Numbers Shine for Sound Transit

Sound Transit released some stats on 2nd Quarter performance and their hard work is starting to pay off! Total ridership on Sounder, Link light rail, and Express buses went up 11% compared to last year. The Sounder alone went up 20% while Express buses went up 10% and Link light rail 2%. This is awesome, especially since Central Link isn’t even completed yet. In fact they had 3.5 Million people use Sound Transit in the 2nd Quarter. When Central Link is completed and rolling on its rails, I only see Sound Transit going up. In my perfect world, when ST Link is running to Everett and Redmond, the numbers will be as high as some other larger cities perhaps? San Francisco? Chicago?

Speaking of ridership the 19 days of pain are almost here, and as you may have heard Sound Transit added a Sounder round trip run for a total of 5 runs. The new trip starts in Puyallup at 6:17am and returns leaving King Street at 4:50pm. They have tweaked the normal schedule so make sure to take a peek if you are a regular. I see this as really the only way to sanity during this stretch of time. It will show the region that we need grade separated transit badly. In fact I hope people will use Sounder and see that it is the way to go even with all I-5 available. It provides Sound Transit with a great opportunity to showcase the Commuter Rail. So tell everyone about it that can use this awesome service. Too bad they couldn’t do 9 or 10 round trip runs! However Sound Transit is the agency that is adding service on buses and trains during the I-5 maintenance project. King County Metro is not adding any additional service as they are maxed out. Is anyone trying Sounder out for the first time? What are you doing to avoid this mess? Vacation? The coffee shop idea Mayor Nickels was talking about?

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Double the Fun!

I am sure you may have seen the new Double Decker bus used by Community Transit, if not I snapped the photo above so you could see the massiveness. Community Transit is the second agency in the U.S. to put this type of bus into its regular service, the only other being Las Vegas. Unfortunately, I don’t use the CT route that uses this particular bus, but I have got to imagine the views are awesome! The bus seats 67 with room for 20 standing which is double a regular 40′ bus in the same footprint. I wonder how this compares to the articulated buses? The route 402 is currently using the bus as a testing period which will last approximately two weeks, before it rotates to another route for additional testing by Community Transit. I saw the release on the news and there was a lady who wouldn’t get on cause she was afraid it would hit the overpasses. It does clear the overpasses so don’t worry if that is stopping you. Has anyone rode the Double Decker yet? Any first impressions? I am glad to see CT pushing the envelope for innovation in modern transportation, it shows that this region is serious about transportation.

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Transit = Choice

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The L.A. Times looks at the vaunted Denver light rail system. One of Denver’s suburban mayors is surprisingly candid:

Cal Marsella, the general manager of the Regional Transportation District, which is building FasTracks, can readily tick off travel times he uses to sell people on the program.

In 2025, for example, he says the drive from the airport to downtown will take 48 minutes by car and 39 minutes on the train, and the drive from Longmont — a far northern suburb — to Denver will take 133 minutes by car versus 61 minutes by train.

Politicians make much the same arguments.

“We frame this as giving people a choice,” said Steve Burkholder, the mayor of suburban Lakewood, which will get rail service as part of FasTracks. “Will this take cars off the road? I doubt it. As you grow as an area, congestion will grow.” [emphasis added]

Exactly. Congestion is here to stay, but it’s important to give people real choices. In 20 years, traffic in Seattle will be terrible. Like LA-style terrible. Imagine rush hour on I-5 or I-405 for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we don’t start building now, we’re gonna be seriously screwed.

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“A Lot of Buses”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Amtrak shuts down a few Cascade routes:

Posted online at 4:51 p.m. Friday Four Amtrak trains that travel between Washington and Oregon have been pulled from service at least through this weekend after technicians on Thursday discovered problems with trains built by Spanish train company Talgo.

Alternative transportation is not being provided, but customers can get refunds for their tickets, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

The four trains that have been pulled from service can carry as many as 1,000 passengers a day, Graham said. Three of them travel between Eugene, Ore., and Seattle, and the fourth travels between Portland and Bellingham.

“That would be a lot of buses,” Graham said.

Well, it would be 20 buses or so, I guess. That doesn’t seem like a lot to me. Amtrak may be learning marketing, but customer service has to be solid, too.

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Infrastructure Upgrades

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The tragedy in Minneapolis yesterday forces us all to take a moment and evaluate our own infrastructure:

Wooten’s concerns aren’t too far off base — in a 2005 study of the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that about 26 percent of Washington’s 3,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or obsolete.

And the state has had its share of major bridges collapse.

The old Tacoma Narrows Bridge — “Galloping Gertie” as it came to be called — fell into Puget Sound during a 1940 windstorm.

Fifty years later, a section of the Interstate 90 Mercer Island floating bridge sank to the bottom of Lake Washington during stormy weather.

In an effort to prevent more failures from happening here, engineers inspect each of the state’s bridges every two years, said Jugesh Kapur, the chief bridge engineer at the state Department of Transportation.

America’s infrastructure is showing its age. Most of the highways and bridges we use today were built during the 1950s and 60s. And though most are still in incredibly good shape, many are starting to fall apart. Fortunately, this is all happening at a time in which we as a society are re-evaluating the pre-eminence of the automobile. We can make better choices with this next time ’round.

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Really?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

After a parade of anti-rail hit pieces, Crosscut apparently feels like they need to run a pro-rail piece. You can read it here. It does a pretty good job of dispatching the anti-rail pieces that have appeared before.

But get this — the author, William Echols, is Crosscut’s intern. An INTERN! That’s right: after going out into the world and finding anti-rail professionals in the transit community (no easy task, since most transit planners agree that light rail should be part of any urban transit network), the best that David Brewster could do for the “pro” rail piece was to look around the office and say, “how about… you! Yeah, you…. when you get back from fetching us coffee, why don’t you fire up Wikipedia and put together a pro-rail article, eh?”

Look, I have no idea how the Crosscut “newsroom” really works, and for all I know, Brewster doesn’t even drink coffee. I don’t mean to impugn the credentials of Mr. Echols, either. Like I said, he does a fine job. But one can only imagine what kind of an enlightening article we’d get if we had an actual, real-life transportation planner or professor writing a pro-rail piece.

(via CIS, who’s equally astonished that Crosscut even published a pro-rail article)

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PODs Again

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Hot on the heels of the proposed London PRT system, a Mesa, AZ businessman is floating a proposal to bring a 25-mile transit pod network to downtown Mesa:

Bullet-shaped two-passenger vehicles would be suspended from overhead tracks. Instead of riding on wheels or bearings, they would be elevated and propelled by magnetic levitation at speeds up to 100 mph in city, and 150 mph between cities.

About every quarter-mile, there would be a station. Passengers would climb to the boarding platform, pay for their rides, punch in their destinations and jump into waiting cars.

A computer would guide the cars as they merge into the high-speed upper rail and then slow to a stop at the destinations.

Eventually, SkyTran advocates say, a city could be covered with a grid of lines, making it all but unnecessary to use cars for local trips.

And you thought the Seattle Monorail was a pie-in-the-sky idea?

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Public Benefits

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In 2001, State House Speaker Frank Chopp beat back efforts to privatize new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, as Knute Berger recently recounted in Crosscut. Chop claims that the decision will save us $1.2 billion. Privatizing is in vogue, Berger notes, because it provides a dedicated revenue stream (and an effective monopoly) to the companies that manage the roads.

Today we learn that the $3 bridge toll is going farther than expected, allowing us to make all sorts of road investments in the area, including tow trucks to help with rush-hour breakdowns and state troopers to enforce the tolls and other laws.

Some folks, like Rep. Pat Lantz, are dismayed what they see as too broad a use of the public’s money. But it’s important to keep in mind, that if we’d privatized the bridge, all that cash would be going to shareholder profits halfway around the world. Instead it’s being used right here at the source, to help make the commute easier. Which is what it was intended for.

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River-Oriented Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Matt Rosenberg at Cascadia Prospectus has a good post laying out the challenges and potential benefits of developing passenger ferry service along the Willamette River in Portland. The basic challenges, though, are universal. The Willamette is nice in that it’s a navigable, North-South river that basically follows the major interstates through the region (or vice-versa). Seattle’s lakes and sounds follow more irregular trajectories.

Nonetheless, the challenges are similar. Money quote:

Getting to and from the dock at each end has to be convenient and quick, or the premise can’t go much further than a seasonal novelty. Marketing campaigns would need to highlight the “portal to portal” time advantage for specific foot ferry routes versus driving and other transit modes, as well. Softer sell “enjoy the ride – skip the traffic” pitches have value, but can only gain traction if travel time comparisons work.

Additionally, the more daily commerce that can be situated in proximity to foot ferry transit nodes – grocery stores, dry cleaners, even day care centers and schools – the greater the appeal.

Thus we see the challenge of going back to the water for our transit needs. In the last 100 years, we’ve begun build away from the water. The downtowns of our newer cities — Bellevue, Kent, etc. — are built near highways. And with good reason: hugging the coast like the Sounder/BNSF does between Everett in Tacoma makes for a long and winding route.

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Thumbs Up for 3rd Ave

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

the P-I opines:

While this will produce slightly more bus traffic along Third, it’ll alleviate some of the congestion elsewhere, which, especially during evening peak hours, can turn into a hot, crawling mess. While the mayor’s at it, we recommend banning cars from Pike Place, the perpetually gummed up cobblestone street running in front of Pike Place Market, making an exception for delivery trucks.

Agreed.

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Hardball

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle Times‘ Bob Young was on KUOW’s Weekday this morning, discussing all things Port-related. He suggested that, although its true that the Port is no longer interested in owning Boeing Field (which it would get in exchange for the BNSF corridor), it might still be interested in managing the airport.

Also, Young noted that the Port commissioners’ pushback against the deal may have been motivated in part by a desire to push back against Ron Sims, who’s been giving them a hard time over the Lora Lake Apartments, low income housing that the Port wants demolished in advance of the third runway at Sea-Tac.

Sims seems to enjoy sparring with the Port. Two years ago, they fought over Southwest Airlines at Boeing Field and the implications for light rail at Sea-Tac.

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Freight Mobility

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

A tax on shipping containers seems like an eminently reasonable way to pay for improvements to freight mobility, but apparently the Port of Seattle, the industry, and the Governor all disagree.

David Schaefer, spokesman for the Port of Seattle, said the unfunded rail projects are extremely important to the port.

“Freight projects are a big deal for us,” he said. “We’ve built the maritime infrastructure here for our port, and we have the capacity in our harbor to do double what we do now in terms of containers. We need to be sure we can get them in and out of Seattle.”

He said the port was one of the many voices against the shipping-container tax because it believed the tax would put it at a competitive disadvantage with other U.S. ports.

In other words, “it will hurt the port if we don’t get these new projects, but it will also hurt the port if we have to pay for them.”

I realize that the Ports of Tacoma, Portland, and Vancouver, WA, are all competing for the business. But the Port of Seattle’s in a pretty sweet position overall: it’s the fourth largest container port in America, and the 20th largest in the world. It takes a full day less to get here from China than it does to get to Long Beach, CA.

If these projects are really that important to the Port and its customers, aren’t they worth funding? It’s not like they’re being asked to foot the whole bill. For example, the tax would cover just $94M of the SR509 expansion, which is a billion-dollar project overall.

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Complete Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

USA Today explores the idea:

Fourteen states, six counties, 10 regional governments and 52 cities have complete streets policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. In Illinois, a complete streets bill awaits the governor’s signature. In California, a bill passed one house.

Massachusetts and at least 11 cities — including Seattle, Honolulu, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Madison, Wis., and Jackson, Miss. — have approved complete streets policies since last year, the coalition says.

Some states, such as Oregon and Florida, have had the equivalent of complete streets policies for years, but the “overarching concept jelled just in the last few years,” coalition coordinator Barbara McCann says.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, plans to sponsor a federal complete streets bill, spokeswoman Jennifer Mullen says.

It’s interesting that it seems to be gaining support higher up than the local level. This is good, I guess, because streets tend to overlap jurisdictions. Even in Seattle, though, bike lanes can get nixed if there’s even a hint of local opposition.

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The Honor System

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I have to admit, this shocks me, and makes me very happy:

Over the past year, Metro has conducted random fare inspections on MetroRail and found that 99 percent of its patrons are paying the full fare. In other words, only 1 percent of rail riders violate Metro’s fare rules.

This rather remarkable stat-istic was further validated June 27 when Metro police “blitzed” the rail line with 20 officers inspecting fares over a 20 hour period. Roughly 25,000 riders were checked. Of that number, only 282 had to be issued fines up to $200 or given a warning for failure to pay.

I know that Europe relies heavily on the honor system, but this is the first I’ve heard of a U.S. transit system using it so successfully. If it can work in Texas…

Oh yeah, and if you build it…

On an average weekday, the 7.5 mile Red Line carries between 40,000 and 50,000 area residents and visitors. This outstanding usage was not projected until the year 2020. For special events, like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, single-day ridership has exceeded 64,000. These numbers add up to the indisputable fact that Houston’s rail line is easy to use and has earned the distinction of being the most successful light-rail line ever built in the United States.

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3rd Ave to Remain Tranist Only

As Andrew mentioned in an earlier post, Mayor Greg Nickels made an official announcement on Friday that 3rd Avenue will in fact remain a transit only corridor according to the Seattle PI.

Eighteen Metro bus routes, now above ground, will reroute to the tunnel
when it reopens, but 22 others will move to Third Avenue from First, Second and
Fourth avenues, theoretically freeing up space on those streets. That means
overall bus traffic will increase on Third once the tunnel reopens.

“By shifting … buses onto Third, the buses will move more quickly and
there’ll be less disruption to traffic,”

This is good that the city is making transit priority. Especially since the people have become accustomed to having that restriction on 3rd Ave, the September shakeup should be really noticeable for downtown traffic.

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Rails for Trails Falls Through?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Big day for transit news, I guess. The Port of Seattle is no longer interested in King County Airport. This is a big blow for Ron Sims, who now needs to find another way to pay for the BNSF rail corridor. The deal had been conceived by Sims and the old Port director, Mic Dinsmore, but his replacement has other ideas:

The Sims-Dinsmore deal drew fire from county council members who regard Boeing Field as an asset far more valuable than a recreational trail and who also are worried that the port would be less sensitive than the county to community fears about jet noise at the airport.

Port commissioners raised concerns about the actual value of the 77-year-old airport and the potential liability its owner would bear for the costs of cleaning up PCB contamination of a spur of the Duwamish River just across East Marginal Way from the property.

However, on the plus side:

[Port Executive Director Tay] Yoshitani told the Rotary Club the port also supports public ownership of the BNSF corridor — and is “willing to put significant dollars toward such a purchase.”

$103 million is a lot of money. There are only a few agencies that can swallow that: the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, and the State of Washington (incl. WSDOT). I can’t think of any others with sufficient budgets. Maybe a collaboration between the Port and Sound Transit? Maybe ST could spend a few million less on glass walls and come up with the scratch? Just askin’….

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Third Avenue

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Bus-only 4-eva, says the Mayor:

“With tunnel work coming to an end, this is a tremendous opportunity to improve transit service downtown and help people get where they are going quickly and efficiently,” Mayor Greg Nickels said in a prepared statement Friday.

Bus-only downtown streets are a feature of many American cities, including Denver, Portland, and Philly. Unfortunately, businesses on those streets tend to suffer when cars don’t come down there any more. At least, that seemed to be the effect in Philly when I lived there.

Making it bus-only during rush hour, but open other times during the day, as the Mayor’s decided to do, seems to be the right compromise. The signage will have to get better, though, now that it’s a permanent thing.

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Two-Car Trains

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Pretty little things, ain’t they? One of the pluses of not implementing rail in 1968 when we had the opportunity, is that instead of having ugly, heavy rail like SF and DC, we’re getting some good-looking, svelte light rail. The minus, of course, is that it’s 40 years late. :)

More here.

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Airport Station = Expensive!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

We learned back in March that the Airport Link station was going to cost about twice what Sound Transit had estimated. After receiving just one bid from Mowat, the agency went back to the drawing boards.

Now, in the interest of keeping things moving, Mowat has been contracted to build the basic parts of the structure, while ST redesigns the rest:

In hopes of putting a costly airport light-rail station back on track, Sound Transit’s governing board Thursday approved a $35.8 million deal for Mowat Construction to begin work this fall.

Back in March, Mowat was the sole bidder — at $95.3 million, or $43.5 million above the agency’s estimate of $51.8 million. In response, Sound Transit has broken the project into multiple parts. Mowat will sign a reduced contract to build the station’s concrete structure and tracks. Several details, such as glass walls and pedestrian bridges, will be redesigned to save money.

Hmm… $35.8M to build the “structure and tracks.” That sure sounds like the bulk of the work. Does that mean the “glass walls and pedestrian bridges” were going to cost $95.3M minus $35.8M, or $59.5 million?

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