could be truncated at various places. There is no point, though, in ending it before (or at) 164th. That would simply be a shift in service, with no benefit over keeping the existing routing of the 510, 511 and 201/202 (but running the first two more often). That leaves a few options:

1) Ending at SR 99 and Airport Road. That would provide a lot of people with a fast one seat ride to Lynnwood, while anyone on SR 99 would have a fairly frequent two seat ride. Unfortunately, a lot of people on Casino Road (which is relatively densely populated) would still have an infrequent three seat ride to Lynnwood. It also becomes more difficult to get to Paine Field and the surrounding factories. There are likely to be alternative bus routes, but probably nothing as frequent (because nothing would pass through as many relatively densely populated areas).

2) Ending at SR 99 and Casino Road. A stop here would connect to several Everett Transit bus routes. However, the Community Transit bus routes manage to skip this stop by using the freeway. This means that connecting service to the airport (and surrounding businesses) would not be that frequent. I could easily see how more bus routes could be changed to serve that area (since it is a crossroad) but if you ended at Airport Road and Casino Road, you wouldn’t have to. That connects to just about every bus in the area.

Transit & Skiing

I just got back from a ski trip to the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah is known for its world-renowned skiing, and the powder was great. But, while there, I never stayed in any of the Mountain Villages, or fancy hotels, rather than Park City or Deer Valley, I stayed in Kimball Junction and Cottonwood Heights. Both towns, suburbs of Park City and Salt Lake City, respectively, center largely around budget accommodations, suburban office parks, etc. But, the real unique thing about this trip was one of the things that really impressed me about the resorts in this area. All 6 resorts (Park City, Deer Valley, Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird) had quality bus connections, running all winter, 7 days a week, at up to (or above) 15 minute frequencies. Park City, a town with only 8,300 people, has 14 bus lines, including multiple with 15 min or more frequency. Cottonwood Heights, a part of Salt Lake County has 3 “ski bus” lines, all running at 15 min headways during peak periods, part of the Utah Transit Authority’s ski bus system, with 9 lines serving 5 ski areas, and connecting SLC and the town of Park City.

Park City

Park City, one of the most well known ski towns in the US, home to the Utah Olympic Park, and main venue of the Salt Lake City Olympics, has a fare-free transit system, with many routes across the area, serving the many base areas of the nearby ski resorts of Deer Valley & Park City, sectors of the main town, and suburban areas. The town of Park City has been at the fore-front of ski towns fighting Climate Change, pledging to remove their carbon footprint by 2032, through programs including Electric Buses, solar and wind farms creating a renewable energy grid for the town and surrounding ski areas, and land preservation, fighting the continuous development of a ski town running out of snow. This year has been especially bad on the surrounding ski resorts, grass & rocks continue to poke through the snow, many trails and areas remain closed due to lack of snow. Ironically, Vail Resorts, the owner of Park City Mountain Resort, the largest and most prominent ski area in the region, continues to fund Anti-Climate Change Politicians and PACs advocating against Climate Regulation.

Cottonwood

Little & Big Cottonwood Canyons are home to some of the most legendary skiing in the world, though the two most prominent ski areas, Alta & Snowbird are home to much smaller ski towns, which can hardly be called towns at all. Cottonwood is actually located in the general Salt Lake City area, and therefore relies on the Salt Lake City Regional Transit Authority, or the Utah Transit Authority, UTA for short. UTA runs ‘ski buses’ which run on higher fares, and have special ski racks inside them. The buses generally run from one transit center near the city center, then visit multiple small park and rides, which usually only are served by ski buses, before heading to the ski areas (usually serving two ski areas, and then heading back along the same route. The buses run all day in both directions, at peak (towards the mountain right before opening, and towards town around closing) have 15 min headways. Hotels in the area have small shuttles that run to the park & rides, helping visitors use ski buses instead of driving.

Now, you’re probably thinking, why is this guy writing an article about Utah Ski Buses in a Seattle Transit Blog? Well, I think Utah has set a wonderful example. The Seattle Area is home to 3 ski areas within 2 hours, receiving massive visitation, some among the top 15 in the country. Summit at Snoqualmie, at the county line of King & Kittitas Counties, Crystal Mountain, in Pierce County, & Stevens Pass, which has all of its base facilities in King County, but a few lifts reach over into Chelan County. Sadly, largely due to the fact our county borders rely heavily on Mountain Passes, public transit access to these ski areas would be difficult, and that is one big reason it is yet to exist today. But, I’m hopeful. King County Metro already runs buses to North Bend (the closest town to Snoqualmie) & Enumclaw (the closest town to Crystal Mtn) & Community Transit runs buses to Gold Bar, but not to Skykomish, the closest town to Stevens Pass, largely due to the fact that Highway 2 dips into King County there. All of the ski areas are outside Sound Transit’s district, so new bus routes would have to rely on local transit networks.

King County Metro Route 960

This route will run from Eastgate P&R or Issaquah Transit Center (Eastgate would yield better connections to existing services and less connections, while Issaquah would offer a shorter ride time and still ensure a 2 seat ride from Downtown Seattle vis the 554 until East Link opens) or from South Bellevue Station (once it opens) via Eastgate Freeway Station & Issaquah Transit Center (once East Link opens this option will be the only option with a 2 seat ride from Seattle). You could start this bus from Seattle, which would be ideal for passengers bring skis and other equipment, but would result in a longer ride, and a more difficult starting point. It will stop at (optional stops italicized): Preston Park & Ride, North Bend Park & Ride, get off at I-90 exit 54, Summit East/Nordic Center, (daytime only) Silver Fir (daytime only), Summit Central, Summit West & Alpental. It could easily stop at the current Snoqualmie shuttle stops, and as an incentive for Snoqualmie to support the project, could serve as a replacement for the shuttle, having a quick layover at Alpental and turning back to the Seattle area via all 4 base areas. The route will run from December 5th to April 1st (possibly earlier with closing dates tentative). It would likely start Weekends only, and another special route (possibly 963) could be made for weekday travel, as Summit East is closed all weekdays (except Holidays), Summit West is closed Monday-Tuesday, & Night only Wednesday-Friday & Alpental is closed Monday.

King County Metro Route 961

This route will run from Enumclaw to Crystal Mountain. It may stop in Greenwater, or other places along the way. While the route would be in Pierce County much of the way, it could just be viewed as an Enumclaw Community Shuttle service, serving King County. It could be extended Northwest to a largely Transit Center to connect with Seattle/Eastside transit riders such as Auburn, Kent, or, optimally, Angle Lake/Tukwila Intl Blvd Link Station. Less realistic due to the distance of Crystal Mountain and lack of proximity to civilization or King County.

Community Transit/King County Metro Route 962

Hopefully a cooperation from the two, would travel through both counties from Lynnwood or Everett Station to Monroe to Stevens Pass. Can supplement existing Community Transit 270/271. Again, less realistic due to distance factor and transfers. Bringing skis on a commuter route up to Lynnwood or Everett could be difficult. Would travel through Snohomish & King Counties.

So, that’s my article. In conclusion, ski buses can help supplement one of the few currently almost car-only activities. Our ski areas already face overcrowding issues, and parking issues, with Stevens Pass even rejecting further skiers due to Parking Lots becoming full before the place even opens. This solution could have drastic positive effects for both the ski areas and skiers. Even if my plan is downsized to just serving park and rides for skiers to provide extra parking for the ski areas, it would help take cars off the road and help overcrowding issues.

Magnolia/Fremont Restructure after Ballard Link

There’s already been a community post about what could appear in the Ballard Link restructure. I had some ideas for how changes might look south of the ship canal, and how forcing transfers could allow delivery of very frequent and fast service to Magnolia:

31_32

The changes from today’s network:

  • The 24 is deleted
  • The 26X is truncated to U-District station
  • The 31 and 32 routes are reconfigured, and frequency is improved dramatically:
    • Both go to Magnolia, and go along 15th to W Dravus street, connecting to the future Interbay light rail station
    • Both go along W Dravus street to 28th Ave W, where they split to serve different areas of Magnolia:
      • The 31 resembles its current route, though less circuitous and less redundant with the 33
      • The 32 leaves its routing to Seattle Center to follow a routing that covers parts of the wandering path of the current route 24, but skips the parts covered by new route 31
    • Both routes are split for a short distance in Fremont, where the removal of the 26X would leave a hole
    • Both routes run at a frequency of 15 minutes each, meaning:
      • Each branch in Magnolia and Fremont have frequent service, and a connection to fast and reliable Link light rail
      • Overlapping segments are double frequent, with a bus every 7.5 minutes, while connecting to two different Link stations
  • I imagine keeping the 19 during peak (as it exists today) as a similar rationale for its existence today will exist then (namely, convenience during high usage periods), since today it lets certain 24 riders avoid a circuitous route during rush-hour, and in this plan could let 31 riders avoid a forced transfer. I could easily see eliminating the 19 should that be necessary to pay for other service
  • The 33 is retained as is at 30 minute frequency. Could also be truncated at Seattle Center or re-routed to SLU should funding be required, or if doing so could allow it to be upgraded to 15-minute service

The centerpiece of this idea is a dramatically improved 31/32 pair running 7 days/week, providing a strong frequent connection to Link that together provides the following outcomes:

  • Most places in Magnolia now have 15 minute or better service that connects to a fast Link ride to downtown, Seattle Center, and SLU
  • Most places in Magnolia also lose a one-seat (albeit super long) ride to downtown, but get frequency upgraded
  • SPU has 8 buses per hour to both Interbay and U-District stations, providing good commuter access to a wide range of commuters from both north and south
  • Fremont gets frequency doubled on both legs of the new route despite losing the 26X, and the 31/32 are frequent enough to split in that area (partially restoring the pre-U-Link service pattern on Stone Way) and still double the frequency on both paths
  • Northern 26X riders need to transfer to Link, but will enjoy a faster ride because they no longer have to go through Fremont

Paying for this kind of service could be difficult, but if we considering truncations to the D-line and routes 40 and 62 that are very likely with a Ballard Link restructure, I could see it being done.

Your thoughts?

Puget Sound Rail Transit Future: My Proposal

Hello, this is a plan I came up with for a potential series of future rail expansions for the region. I have also included potential infill stations and changes to station and line names to simplify the system. The plan includes Link Light Rail, the Seattle streetcar, and Sounder Commuter Rail.

Here is the link to the plan map.

Below are overviews of each extension or alteration by line:

Existing/Planned Light Rail Lines

Link Red Line
-Renamed to Line 1 for simplicity and because color names are different in different languages and number symbols are not
-Extended southwest to Renton via White Center and Burien
-Future Alaska Junction station moved underground to facilitate a gentler curve south towards White Center
-International District/Chinatown renamed to Union Station to simplify the multiple different names for the King Street/International District/Chinatown hub, new unified concourse built in Union Station building (presently Sound Transit headquarters)
-University Street station renamed to Benaroya Hall to avoid confusion with University of Washington, University Village, and U District stations
-Infill station added at Maple Leaf
-Future 130th Street station renamed to Haller Lake
-Future Shoreline South/145th station renamed to Jackson Park
-Future Shoreline North/185th station renamed to Shoreline
-Future Lynnwood City Center station renamed to Lynnwood for simplification
-Future West Alderwood station renamed to Alderwood to align with mall name and for simplification
-Future Ash Way station renamed to Martha Lake because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future SR 99/Airport Road station renamed to Lake Stickney because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future SW Everett Industrial Center renamed to Paine Field for simplification and because it is known to residents by this name
-Future SR 526/Evergreen station renamed to Evergreen
-Infill station added at Lowell
-Future Everett station renamed to Everett Junction to avoid confusion with Downtown Everett
-Extended to North Everett via Downtown Everett

Link Blue Line
-Renamed to Line 2
-Future SE Redmond station renamed to Marymoor Park because it is more specific
-Infill station added at North Overlake to serve northern edge of tech center
-Future Redmond Technology Center station renamed to Tech Center for simplicity
-Future Bel-Red/130th station renamed to Bel-Red for simplicity
-Future Spring District/120th station renamed to Spring District for simplicity
-International District/Chinatown renamed to Union Station to simplify the multiple different names for the King Street/International District/Chinatown hub, new unified concourse built in Union Station building (presently Sound Transit headquarters)
-University Street station renamed to Benaroya Hall to avoid confusion with University of Washington, University Village, and U District stations
-Extended to South Kirkland via SR 520 bridge and Medina

Link Green Line
-Renamed to Line 3 for simplicity and because color names are different in different languages and number symbols are not
-Extended to Tacoma Dome
-Future S 272nd station renamed to Star Lake because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future Kent/Des Moines station renamed to Des Moines for simplicity and to avoid confusion with Kent sounder station
-Tukwila International Boulevard station renamed to International Boulevard for simplicity and to avoid confusion with Tukwila station
-Future S Boeing Access Road station renamed to Duwamish for simplicity and because neighborhood names are more specific than street names, connection can be made to Sounder here
-Future Graham and Othello stations renamed to Graham Street and Othello Street to keep in line with the precedent of using full road names (ex. International Boulevard) and to avoid confusion with neighborhood names
-Inclined elevator added to future Midtown station to connect to First Hill
-Extended to Maltby via Crown Hill, Northgate, Lake City, and Woodinville

Link Purple Line
-Renamed to Line 4 for simplicity and because color names are different in different languages and number symbols are not
-Extended to Downtown Issaquah
-Future Issaquah station renamed to North Issaquah to avoid confusion with Downtown Issaquah
-Infill station added at Phantom Lake
-Future Richards Road station renamed to Factoria because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Infill station added at Northup
-Extended to Woodinville via Kirkland and Totem Lake (Tunnel used under Downtown Kirkland to avoid community opposition and because there is no available surface right of way) (I-405 median used between Kirkland and Totem Lake to avoid community opposition and because it is more direct)

Tacoma Link
-Renamed to Line 6 for simplicity, because color names are different in different languages and number symbols are not, and because 2 lines would exist in Tacoma under this plan
-Union Station station renamed to UW Tacoma to avoid conflict with Union Station station in Seattle
-Future S 4th station renamed to 4th Street to keep in line with the precedent of using full road names (ex. International Boulevard)
-Tacoma Dome station moved onto elevated guideway next to future Line 3 station for easier transfers and greater capacity
-Future Hilltop station renamed to Sewell Park to avoid conflict with Hilltop District station
-Future Sprague station renamed to Sprague Avenue to keep in line with the precedent of using full road names (ex. International Boulevard) and to avoid confusion with neighborhood names
-Future Union station renamed to Allenmore because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future Stevens station renamed to Snake Lake because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future Pearl station renamed to Fircrest because neighborhood names are more specific than street names
-Future Tacoma Community College station moved into private right-of-way off-street

Proposed Light Rail Lines

Line 5 (Yellow)
-New line from Mount Baker to Ballard via the Central District, Montlake, UW, and Fremont

Line 7 (Pink)
-New line from Spanaway to Point Defiance via Downtown Tacoma and Ruston

Existing Sounder Commuter Rail Lines

South Line
-Renamed to Line S1 for simplicity and because cardinal directions have different names in different languages and number symbols do not
-Electrified
-Frequency increased to 15 minutes
-Extended to Olympia via Centennial
-Infill station added at Clover Park
-Infill station added at Algona/Pacific
-Infill station added at Duwamish (Boeing Access Road) with connection to Link light rail
-King Street station renamed to Union Station to simplify the multiple different names for the King Street/International District/Chinatown hub, new unified concourse built in Union Station building (presently Sound Transit headquarters)

North Line
-Renamed to Line S2 for simplicity and because cardinal directions have different names in different languages and number symbols do not
-Current rolling stock replaced with DMUs
-Frequency increased to 30 minutes
-Infill station added at Belltown
-Infill station added at Fisherman’s Wharf
-Infill station added at Sunset Hill
-Infill station added at Richmond Beach
-Infill station added at West Everett
–Everett station renamed to Everett Junction to avoid confusion with Downtown Everett
-Extended to Arlington via Marysville

Proposed Sounder Commuter Rail Lines

Line S3
-Peak hours only
-Run by DMUs
-Shuttle service from McMillin to Puyallup

Line S4
-Peak hours only
-Run by DMUs
-Shuttle service from Maple Valley to Auburn via Covington

Line S5
-Peak hours only
-Run by DMUs
-Shuttle service from Monroe to Everett via Snohomish

Proposed Streetcar Changes

Under this proposal, the Seattle Streetcar system would be vastly expanded and essentially be turned into a local light rail system for the City of Seattle. Streetcars would have 100% reserved lanes and signal priority. 4 lines would be built (A,B,C, and D).

Line A: From Alki to Magnolia via Downtown Seattle

Line B: From South Park to Fremont via Georgetown, Downtown Seattle, and Queen Anne

Line C: From U District to Capitol Hill via First Hill, Downtown Seattle, South Lake Union, and Eastlake

Line D: From Lower Queen Anne to Madison Park via Denny Triangle (This line would serve as a vital east-west connection downtown between 7 different north-south rail lines-from left to right: A,B,3,C,1,2,5

I hope you enjoyed, and I encourage feedback in the comments.

Cascades boarding changes?

I was on Cascades 504 yesterday, PDX-SEA.  Instead of the usual Stand in Line for 30 Minutes to get a boarding pass they now issue a car assignment at the ticket counter, board 30 minutes before departure and grab a seat.  Much more pleasant and efficient.  Does anyone know if this is an experiment or permanent?  Waiting for that seat assignment was one of the worst experiences of riding Cascades.

Aurora corridor improvements

KCM New Flyer DE60LFR #6087

As of 2016, the RapidRide E Line has higher ridership than any other King County Metro route, averaging approximately 17,000 weekday riders. Because it is such a popular route and runs almost entirely on Aurora Avenue, I think it is an obvious candidate for upgrades to improve capacity and reliability. While interesting ideas about upgrading the E to elevated rail to serve Aurora Avenue, Queen Anne, Belltown, and First Hill have been floated around, such a project would be extremely expensive and is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Because of this, I think bus rapid transit is the best option along Aurora Avenue. To create a good environment for transit ridership along the Aurora corridor, significant pedestrian and bicycle improvements could be made as a part of the project. I’m not an engineer or a transit planner, so I won’t be able to provide cost or trip time estimates for these upgrades, but they should be relatively inexpensive compared to light rail and streetcar projects, and could probably be financed without much help from Sound Transit.

Alignment

When describing the alignment of the new RapidRide E Line, I am assuming that the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Tunnel, Northgate Link, and all associated projects are complete.

Unlike its current iteration, the upgraded RapidRide E Line would lay over and serve a new station at Colman Dock. I’ve always been irritated by Colman Dock’s poor transit accessibility given its status as a major transport hub, and terminating a high capacity service there would definitely solve some of those issues. Of course, building such a station would require significant changes to Colman Dock. Although somewhat far-fetched, a new ferry terminal could be constructed with bus bays at the street level for easy transfers between Washington State ferries, foot ferries, and buses.

From the waterfront, buses would travel along the Columbia Street pathway before turning onto 3rd avenue, serving stations along a transit-only 3rd Avenue. To travel between 3rd Avenue and Aurora Avenue, buses would travel along the left curbs of Battery Street and Wall Street in BAT lanes. Instead of serving the current stops, buses would serve a new station between Wall Street and Aurora Avenue at Denny Way. Buses would travel on center-running lanes along Aurora Avenue, serving an island platform immediately south of Harrison Street, prior to driving onto the SR 99 segment of Aurora Avenue.

This is where it gets tricky. Aurora Avenue is completely devoid of crosswalks between Downtown and 68th Street. Unfortunately, this means that all stations would need to be in the median of the road and served by a pedestrian overpass with ADA accessibility (in other words, a frequently malfunctioning elevator), or buses would have to merge through general traffic to access BAT lanes. I am drafting this under the assumption that Seattleites will be reluctant to pay additional property taxes, so in this version, buses will merge to BAT lanes immediately after entering the center of SR 99 to serve a new station pair at Aloha Street. Although unlikely, it is possible that a traffic signal could be used to aid this merging. I chose Aloha Street because, with a new pedestrian overpass, it could provide an easy pedestrian connection between Lake Union Park, the Seattle Center, and Queen Anne Hill. To compensate for the removal of stops along Aurora Avenue, new ADA-accessible pathways between Aurora Avenue and Dexter Avenue would be constructed.

North of Aloha Street, buses would serve existing stations at Galer Street and Lynn Street before crossing a renovated Aurora Bridge. Widened pedestrian and bicycle paths would be surrounded by some sort of suicide-prevention barrier underneath the existing bridge. In place of the old pedestrian walkway on top of the bridge, a jersey barrier would be erected in the center to prevent traffic collisions. Curbside lanes would be converted to transit-only, except for vehicles entering and exiting at 38th Street. A new station pair would be constructed between 38th Street and Bridge Way to serve the Fremont neighborhood.

North of 38th Street, buses would serve the existing station pair at 46th Street. Unlike the current service pattern northbound and southbound buses would both serve the Linden deviation. To travel between Linden Avenue and Aurora Avenue, buses would use the general purpose access ramps located approximately at 61st Street on either side of Aurora Avenue. The grass median of Woodland Place immediately north of 65th Street would be rebuilt into a station. Linden Avenue would feature all-day BAT lanes instead of parking, with a station pair at 72nd Street.

North of the junction with Linden Avenue, buses would utilize transit-only lanes in the center of Aurora Avenue, with stations built on island platforms between the two lanes. Low barriers could be constructed between general-purpose and transit lanes to improve pedestrian safety and prevent unauthorized encroachment onto the busway. Stations on this stretch of Aurora Avenue would generally be spaced somewhat further apart than they are right now to improve travel times. Center platforms would be built at 77th Street, 85th Street, 90th Street, 97th Street, 105th Street, 115th Street, 125th Street, 130th Street, 137th Street, 145th Street, 152nd Street, 160th Street, 165th Street, 175th Street, 185th Street, and 192nd Street. New crosswalks and traffic signals would be needed for stations at 97th Street and 137th Street.

Instead of terminating at Aurora Village Transit Center as it does now, the RapidRide E Line would extend north into Snohomish County. After serving an island platform at 200th Street, buses would turn left onto 205th Street towards I-5. After briefly traveling in general-purpose lanes, buses would transition into center-running lanes after merging into SR-104, serving an island platform at 76th Avenue. The center-running lanes would extend east of I-5, allowing buses to completely bypass congestion created by vehicles entering and exiting I-5. An access ramp would be tunneled below I-5 and SR-104 to enable traffic merging onto southbound I-5 from the east to do so without crossing the busway. To access the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, buses would travel in general-purpose lanes on 205th Street, 56th Avenue, and 236th Street, serving stations with bus bulbs at approximately 58th Place and the junction of 56th Avenue and 236th Street. Buses would serve a station and layover at Mountlake Terrace Transit Center to connect with Community Transit routes and the future Lynnwood Link extension. Throughout the route, transit-only lanes would be enforced by traffic cameras. Intersection treatments will vary. Signal priority will be implemented at all intersections except along the Third Avenue Spine and perhaps a few other locations at-grade crossings with other high-capacity transit services exist. In addition to signal priority, left turns will be prohibited at most intersections along center-running segments of the alignment, except where there is no intact street grid and therefore no other way to access certain side roads, as well as a few very high-traffic junctions, such as 85th Street, 105th Street, 145th Street, and 160th Street. More detailed information on intersection treatments is provided in the map, which can be accessed via a link at the bottom of this article.

Vehicles and stations

All station platforms would be edged with yellow textured strips level with the floors of the buses, and all stations would feature ticket vending machines and ORCA card readers to speed boarding, in addition to real-time arrival information. To encourage widespread use of ORCA cards, stations would also be equipped with machines to vend and reload ORCA cards. Bike racks under camera surveillance would be located at all stations. All stations would feature ample seating, well-lit and covered waiting areas, signs that light up at night for higher visibility, and camera surveillance to to promote safety and discourage bicycle theft. To maintain station quality and functionality, all stations would be inspected routinely for malfunctioning signs, ticket vending machines, or ORCA card readers.

To prevent greenhouse emissions, vehicles would make use of hybrid-electric technology or, if possible, run on battery power alone or hydrogen fuel cell technology. Charging or refueling stations could be located at Colman Dock and Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, in addition to whichever bus base the coaches would operate out of. Trolleybuses would obviously not be possible due to the high speeds of travel along Aurora Avenue, especially portions south of 74th Street.

The vehicles would be 60-foot low floor articulated buses similar to existing RapidRide coaches, with some exceptions. Most notably, the vehicles would feature five doors to serve platforms on both sides of the bus. For rider safety, right and left rear view mirrors on buses would be equipped with flashing strobe lights similar to the ones on buses that operate in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Despite the presence of level boarding and off-board fare payment, coaches would still be equipped with ADA ramps, coin slots, and ORCA card readers that would be used in the event of a reroute, off-board fare payment becoming temporarily unavailable at a station, or E Line coaches being assigned to other routes. To prevent service delays and promote bicycle use, coaches would not have front bike racks, instead featuring an on-board storage area in front of the rear left door similar to Swift and RapidRide G Line vehicles.

Potential service changes

Given the very high capacity of the improved RapidRide E line, it would make sense to restructure other bus routes around it to improve connections to other destinations and upzone surrounding areas to take advantage of the newly expanded capacity. One possible project would be to extend Sound Transit’s SR 522/523 BRT past the 145th Street Link station to Shoreline Community College. Stations could be shared between the Aurora Avenue BRT and the Sound Transit BRT at 145th Street, 152nd Street, and 160th Street.

To prevent delays along Aurora Avenue between Downtown and 46th Street, Metro Route 5 could be upgraded to RapidRide and modified to serve only stops also served by the E, interlining all the way to the south end of Downtown, where it would either continue to Colman Dock like the E or be routed via Pioneer Square to an alternative terminal. Alternatively, Route 5 could be rerouted south of 46th Street via Fremont Avenue, the Fremont Bridge, and either Dexter Avenue or Westlake Avenue, perhaps being upgraded to RapidRide.

Of these options, I think the best one would be to upgrade the 5 to RapidRide reroute it to Dexter Avenue, because Dexter is much closer to Aurora Avenue than Westlake Avenue is, and King County Metro’s long range plan has Route 5 running on Dexter by 2040. I think upgrading to RapidRide is justified because Route 5 serves a potentially very busy corridor that includes Shoreline Community College, Greenwood, Phinney Ridge, Fremont, Downtown Seattle, and potentially South Lake Union. BAT lanes could be built along the majority of the corridor, replacing street parking. Like the improved E, the 5 could feature express service, possibly deviating to Aurora via 85th and continuing to Downtown via center-running lanes, similar to the current 355. Perhaps even a second express could be added, operating between 85th Street and 45th Street, much like the current 5 Express. Any improvements to Route 5 would include sidewalk construction and other desperately needed pedestrian improvements on Greenwood Avenue north of 112th street.

Routes 26 and 28 would need to be modified as well. I can think a few options. Route 26 could be eliminated and replaced with heavily modified routes 67 and 316, as illustrated in the 2025 version of Metro’s long range plan. Assuming that the Roosevelt HCT is extended to Northgate via 5th Avenue, Route 67 could be rerouted to serve Latona Avenue and Thackeray Place like the current 26. Instead of continuing to Downtown, the route would instead terminate at the U District Station. Route 316 would operate all day, but would terminate at the Roosevelt Station instead of continuing to Downtown. The Northern terminus of Route 316 would likely be modified as well.

Alternatively, routes 26 and 28 could be rerouted onto Dexter Avenue with peak-direction express service along Aurora Avenue, similar to what was in place before the Spring 2016 service changes. However, this alternative would unnecessarily burn service hours on Routes 26 and 28 south of Fremont. To solve this problem, Routes 26 and 28 could be to terminated or through-routed in Fremont, forcing a transfer at 38th Street. For this to work, Routes 131 and 132 would need to terminate in Downtown Seattle or through-route with other routes. For example, they could be routed through Downtown Seattle to serve South Lake Union via the same route as the RapidRide C and H lines, creating an ultra-frequent connection between the 3rd Avenue Spine and South Lake Union.

A service change that would likely result in an increase in ridership would be the introduction of an “E express” service. The E express would serve the same route as the E line as described above, except that it would skip all stations between 77th Street and Harrison Street, instead traveling via central lanes on Aurora Avenue. This service would run at a high frequency, most likely in peak direction only. If Route 5 was upgraded to RapidRide, peak-direction expresses could operate from Greenwood and Phinney avenues as well. Up to two peak routes could be introduced: a route very similar to the existing 5 Express, and another one much like the current. Toll lanes could be created along Aurora Avenue to keep buses running reliably at high speeds, This concept will be discussed further in the “other infrastructure improvements” section.

Pedestrian and bicycle improvements

To improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and encourage transit ridership, a number of pedestrian and bicycle improvements would be included in the project. Chief among them would be improvements to the Interurban Trail and the creation of a bicycle corridor connecting the Interurban Trail to the Burke Gilman Trail, South Ship Canal Trail, and Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop.

There is currently a missing segment of the Interurban Trail between 240th Street in Edmonds and 200th Street in Shoreline. A new bicycle and pedestrian trail would be constructed along the old railroad right of way, with an overpass over Edmonds Way and 205th Street. Further south, a bicycle and pedestrian overpass would span 175th Street. Instead of bicycle lanes running northbound only on Linden Avenue between 145th Street and 128th Street, a bidirectional protected bikeway along the west side of Linden Avenue would constructed, with no adjacent street parking.

The new bicycle corridor would begin at the junction 110th Street and the Interurban Trail just east of Fremont Avenue. From there, bicycles would travel via protected lanes on 110th Street, Park Avenue, 109th Street, Linden Avenue, and 75th Street. To accommodate parked cars, northbound and southbound lanes would be located on the west side of Linden Avenue between 109th Street and 85th Street. After joining Aurora Avenue at 75th Street, the bike lanes would continue south along the west side of Aurora Avenue in both directions, separated from traffic by Jersey barriers. Bike lanes would deviate from Aurora Avenue at 59th Street to intersect with pedestrian bridges over Aurora Avenue in Woodland Park. Immediately north of 50th Street, the exclusive bicycle path would veer west along the north side of 50th Street before transitioning to protected lanes along Fremont Avenue. The protected lanes would continue south along Fremont Avenue all the way to the Fremont Bridge, connecting with the aforementioned network of trails converging there.

To improve ADA accessibility and compensate for the loss of bus stops served by Route 5 along Aurora Avenue, new ADA-accessible pathways between Aurora Avenue and Dexter Avenue would be created, possibly including escalators or (preferably) switchbacked ramps. For more information, refer to the map.

Other infrastructure improvements

All segments of road along the regular E Line route would be repaved with high-strength concrete for improved durability.

To enable the reliable operation of express services, restricted lanes could be put into place along Aurora Avenue south of Green Lake. One option would be variable-rate express toll lanes similar to the ones on I-405. However, the Aurora Avenue toll lanes would differ from the I-405 toll lanes in two ways. Most notably, the lanes would only be tolled in peak direction during peak hours, becoming general-purpose lanes at all other times. Because Aurora Avenue is only six lanes wide, only one lane in each direction would be converted to a peak toll lane. These lanes would be paved with high-strength concrete to withstand heavy bus traffic during rush hour.

To prevent head-on collisions, jersey barriers would be installed between 63rd Street and 50th Street and on the Aurora Bridge. To make room for the jersey barriers, the roadway would be widened slightly through Woodland Park. On the Aurora Bridge, the walkways on the deck of the bridge would be eliminated and replaced with widened bicycle and pedestrian paths suspended below the bridge. The paths would be enclosed by suicide prevention barriers.

Maps

Update from Sammamish

Since the introduction of the present timetable in September, Sammamish transit users (residents and workers) have enjoyed an all-day bus service. This has not happened since 2014, when Metro discontinued the 927 Dart van service as part of the service cuts at that time. The 927 was a pretty awful service only transiting the main 228th Street artery north of Pine Lake plaza every 2 hours. On the other hand, the new all-day service extends the hours of the 269 from its previous peak only schedule and now runs to a frequency of 30 minutes during off peak hours. At present the all-day service only runs on weekdays, but a Saturday service is promised after the March timetable changes.

The equipment used on the 269 was also upgraded in September: previously most journeys were serviced by the 1990s era Gillig Phantoms; now the newer New Flyer Xcelsiors are used for five out of the six buses needed during daytime off peak. However, whether transit users appreciate this update is a moot point as the Phantoms definitely have more comfortable seats; although the 30 feet Phantoms (which used to predominate, but are now not usually used) can be uncomfortable on hot summer days as they have no air conditioning. Another point to note is that presumably most drivers are now full time rather than part time Metro employees. Whereas the part timers were usually very welcoming, the full timers tend to be functional rather than friendly (there are some notable exceptions).

In the past the 269 was often threatened with closure, rather than expansion. In 2008 Metro proposed to eliminate the route. The second phase of cuts planned in 2014 was going to cut the peak hour 269 service by over 50%. What has brought about this recent improvement may be a bit of a puzzle, but it may have something to do with an active Transit Committee of Sammamish City Council. In the not too distant past transit to the City Council seemed to mean paving roads which were not in poor condition and widening roads, which were not narrow, for the benefit of the city’s residents, most of whom never leave home except in their own vehicles.

It is not easy to determine what are the medium and long-term plans for transit in Sammamish. The City Council did not support ST3, as this did not seem to propose any decent transit for Sammamish. Metro is pretty good at drawing up plans for the future, but these seem to change long before they are implemented. A couple of years ago a futuristic Metro transit map included a spider’s web of bus routes in Sammamish. Now the latest map just shows an express service duplicating the present 269. Why this is needed is not clear; skipping stops on 228th will not save more than a couple of minutes for most journeys. In fact, the present late night and early morning journeys on the 554 are of little use for those who do not live or park their vehicles near to the few stops serviced. It should be noted that most drivers on the late-night service seem to recognize this and are usually prepared to drop any passengers off at non-express stops, saving long walks in the dark (and in winter cold and rain).

The Transit Committee is also not clear about future requirements. A statement from the Chair that “228th Street is not designed for fast, efficient transit within Sammamish” is very puzzling. 228th is a straight road passing three main commercial areas as well as City Hall and a number of parks and leisure facilities. In what seems to be a contradiction to the statement, the Transit Committee has suggested that the 269 stays on 228th south of South Sammamish Park and Ride to give a much faster trip to Issaquah Transit Center; this would mean a bypass of Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride. According to the Committee, among the benefits of this would be to facilitate Costco members, but this writer cannot imagine many Costco members buying bulk items and then struggling with their packages onto the 269. Another possible contradiction is the desire to reintroduce service to Klahanie, which used to be served by the 927, quite often the lengthy transit of Klahanie did not result in any boardings or alighting. Clearly if the 269 were to serve Klahanie, the journey times to Costco and Issaquah Transit Center would be increased, not reduced. It appears that the Transit Committee is thinking of financially supporting some sort of venture such as the Issaquah Route 200 or the Redmond Loop.

Just how is the new all-day service doing? It was introduced almost as a secret. I did not see it on any Rider Alerts for the September timetable changes, although there was a vague mention on the Metro web site. It is difficult to see how the City Council could have given the change any meaningful publicity; apart from their website (perhaps visited regularly by only a tiny fraction of Sammamish residents and workers?) they don’t really have any outreach capability. The Sammamish Review newspaper, which used to be dumped in everybody’s front yard (and how many took it inside to read?) ceased publication earlier this year.

My observations are that the service is being used, but usually payload is very light. Most journeys through Sammamish have one or two riders, but more than three is quite a crowd. However, there is sometimes moderate ridership between 180th and 188th Ave in Redmond.

The 269 schedule leaflet used to state that the service was supported by Microsoft and the cities of Issaquah, Redmond and Sammamish. In recent years the leaflet has not stated this, but according to the Sammamish Transit Committee minutes there does still seem to be some support from that city at least. With a population of over 60,000 the Council obviously realizes that the city should have more transit than morning and evening peak commuter services to Seattle. Earlier posts on this blog as well as an article in the Issaquah Reporter have highlighted this problem. It is to be hoped that Metro gives its full support and that some way is found to inform potential users that the service does exist.

Transit Talks: Transportation Ideas for a New Mayor

To solve our traffic woes and ensure that all residents have access to opportunity, Seattle will need to address its transportation issues from every angle. That’s why Transportation Choices is bringing together urban leaders from every sector to share their brightest ideas for Seattle’s new Mayor.  The next installment of the Transit Talks series will take place Thursday, December 14 beginning at 5:00pm in Seattle City Hall.

Our panel – including business, grassroots organizations, the arts, and transit agencies – will have five minutes to share what they think the new administration should prioritize in lightning round slides, inspired by Pecha Kucha style presentations.

With time for moderated discussion and audience questions, this is your chance to hear (and respond to!) all these great ideas in one place.

Event Details

  • Transit Talks: Transportation Ideas for a New Mayor
  • Thursday, December 14, 5:00pm – 6:30pm
  • Seattle City Hall, Bertha Knight Landes Room
  • No cost
  • RSVP Link

Bicycle PRT

PRT – “personal rapid transit” – is one of those perennial concepts that never quite makes it.

An example of PRT is London’s Heathrow Airport ULTra, one of the few operational systems in the world. (http://www.ultraglobalprt.com/wheres-it-used/heathrow-t5/ ).

There is apparently a Seattle PRT advocacy group, judging by the website at http://www.gettherefast.org/ , although I haven’t seen anyone “representing” much on STB. The glorious vision of a typical PRT advocate is a citywide grid of grade-separated guideways, with autonomous “pods” carrying 1-4 passengers. Each trip is direct from origin to destination with no intermediate stops, automatically routed through the grid. As far as I know, nothing even close to this has ever been built.

I’ve been thinking of a variant of the PRT idea that has some worthwhile characteristics. Granted, it’s highly speculative…

In this concept, the PRT pods are designed with the goal of carrying a single bicycle, with its mounted rider. This, makes for a small, light pod, which is the most important cost factor in engineering the whole system. The closest approach I have seen to this small a PRT pod is the two-passenger proposal from ecoPRT in North Carolina http://ecoprt.com/ shown above. A major role of bicycle PRT in Seattle would be to get people up hills. Bicycle commuting (and other trips) would be attractive to many more people if they didn’t have to struggle up hills.

In the distant future, one can imagine the citywide-grid PRT vision, supporting relatively long-distance travel, above the traffic, protected from the weather. Since such a system is connecting “ride-sheds” rather than walksheds, it could place the entire city within 5 minutes of transit using a pretty coarse grid. Note that this vision dovetails perfectly with ubiquitous, cheap bikeshare (extrapolating from this year’s pilot program in Seattle).

I have no idea whether the grand vision of a PRT grid could ever pencil out. However it seems to me that a limited set of hill-hopping routes (primarily East-West) would very likely meet enough demand to justify themselves. They do not need the “network effect”: even one line would provide a valuable service. Even so, this sounds like a major investment in unproven technology. What we need first is a pilot project, a technology demonstrator. Such a pilot would most likely be a temporary installation, a learning experience.

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How could this work? I have my eye on Union Street from Alaskan Way up to 1st Ave with a middle stop at  Western/Post Alley. It’s a really short run, currently impassable by bike, in a busy neighborhood. It supports three stops, so that the PRT feature (bypassing unused stops) can be demonstrated. How could it be funded? I don’t claim to have any business sense, but one idea is that the initial demonstrator be a proprietary system installed by one of the bikeshare companies. Ride the PRT only on a Limebike, for example. Let the wild-eyed venture capitalists behind the new bikeshare companies take the risk. If it turns out to be technically sound, a public-access system can be built on the same principles, and deployed around the city in appropriate places.

Alternative Alignments for Route 49 (south of CHS)

Currently, Route 49 runs via Pine between Broadway and Downtown. I feel like this would be a bit redundant to the future Route 2 on Pine, but then I also think Route 2 would not have enough capacity to carry all the riders between Seattle Central College and Downtown. Moving Route 49 to Madison would be nice, but that would duplicate RapidRide G. Metro has a plan to merge Routes 49 and 36 and run the combined route through First Hill. However, this has received much criticism because many 36 riders ride to International District, and this combined route would break that one-seat ride.

Map of proposals: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1iUaRiE3nsE7ueqguCEOO9USIQY8&usp=sharing

Merge with First Hill Streetcar

The First Hill Streetcar would take over Route 49 north of Pine St. One problem with this is that the First Hill Streetcar is ridiculously slow, and having it take over the 49 route would not be so desirable. A solution is dedicated transit lanes, but 10th Ave is a bit narrow for that.

Replace First Hill Streetcar

Route 49 would replace the First Hill Streetcar entirely, running via Broadway, Boren, and Jackson. One problem with this is that so much money was spent on the First Hill Streetcar, and now the track exists, so it does not make too much sense to get rid of it.

Hospital Campus

Route 49 would run via Broadway, Seneca, 9th Ave, 8th Ave, and Yesler to Pioneer Square. Route 60 would move to 14th/15th. This would relieve some congestion on Route 3 between Harborview and Pioneer Square. This would also make use of some existing trolley wire on Seneca and 9th.

14th/15th/Yesler

Route 49 would run via John, 15th, Pine, 14th, and Yesler to Pioneer Square. This would extend the Yesler service to 14th if Route 27 is reduced to peak hours (refer to my Central District restructure for more information). However, this would require placing new trolley wire along 14th and 15th. It would also mean that 49 riders lose their one-seat ride to SCC, but then they gain a one-seat ride to Group Health.

14th/15th/Jackson

This is similar to the 14th/15th/Yesler proposal, except the bus will run via Jackson instead of Yesler, and terminate at International District Station. This would connect people along the 14th/15th corridor to the International District.

Summit

Route 49 would run like Route 43 between CHS and Westlake. This would allow Route 10 to move back to Pine between Bellevue and 15th to supplement Route 2, but then riders along 15th Ave would lose their one-seat ride to CHS, and 49 riders would lose their one-seat ride to SCC without gaining any new one-seat rides.

Chicago Transit Blog

Hello STB readers. In my last post I mentioned that I would start a Chicago Transit Blog. I created the site a while back, but only now have I started posting on it. My first post was about the controversial Route 11 in Chicago. It is a widely discussed topic nowadays, so I thought it would be a good way to start out. Please spread the word about this blog. Thank you.

https://chicagotransitblog.wordpress.com

Replace the CCC with Better Bus Service

Seattle is planning to expand the streetcar system in a project called the City Center Connector, or CCC. Like all of our streetcar projects, there are bold promises of very high ridership. Not only are the ridership claims likely to fall short (as they have before) but we would get a much higher level of service, and higher ridership, if we put the money into improving the bus system. We should follow the lead of other cities, like Providence, Rhode Island, and switch to making bus improvements.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Streetcars

Every transit mode has its advantages and disadvantages. Streetcars are no different. Unfortunately, our streetcars have all the disadvantages, but none of the advantages of other streetcars.

Advantages

Jarrett Walker did an excellent job of summarizing the two advantages of streetcars:

1) They can leverage existing railways.

2) Streetcars often have a lot of capacity.

Unfortunately, neither applies in Seattle. The streetcars won’t run on existing tracks (we will instead lay new rail). Thus it will cost significantly more to enable streetcar running instead of buses.

Nor are the streetcars significantly bigger than our buses. Our articulated buses are very large, and our streetcars are very small. Even if we needed the extra capacity of a train along this route (which is doubtful) these streetcars can’t offer it. Our streetcars offer no advantages over our buses.

Disadvantages

1) Expense. This streetcar line is expensive to build and operate. The small, 1.2 mile expansion will cost $177 million, or more than the entire budget for the Move Seattle RapidRide+ projects (which are listed as “Corridor Mobility Improvements” in the proposal). Operating this streetcar costs $242 an hour, while operating a bus costs $163 an hour.

2) Inflexible routing. It is pretty common and pretty cheap to change a bus route (several changes were made just last month).  But making even a minor change to a streetcar line is extremely expensive. For the Roosevelt HCT project, they have budgeted $7 million just to move a streetcar stop a couple blocks.

Since it is expensive to change a streetcars routing, it doesn’t happen. We will continue to endure the mistakes that have lead to slow running, inconsistent headways and low overall ridership.

3) Limited routing. A bus route may run on a busway or bus lanes for its entire route, but it doesn’t have to. It is common for a bus to serve a neighborhood with regular service, then run congestion free where it matters most (downtown). You can’t do that with a streetcar. We see this with the current plans. The streetcars will travel a very short distance, and stop well before a bus would stop. In contrast, the 40 and 70 will be turned into RapidRide bus routes, and they will not only connect South Lake Union with downtown, but connect to other very popular areas.

4) They are a hazard to bicycles. Even with our very short streetcar lines, we have seen several accidents, at least one of which was fatal. We are not alone. All streetcars are a hazard, and different cities mitigate the hazard in different ways. This isn’t just a matter of education, either. Toronto has had streetcars for generations, yet they still has plenty of accidents. Researchers found that 32% of injured cyclists had crashes that directly involved tracks. According to UBC researcher Kay Teschke, a three-fold increased risk of injury was observed when cycling on routes with streetcar or train tracks.

Work can be done to make the streetcars safer but that is often expensive and difficult. You need to both isolate the bike paths and provide for 90 degree crossings. These are common in Amsterdam, but rare in North America.

5) Since they are a hazard to bicycles, a streetcar routing is often less than optimal. It is unlikely that we will be able to produce a relatively safe system, such as the one in Amsterdam. We have trouble converting a general purpose or parking lane into a transit lane so it is unrealistic to think we will also set aside a lane as a buffer for bikes as well (as in this photo). But the routing will have to deal with the fact that surface rail is a hazard to bike riders. In this article, the author points out the hazards that the proposed streetcar routing would create. This sort of criticism is valid, and will likely result in a different routing. Thus the ideal route is replaced by something worse, and only because this is a streetcar, not a bus.

6) Streetcars can’t avoid obstacles. This means that an accident, a parked car or just a bit of debris in the roadway can bring a streetcar to a complete stop. Construction is also a problem. It is common in this booming city to have one lane blocked off, and a flagger move traffic to the other lane. But a streetcar can’t do that. So either the streetcar is shut down for a while, or special work has to be done to accommodate it.

Much has been made of the fact that for part of this route, the streetcars will have their own lane. This is great, and should greatly improve average speeds along part of the route. But for much of the way, there will still be congestion, and a streetcar (unlike a bus) has a tough time avoiding it. But even for the parts of this route that include a transit lane, there are disadvantages for a streetcar. The pathway may be clear most of the time, but if someone sticks out even an inch into the transit lane, the streetcar has to wait. A bus would simply slide over to the general purpose lane, and be on its way. But a streetcar, and all its passengers,  will be stuck.

Alternative

The good news is that there is an alternative, and Providence has already provided it. We simply take the street improvements we would have given to the streetcar, and give it to buses. That would be a better value, whether the bus routes that take advantage of it are BRT or just regular buses. For far less money, we can provide a much better transit system.

Please contact your city council representative and let them know that you want to see the streetcar money be put into bus lanes, and other bus improvements.