Open Thread: Slow News Day

The Urbanist has a news roundup on Sound Transit and Community Transit activities. Stride 3 (Shoreline-Bothell) is at 60% design. Community Transit is starting to write a new long-range plan. Sound Transit is asking the public about access alternatives at the South Tacoma Sounder station.

Other than that there’s been little news, so it’s up to the comments to launch discussions.

Update: A very interesting discussion of Link stations’ walk scores is in the comments.


Election Open Thread

Initial election results will be posted at 8:15 pm, then on subsequent days by 4 pm. I assume there will be one or two comments about it.

Link will be closed between SODO and Capitol Hill November 11-13. Replacement buses will fill the gap. Trains will continue running north of Capitol Hill and south of SODO. The alert says replacement buses will run every 15 minutes, while a sign at Stadium says they’ll run every 10-15 minutes. In my experience they’re often more frequent than that. So the buses will be either less frequent, the same, or more frequent than Link.

This is an open thread.


Station Codes will Replace Link Pictograms

Sound Transit slide comparing navigation by pictogram and by station codes.

Title is Station codes could assist with wayfinding.

Take the 1 line to Beacon Hill. Line diagram with stations represented by pictograms. People standing at International District Station, represented by a dragon, asking questions: Which direction? How many stops?

Take the 1 line to station 47. People standing at International District Station (number 40) count 3 stops in the down direction.

In the next Link expansion, riders will have another shorthand way of identifying stations and navigating the system. The rarely used station pictograms will be retired in favor of a system of station codes based on international best practice. Similar to bus stops, airport gates, and freeway exits, stations will have a 3-digit code consisting of the line number and a sequential station number. Sound Transit staff presented the new approach to the ST Board’s Rider Experience & Operations Committee last Thursday.

For background, please read my 2020 post where I wrote about the pictograms’ shortcomings and proposed station numbering/coding as an alternative. Although not reported at the time, ST staff took note and was in the exploratory stages of considering such a system. After extensive outreach and user testing of concepts earlier this year, staff arrived at a preferred option that will be incorporated into wayfinding for the East Link and Lynnwood Link expansions.

The Stop Codes numbering system

Here is my breakdown of the system based on materials ST has publicly released. Each stop on a line will have a three-digit code. That means stations served by more than one line will have multiple codes corresponding to each line. The first digit represents the line name. The next two digits represent the position of the station along the spine with higher numbers in the north and lower numbers in the south. You count up when traveling toward Everett and count down when traveling toward Tacoma. The numbering continues along branches from the spine.

Continue reading “Station Codes will Replace Link Pictograms” | 75 comments

Beacon Hill Bike Lanes and Trails

SDOT is planning a north-south cycletrack on Beacon Hill as part of Safe Streets. Separately, a set of recreational trails recently opened in Cheasty Park on the eastern side of the hill.

The cycletrack will run along 15th Avenue South and Beacon Avenue South from the José Rizal Bridge to South Spokane Street. This will connect Little Saigon, the apartment-filled northern part of Beacon Hill, the Link station, the retail village, the library, and Jefferson Park.

This is just phase 1 of the project (or “Segment 1” as SDOT calls it). This phase is funded by Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District. Phases 2 and 3 are not yet funded. Phase 2 would extend the cycletrack south along Beacon Avenue to South Myrtle Street. Phase 3 would continue south to where Beacon Avenue ends at South 39th Street. If all these phases are completed, the cycletrack would run the entire length of Beacon Hill, from the 12th Avenue Bridge to where the 107 makes a U shape to get to Rainier Beach.

At this point SDOT is just introducing the project and collecting email addresses to send announcements to. You can email feedback now or wait for a survey later this month. One question the city is asking about is whether it should be a two-way cycletrack on one side of the street, or two one-way cycletracks on either side.

The Cheasty Park trail opened in October. I walked it last week. From Columbia City Link station, I went out the northern exit to the north side of Alaska Street, and turned left and walked a half mile to the entrance. Alaska Street merges into Columbian Way, and the entrance is a little further on the right, with a sign for “Strawberry Trail”, and a request for user feedback. Cheasty Park is an old-growth woods stretching north and south. The dirt trail runs across it, and is entirely switchbacks up the side of the hill to Cheasty Boulevard. I encountered five mountain bikers going the other way downhill, one or two at a time. At Cheasty Boulevard you can turn right and walk along the 2-lane parkway street to Mt Baker Station. I turned left instead, and walked along the south end of Jefferson Park Golf Course to Beacon Avenue. I turned north and walked along Beacon Avenue past the VA hospital, Jefferson Park (the non-golf park), and the village to Beacon Hill Station. Walking time was around thirty minutes from Columbia City Station to Cheasty Boulevard, and forty minutes from Cheasty Boulevard to Beacon Hill Station.

Partway along the trail there’s a connection to a mountain-bike-only loop that’s not open yet. Another multi-use trail and a mountain bike loop are proposed in the northern part of the park, closer to Mt Baker Station. A third mountain-bike-only [Correction: 2-way hiking only] loop is on the south side of Columbian Way. I’m not sure if it’s open; I saw a park sign but no obvious entrance.

I also walked the Westlake path from Fremont to Denny Way, for the first time since the cycletrack was installed. It is a full cycletrack next the sidewalk, between the continuous parking lot and the business entrances. The cycletrack was well marked, and I saw people walking across it with no conflicts.

On-topic comments for this article are on bike lanes (potential or current), transit lanes, pedestrian infrastructure (including pedestrian bridges), walking tours, and bike tours in the region. Other topics belong in an Open Thread.


News Roundup: Pedestrianizing Pike Street

A proposed pedestrian superblock on East Pike Street, bounded by Broadway, 12th Avenue, East Pine Street, and East Union Street. This looks intriguing. 10th and 11th Avenues already feel almost pedestrian between Pine and Pike Streets, which is pleasant when shopping or attending a nightclub. Having a 3 x 2 block fully pedestrianized area would give Seattle something it doesn’t have, and pedestrians would flock to it. I’m not 100% sure about closing the street, but the arterial ends two blocks east at Madison Street anyway. Buses use adjacent Pine and Union Streets, and cars coming from east Madison can easily choose them instead of Pike.

Animated map of the Chicago L’s evolution from 1892 to 2029. 1900-1910 had a huge wave of expansions. 1948-1958 had a wave of contractions.

This is an open thread.


Chinatown-International District open house tonight

Sound Transit is collecting feedback on the Chinatown-ID station for ST3 starting with an open house tonight. Much has been written about the various options, but it seems clear that the only option even remotely acceptable to the neighborhood is “4th Avenue Shallow.” Even that may be a bridge too far, per Naomi Isaka’s reporting in the Times:

The slightly less destructive path would be on Fourth Avenue, but even that option would create havoc for about 10 years by redirecting traffic through the neighborhood and constructing a massive staging area there. Advocates fear displacement of businesses and residents would inevitably follow.  

Shallow 4th is also $500M more expensive than Shallow 5th. If the extra money and construction impacts resulted in a better rider experience, it might be worth it. But making people walk a block and 80 feet below ground to transfer isn’t a very rider-centric outcome either (although it’s better than some of the other options!).

Still, since the Sound Transit board has made it clear that they are open to studying more options and everything on the table has a serious downside, I’ll make one more plug for putting the station at Rainier & I-90 on the edge of the CID. This opens up a possible First Hill station for Midtown and preserves the primary benefit of a second transfer location.

When I last presented this concept there was some legit concern about a Beacon Hill shuttle. Based on some suggestions from readers, I’ve thought about how it might work as a branch line instead.

If this sounds appealing to you, now would be the time to let Sound Transit know.


News Roundup

This is an open thread.


To make Eastside-only East Link work, excellent transfers are needed

Potential transfer point at the 77th Ave SE drop-off lane (photo by author)

Now that it’s much more certain that the entirety of the 2-Line will not open in 2023, Sound Transit has an excellent opportunity to consider still starting Eastside-only service on time: a proposal first publicly voiced by King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci and endorsed by transit geeks across the region.

It’s easy enough to demand that Sound Transit only run trains between Mercer Island and Redmond, but putting it into practice is another thing entirely. I don’t know if ST staff have backup maintenance and operating plans for this exact scenario, but there are very crucial operational considerations that need to be made, particularly for transfers.

Continue reading “To make Eastside-only East Link work, excellent transfers are needed” | 104 comments

Marketplace features Seattle’s transit recovery

Marketplace, an NPR program, ran an exposé on our local transit recovery, featuring yours truly. Although I wouldn’t necessarily dichotomize myself into the choice rider camp (per Jarrett Walker’s analysis on the subject), the segment does a reasonably balanced job highlighting different aspects of transit ridership. I especially appreciated the renewed focus on all-day travel, in particular Link’s recovery:

Local bus systems are adjusting to shifting commuter patterns. Express commuter routes from richer suburbs have been trimmed, and transit managers are trying not to touch routes in lower-income areas.

Ridership on Link is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels… That’s mostly thanks to riders like Cantero hitting up sporting events or restaurants or running errands throughout the day. There are fewer commuters, but more all-day travel.

It’s what gives local transit enthusiasts hope that the region can still be a model for transportation success. There are plans to triple the mileage Link covers in the coming years.


Balducci wants intra-Eastside Link to open on time

Map of East Link / SounderBruce (Flickr)

King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci recently penned an op-ed to the Seattle Times arguing for East Link to meet its commitment of a 2023 opening, but only on the Eastside.

But what if we opened an Eastside-only light rail line connecting Redmond to Bellevue, or even to Mercer Island, in 2023? Could we provide high-quality transit service to thousands of riders while repairs are completed on the rest of the line? In short, we can and should. 

On-time opening of an Eastside-only starter light rail line would honor the preparations that Eastside cities have been making for years, with complementary investments in transportation, trails and transit-oriented land use planning. Bellevue alone is investing more than $230 million to fast-track 12 transportation projects to match the 2023 deadline.

King County has worked tirelessly alongside several cities and communities to make progress on Eastrail, a 42-mile trail that will connect Eastside light rail and businesses like never before. And Bellevue has also partnered with Sound Transit to build up to 500 units of affordable housing with direct access to light rail in the Spring District. Both Redmond and Bellevue have been busy planning for additional transit-oriented development, including affordable housing, at most light rail stations along the East Link Corridor.  

As was previously reported, Link expansions are delayed across the board but the Eastside extension has been pummeled by construction mishaps, pushing service start to 2024 at the earliest. The construction rework is primarily taking place between Seattle and Mercer Island, raising the prospect that the rest of what will be the 2-Line may finish on time.

We’ve always been supportive of early openings when projects are completed ahead of time, and it makes sense that a massive project like East Link stands to benefit from incremental openings. That said, Sound Transit would likely need to draft a thorough maintenance and operations plan, which should consider things like maintenance capabilities at the Bellevue OMF (Operations & Maintenance Facility) and service operations based on intra-Eastside ridership patterns.

Whether the Sound Transit Board will take this up remains to be seen. At minimum, the high-level calls to mitigate frustrating delays is an encouraging sign.


Sunday News Roundup

This is an open thread.


More Link delays

Sound Transit:

However, on both the east and west sides of the bridge, the contractor’s work to fix problems with cast-in-place concrete plinths supporting the tracks has led to the identification of further challenges. These include issues with mortar pads, rebar placements and track fasteners, which the contractor has agreed to fix by re-casting the plinths to ensure the long-term reliability and safety of the extension. Details of the East Link issues can be found in the below-linked memo.

Continuing work is required to identify new project opening timelines for the four projects, which must include time for activation work once construction is complete. While the East Link extension was planned to open in mid-2023, construction challenges are currently projected to delay the completion by at least a year. An upcoming programmatic review will assess rail activation sequencing and time requirements to support the identification of new opening timeframes.

This confirms what we heard back in May, but without any new update on the actual opening schedule. You can see some images of the cracking in the agency’s presentation to the board. Landslide issues have cropped up in Federal Way as well. The Times has more.


Youth fares almost gone

The youth fare is abolished effective Sept. 1st. This year’s transportation package in Olympia sends transit agencies a bunch of money in return for getting rid of the fare, neatly solving the dilemma of encouraging ridership by either cutting fares or using the money to improve service. Agencies across the state quickly fell into line.

Personally, I say good riddance. Youth ORCA is a pain to get, and if you have a few kids (as I do) round trips get expensive fast. There are also benefits to creating a broadly shared generational experience with transit, and in avoiding interactions with fare enforcement. With a state subsidy, there is no downside, unless it causes transit facilities to become (more of?) a place to hang out and behave anti-socially.

The main news is overwhelmingly positive. However, explanations of the formal policy are a confusing muddle.

Continue reading “Youth fares almost gone” | 100 comments

No station in Chinatown?

Mayor Bruce Harrell:

“We are now hearing many community members questioning whether there needs to be a new station in the community at all – and as a matter of good government we need to answer that question. “To be clear, looking at alternative location options in addition to those currently proposed does not mean we don’t expand transit capacity downtown – it just means we assess a broader range of options. Let’s let the process figure that out, with the community fully at the table.”

Via today’s informative Seattle Times article.

Time to put First Hill back on the table?


Sound Transit’s 2023 service plan shows no signs of labor shortage relief

Sound Transit 2010 MCI D4500 9734P
The promised frequent service to Federal Way never materialized, and is unlikely to in 2023 (photo: Zack Heistand on Flickr)

Sound Transit is planning for service changes in 2023, and has just released its 2023 Service Plan for public comment. This plan outlines the changes to Sound Transit service that is anticipated for 2023. And the outlook is… bleak.

For some background, you may recall that there were significant improvements in transit service planned in Sound Transit’s 2022 Service Plan. As it turns out, none of the changes outlined in the 2022 plan ended up happening except the restoration of S Line service. This is almost singularly due to the labor shortage (with other contributing factors also to blame for the slip of the Hilltop extension of the T-Line into 2023), which has showed no signs of letting up. In its more detailed draft Transit Development Plan, Sound Transit reports that in October 2021, labor shortages have caused a reduction of 5% of ST service operated by King County Metro, 10% of ST service operated by Community Transit, and 20% of service operated by Pierce Transit. Mitigations included a sudden reduction of ST Express service, and the transfer of route 566 from Pierce Transit to King County Metro. With the labor shortage being persistent through today, there has been no perceptible improvement so far, completely blocking the proposed ST Express improvements.

The service plan

The 2023 Service Plan anticipates more of the same, detailing the mitigation efforts made in 2021 and 2022. The plan tempers expectations of any service increases in 2023, noting that the agency will continue to implement two service changes a year. Service increases are not off the table (seeming to refer to the planned 2022 increases), but this won’t happen until staffing levels are sufficient to deliver on current transit service reliably and without cancellations.

The plan goes into detail about routes with current service reduction, in comparison to the service they would have had with sufficient service levels. This includes routes 577/578/590/594. which have the steepest reductions (running every 30 minutes midday and weekends instead of 15). Routes 566 and 592 are also seeing frequency reductions during peak hours (which is the only time they operate), and the 580 is getting unspecified reductions in favor of route 400 (which parallels route 580 in Puyallup). Also, the portion of route 580 from Lakewood to Puyallup (currently “temporarily” suspended) will be eliminated, leaving SR 512 for the exclusive use of cars once again.

No mention of East Link

One notable omission in the service plan is literally anything about East Link. While we already knew that East Link is likely to slip into 2024, the fact that Sound Transit isn’t even tentatively including it in the service plan says a lot about when the agency is anticipating opening the line. To this, I will say that I hope Sound Transit will break the news as soon as it is certain (starting with the official project page), rather than waiting until just a few months before people think it will open. Delaying the announcement will only frustrate riders and voters more, and is less honest to future riders who may be beginning to plan around the start of East Link service.

The service plan is open for public comment until August 9. So if you have feedback, be sure to fill out the survey before then.