Downtown Tunnel will be a bus and train tunnel


I hadn’t realised that the downtown tunnel would still run buses through it when it reopens. According to the tunnel’s website, most of the Metro routes that went through the tunnel will be put back into it when the retro-fit is finished sometime at or before September this year. The tunnel buses, which had been electric only though the tunnel, will become diesel-electric hybrids and go wireless with in it. How this will effect air-quality in the tunnel is not mentioned. Once the train finally starts running in 2009, the tunnel’s hours of operation will increase to 18-21 hours a day which will be pretty nice.

Update: The tunnel will be ventilated by fans that have been installed.

Double Decker Bus on Community Transit


Community Transit is running a Scottish-made double-decker bus on its routes on a rotating basis. The bus is 14 feet-tall, and apartently can fit 80 people compared to 60 for articulated buses. If this bus recieves good reviews from passengers and drivers, Community Transit will consider getting more of the coaches.

Pros of double-decker vs articulated buses.

  • 80 people on double-decker vs 60 for articulated.
  • Won’t jack-knife in bad weather.
  • Easier to turn

Cons of double-decker

  • More expensive, $650,000 vs $580,000.
  • Slower boarding.
  • At 14 feet tall, can’t fit through all tunnels, and under all bridges.

I am for double-deckers on these long-distance routes. Articulated buses are annoying on city streets, but they are necessary to fit under bridges and powerlines.

Mountlake Terrace Transit Center


I reserve the phrase “The City” for Seattle, since I’m a Bay Area guy, and that’s the terminology down there for San Francisco. But uses it differently in this article about a new transit center in Mountlake Terrace. Apparently the transit center will be in the middle of I-5, with a pedestrian bridge toward a park and ride built in the 2009 timeframe. It looks cool, and includes a 880-space garage that will double park-and-ride capacity. I am all for the median bus lane, but doesn’t that mean these buses will have to merge left toward the median for Mountlake Terrace and then back right for the other stops which are on the left-side near exits? I wonder who thought that scheme up…

Apologies I wrote this post last week but clicked “Save as Draft” rather than publish.

San Francisco Transit

I read this crazy comment over at Slog and it got me thinking that if Seattle is aiming to have transit like the San Francisco Bay Area does, it is not aiming all that high. I lived in San Francisco for years, and I can sum up the transit systems pretty simply.

BART

BART serves primarily the East Bay, those (especially from the East Bay) who commute from the suburbs into the city, and those going to SFO airport. That’s about it. Click the left link for a map. It does serve as a single subway line within the city along Mission toward Daly City, but it is a subway line that is mostly covered by Muni trains as well. When the Link Rail line is built, it will be about like BART is now, and when the East Link line is built, it will actually cover a greater portion of the region because BART doesn’t cover the South Bay at all, and doesn’t go into Marin county either. The most southern stop is Fremont. Sure it goes all the way to Pittsburgh, but that is the middle of no where. BART = Central Link

MUNI

MUNI can basically be divided into two parts, MUNI rail and MUNI buses. There is also the cable car, but that is mostly for tourists and costs $5 to ride just up Nob Hill. MUNI metro rail (see the map at the right) serves mostly the South and West parts of the city, bringing them into the downtown shopping and Financial District. Note that only Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, Van Ness, Church, Castro, West Portal and Balboa Park stations are underground. The first four are actually shared with BART, so they are not unique subway stations. The rest of the stops are all above ground, making them like the South Lake Union Street Car. These lines are all much better than buses, but they only serve to bring people from the outskirt-neighborhoods into the employment centers downtown, and they don’t even serve most of the city. There is no Muni line to North Beach or Richmond District for example. There is one line missing on the map, the Historic F line, but that is mostly for tourists and basically goes along the embarcadero to Fishermans Wharf from Market. Muni Rail = More extensive version of Capitol Hill/SLU street cars


Muni bus (map to left) is pretty great as far as bus systems go, but it still is a bus. According to ratings, Muni is average or below average. One of the reasons buses seem good in San Francisco is because they are going very short distances. San Francisco is only 47 square miles (Seattle by contrast, is 83 square miles of land plus another 59 square miles of water), so a ride on the 38 from Downtown all the way out to the Richmond is only about four miles long. And it still takes 30 minutes on the local. Buses are definitely better than those in Seattle, but they are working with an easier city: smaller, with no large lakes in the middle, and denser. Also, since it is a city-run operation, not a county-run operation (San Francisco is its own county as well as city), it has a much smaller area to deal with.

Caltrain

Finally, there is Caltrain. Caltrain is a commuter rail from the city down the penninsula and eventually into the South Bay. I used to takes it nearly everyday from the city to San Jose. It is wonderful as far as commuter rails go, a 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose only take 55 minutes on the “baby bullet” super express trains. However, it is essentially useless for anything other than commuting, because outside of the commuting times of day, all the trains are local, and the trip to the south bay would take literally hours. Caltrain = (faster) Sounder

What I haven’t Covered

I am missing “Golden Gate Transit” which serves the Marin, sort of like Community Transit serves Snohomish, and SAMtrans, which serves San Mateo sort of like Metro serves the ‘burbs but I have never ridden those, so I can’t comment on them. Also, Santa Clara County has it’s own street car, which serves some neighborhoods in the South Bay, but there’s not much to that, since the South Bay is so vast and sparse relative to the city, its difficult to build mass transit down there that serves most neighborhoods.

Summary

In all, the Bay Area has better transit infrastructure, and MUCH better road/highway infrastructre (that’s a whole other post). But I think with a few more Street Car lines and the Central and East Link built, Seattle will have a similar level of transit service to the Bay. That’s when we need to shoot higher, maybe looking at Boston or Chicago… My dream though I guess.

On Naming Stations

I like how Sound Transit has decided to give the stations names that describe the neighborhood instead of names of streets as has been done in some places. I guess you can only confuse one California or Western station with another if you, you know, actually have more than one line (we don’t have any yet). But if we ever do get that first line we might get a second…

More Wi-Fi for Buses!

I am really late on this, but Metro has rolled out Wi-Fi to more buses in the Seattle Area. The 255, 644, 197 and selected trips on the 952 have Wi-Fi. Sound Transit has Wi-Fi on the selected 545 and the Everett-Seattle Sounder Commuter rail. The 545 is my route so I am really happy about the service.

Metro has teamed up with Sprint Cellular and Junxion, Inc., a Seattle-based mobile connection provider, to offer Wi-Fi service on 48 buses serving the four transit routes. (Wi-Fi service on the Route 952 will be limited to the last trip in the morning and afternoon.) The Junxion boxes have been outfitted with a cellular air card allowing passengers to use their laptop computers or Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access the Internet.

The Wi-Fi is basically like mobile phone wi-fi, so it switches towers as you travel. This works fine for surfing the web or checking email, because these protocols are stateless, meaning the data is transmitted and the connection is terminated. It doesn’t work as well for something that requires a persistant connection, such as remote desktop or ssh, but you’re on the bus what can you expect! And only geeks like me use those things anyway.

Good work Metro and Sound Transit, Wi-Fi is great and I wish you would roll it out to every bus.

P-I advocates for Transit

Yesterday the P-I told us it was important to for the State to find a Transportation Department head from out-of-state.

Washington needs a transportation department that puts mass transit, the environment and the public interest ahead of building more car capacity…

With you on that one, PI! They also stressed the important of bringing in a Gregoire crony, a la George Bush, to run the department.

Transportation still needs the benefit of an outsider, who will continue to shake things up. Particularly with a strong governor, it would be too easy for an insider to tell her all is fine.

Today the PI tells us how much they like the idea of a mosquito fleet of passenger-only ferries, and how better to sell the fleet to tax-payers.

King County Council’s plan to take over the Vashon foot-passenger ferries and downtown water taxi … sorry, can’t resist … floats our boat…
As far as funding goes, we’re not against some funds coming from property taxes — after all, everyone in the region, even those who don’t use ferries and water taxis, will benefit from living in a place with good public transportation. We do believe, however, that relying solely on property taxes for funding the ferries and future water taxis is folly.

More Park & Ride Parking at Northgate Starting Tomorrow

Starting Tomorrow, May 2nd, Metro will open it’s portion of the parking at Northgate’s new garage. According to metro’s website:

Metro’s spaces are located on floors 1 and 2. They are marked “Reserved for Park-and-Ride Customers Monday through Friday.” … With the new spaces in the garage, Metro will now have more than 900 parking stalls available for transit customers using the Northgate Transit Center.

That’ll be enough for now, but maybe more will be needed when the Light Rail gets finished.

First Hill Streetcar

Today is Streetcar day here at STB. I read this article from Friday about the Streetcar up to Aloha, then browsed over to CHS where he suggested I write about it. Unfortunately, my grandmother died over the weekend and her funeral was yesterday, but I guess better late than never.

For background, the Link Rail was originally going to include a stop in First Hill, but due to technical reasons, this had to be dropped, and a streetcar from the ID to Capitol Hill through First Hill was proposed. The route (map to the left) will take advantage of the proposed Jackson street extension (map to the right) to the existing Benson Line to cross I-5, where it would go up 12th Street, the up Boren and connect to Broadway. The First/Capitol Hill Streetcar had its plan extended to Aloha street from where it was going to end at East John Street. According to the analysis by Sound Transit, this adds an extra 500 round-trips a day to the 3000 they were already expecting for the East John terminus.

They were looking at about $117.3 – $134.9 million for the East John Street terminus, and according to the email I got back from Sound Transit, extending it to East John adds about $12 million to the final price tag, and extends construction another month. Six blocks a month seems like a bad deal to me, as Portland was able to build one block every three days when they built Max, but everything seems to be slower in Seattle.

George Benson line is a streetcar but…


…not a modern one. Sure it’s cute, and it goes under the Viaduct and they extended it to go to the International District (all the way to King Street Station), but it’s not modern, and doesn’t attract the ridership that would be useful because:

a) It doesn’t go far enough. It basically serves the waterfront and that’s it. It would have to go to at least the Seattle Center to actually be useful.

b) It is rickety and slow. It’s more of a tourist attraction than a useful transit scheme.

I think the streetcar’s usefulness is exhibited by how empty it is everytime I ride on it. For contrast, the Elliot Bay Water Taxi has been packed each time I have been on it.
c) It doesn’t serve a corridor that is populated by businesses or inhabited by people. If it actually went through Belltown, it’d be a different story, but as it is now, it’s only useful for going to the waterfront.

Speaking of the Viaduct…


I know, I am as tired of this topic as you are, but something still needs to be done. Steinbrueck, who has staked his political career on removing the viaduct without creating a new one, has drawn up a plan for a Surface/Transit option. I like the idea of surface/transit, especially since the consensus is that fewer cars drive on SR-99 immediately north and south of the viaduct, which means that people basically use it because it is there, and might not otherwise. The problem I have is with the type of transit they are talking about: buses.

Buses suck compared to trains (I do ride the 545 everyday, so I appreciate the buses). They are noisy, smelly (if they use cardon-based fuels), have bumpy rides, and are at the mercy of traffic. Underground or Elevated trains are immune to traffic, are quiet, are sleak, and have much lower operating costs once built. Even streetcars are better than buses: smoother rides, and some ability to control traffic with special signals. The South Lake Union (can someone come up with a better name for this neighborhood already?) street car will cost only $50.5 million to build, and another $100 million to get it up to the U-District. I think the city should consider this approach, because eventually extending the car down to West Seattle or up to Queen Anne and possibly to Fremont will be relatively easy, or even just linking it with the Lake Union Car might be a real possibility.

Something to think about.

Bay Area Commute After Collaspe: Relatively Painless


Sunday Night I mentioned the collaspe of one of the feeder-bridges onto the Bay Bridge between the East Bay and the City of San Francisco. Well it seems the commute Monday hasn’t been as bad as people had expected, though the traffic problems could continue for months. Dan Savage thinks this is enough evidence to support tearing down the viaduct, because people, er adjust or something. I actually made a case for this sort of viaduct planning vis-a-vis the Loma Prieta Quake in a letter to the PI four months ago (first one of the page).

I actually see it as a reason to support more off-grade trains. BARTs value has been clearly shown as an alternative to driving through horrible traffic. Apparently ferry service was also increased four-fold, showing just another way that public transport system can be used to ease traffic.

Here’s video of the blast that caused the crash:

Foot Ferries?

The PI today ran a story about the possible rebirth of passenger-only ferries in the Sound and even Lake Washington. Apparently the success of the Elliot Bay Water Taxi, the coming traffic hell, and the development of Puget Sounds westside has people thinking back to the days of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Also, the state would like to get out of the business of running passenger-ferries, and King County Metro or Sound Transit would take up running the ferries.

Some words of caution from me: (1) The Water Taxi works because it runs in the summer when it is most fun to take a ferry, (2) all transit projects lose money and passenger ferries would be no exception, (3) if 520 is so dangerous during a windstorm, imagine a passenger-ferry on Lake Washington.

All in all it’s a fine plan, but I think the focus should remain on off-grade trains.

Sound Transit expanding expansion plans

It looks like sound transit will expand its plans for light rail further than expected. The expanded light rail plan will start south of the Tacoma Dome, near where the existing Tacoma link line is now, and stretch all the way out to Mill Creek in Snohomish County. The previous plan was only to Fife and Lynnwood, and they were thinking more about Everett than Ash Way. They’d also include a line out to Bellevue and Overlake, which would likely improve my commute a bit.

They are also looking into a rail corridor on the current Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway on the Eastside. BNSF wants to sell the strip, and King County wants obtain it by having the Port of Seattle buy it, and then trading them Boeing Field. The county would wants to turn the land into a bike trail now, and later possibly investigate rail there. Boeing field would probably turn into more of a passenger airport (which Southwest has wanted for sometime, Beacon Hill residents be damned) since now it is used mostly for cargo, charter flights and private jets. Apparently if that deal falls through, Sound Transit wants to look into buying that land and making it a rail corridor from Renton to Woodinville. Hopefully they’d be smart enough to have connect with the current “Central Line” either somewhere in the city, maybe Columbia City, or at least in Tukwila.

Critics, having lived through the monorail disaster, are concerned that Sound Transit is not being realistic about the cost. I agree that Sound Transit hasn’t actually finished much of anything yet, but they have had success keeping their schedules so far, and those lines look ready to go at or around the dates they have mentioned. My big issue is the timeframe they are talking about. Why would the expansion to Ash Way in Snohomish take to 2027? That is twenty years from now! BART in the Bay Area was built in way less time than that, included a trans-bay tube, those distances are way farther, and technolody is much better now than then.

Well whatever, better late than never. More later. Vote yes on that initiative!

Gas at $4 soon, take the bus to work


With gas looking like it’ll reach $4 a gallon, maybe you should plan on taking the bus to work or school this summer?
Reasons to take the bus
1) Reading, sleeping, playing ds, and talking are more fun that driving, so get a commute partner!
2) Girls (and boys for ladies) that you can try to pick up. It’s worked for me more than you’d imagine.
3) Save on gas (see above).
4) During Summer with the weather nice, no need to worry about getting rained on.
5) No need to fight for parking.
That photo on the left is of San Francisco, where I just left a month ago. Gas there is already $4 a gallon at some stations, though I think that is the station on Harrison and 6th, which is always about 50¢ more than the Chevron across the street.

Good News, Bad News for Ferry Riders

Well, the bad news first. Washington State Ferries is increasing fares by 2.5% starting May 1st. This isn’t all that much, if you consider that inflation averaged about 3% last year, and the good news is that fares won’t go up again automatically next year, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they do with the poor state of the Ferries’ finances.
The really good news? The Elliot Bay Water Taxi (pictured above) kicks off on Sunday! If you don’t know about the water taxi, it’s a $3 boat ride from Pier 55 downtown to Seacrest Park in West Seattle. It’s really a treat on a warm summer day, and I recommended taking any out-of-town guests on it, as a way to get to Alki Beach. It only runs from May 1st to September 30th, which is really unfortunate as it is one of the fastest ways from West Seattle to downtown.