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.


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.

Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal

University Of Washington Link Light Rail Station Image: Lizz Giordano

Eastside mayors want Metro and Sound Transit to relocate bus stops to improve bus-rail transfers before implementing service changes. The proposed restructuring would funnel Eastside bus commuters heading downtown to light rail at the University of Washington Station. That transfer requires riders to cross the busy streets of Montlake Boulevard and/or Pacific Street or use an out of the way walkway to switch between modes of transportation.

“Increasing commute times by 20 minutes while creating more mobility downtown will only incentivize single occupancy vehicles to drive to downtown Seattle rather than stick with public transportation,” wrote the seven Eastside Mayors in a letter to Metro and Sound Transit.

The Mayors want bus stops relocated to be adjacent to the light rail station and mobility improvements through the Montlake Hub. STB’s own Adam Parast showed one way to accomplish this in 2015 (pictured below).

“Sound Transit is supportive of improvements to the transfer environment at UW. King County Metro owns the bus shelters, and they are in active conversations about this with the City of Seattle and UW,” wrote Rachelle Cunningham, a spokesperson for Sound Transit in an email.

Metro estimates transfers currently take anywhere from 6-11 minutes, depending on direction and time of travel.

“The service concepts we’ve introduced would increase frequency on many Eastside routes, which would help reduce the time that riders would have to wait at the stop,” wrote Scott Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Metro in an email.

He said Metro is considering a range of changes, including relocation of stops, extending bus shelters, providing off-board payment and improving signage.

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SR520 Route Restructure Open House

Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.

“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”

“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.

King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.

This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.

Three options were presented:

  • No change to service
  • “Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
  • “Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland

The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.

Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.

Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.

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Capitol Hill Mobility, Take 2

Photo by Bre Pettis (Flickr – Creative Commons)

Despite our budgetary doldrums, it’s an exciting time to be a Seattle transit advocate.  Regional planning is focusing upon performance analysis and capital investment, and at last it seems possible, through the work of the Regional Transit Task Force and others, that radical changes could come to our bus network.   Last Monday’s record-breaking comment thread on Metro’s proposed revisions/cuts makes one thing clear: there is no shortage of enthusiasm and informed opinion any time big changes are proposed.

Two weeks ago I wrote a detailed yet exploratory post about what should happen to Capitol Hill bus service after U-Link.  My proposal sought to make one fundamental point:  that comprehensively higher frequencies can be wrought simply from existing inefficiencies, a point I believe I made well.  The strength of the comments and subsequent email exchanges with readers, however, made it clear that some of my routing choices were unwise and not fully thought through.  A big hat tip to readers such as Zef Wagner, Brent, über-commenter Bruce, and especially Morgan Wick, whose criticisms and suggestions have been particularly helpful.  Useful objections included:

  • Keeping the 2 on Spring/Seneca is duplicative and goes against Metro’s desire to move it to Marion/Madison.
  • Keeping the 3/4 on James perpetuates unnecessary conflicts with I-5 on-ramps, and Metro has already discussed moving it to Yesler.
  • Having the 11 serve the ferry terminal is an inconvenience and prohibits effective interlining with other routes.
  • My Route 12 idea was defective in a number of areas, but especially the 19th Ave tail.
  • Keep the 14N!
  • You can’t mathematically combine a 15-minute bus and a 10-minute bus and end up with 6-minute combined headways.
  • The 27 is pointlessly close to Jackson, and should be eliminated.

Agreeing with some of these and not others, what follows is a 2nd attempt.

An improved post-ULink proposal after the jump…

Continue reading “Capitol Hill Mobility, Take 2”

Transit Master Plan Corridors Selected

Click to Enlarge

Seattle’s ongoing Transit Master Plan process* is designed to provide a list of transit spending priorities for the City of Seattle and should conclude in September 2011. In general, Seattle’s role is to fund capital projects like bus lanes, streetcars, and queue jumps; the TMP is not an attempt to redesign Metro’s route structure, and building infrastructure for routes that Metro is unable or disinclined to serve with high-frequency service would be silly.

The first step of the study, just completed and briefed to the Council’s Transportation Committee yesterday, established the quantitative criteria for scoring dozens of potential investment corridors**. Criteria were focused on current and potential ridership, current and future density, and social justice considerations. Overall, my personal impression was that corridors that connected dense and walkable neighborhoods generally tended to score the highest.

Stage I of the study selects the top 15 of these corridors for further analysis. Depending on how the precise corridor ranking plays out, the study will evaluate the most promising five or so of these for high capacity transit like BRT, streetcars, or light rail. The remainder will receive smaller-scale investments that can make buses work better. The 15 finalists are depicted in the map at right.

In a separate part of the study, Nelson/Nygaard will analyze circulation in the downtown core, hoping to make the system more usable and legible. The map below (the jump) indicates the areas of focus, fairly congruent with the inner parts of the trolleybus network.

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Details of Potential Metro Cuts

Metro via PubliCola

Erica C. Barnett unearths a very informative Metro report on how, using new service reduction policies, they would cut up to 600,000 annual service hours over the next few years.

However, this set of policies is not yet enacted into law. According to spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, the strategic plan is still in the Regional Transportation Committee, far from going before the full Council.

Nevertheless, the report is thought provoking. Ms. Ogershok was kind enough to forward this Excel spreadsheet, which goes into even more route-by-route detail. It’s a pretty painful document; in my own case, 2 of the 4 buses I use regularly would be eliminated*. To point out one other theme, a number of Southeast Seattle buses (7X, 39, 106) are truncated to become Link shuttles.

We’d best get this emergency transit funding bill signed, and the tax approved by the Council and/or voters.

* As well they should be; they’re unproductive routes.

Potential Relief for Mt. Baker Transfers

Seattle DPD

There’s been a lot of attention to height limits in the draft North Rainier Neighborhood plan update, but from a transit perspective a more interesting element aspect is a traffic revision that might dramatically improve bus-rail transfers at Mt. Baker, one of the worst design aspects associated with Central Link.*

The “bowtie” concept would turn both MLK and Rainier Ave. in this area in to one-way streets, northbound and southbound respectively. SDOT models expect this to improve traffic flow (by eliminating the need for left turn signals and suicide lanes), provide space for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and ease pedestrian crossings. It eliminates a horrific intersection at Rainier and MLK.

Even better, the diagram at left indicates that there will be one northbound lane on Rainier for buses. The current location of the Mt. Baker Transit Center would become a regular street with bus layover space; the geometry of Rainier would change so that the stops could be directly aligned with the Link station’s entry plaza, basically where you see the large crosswalk in the picture.

Not only are good intermodal transfers important in their own right, but with Metro looking for efficiencies, this would make it much less painful if some Rainier Avenue buses have to stop running downtown.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the bowtie was somewhat controversial because it might divert traffic to other streets. There was also skepticism about the models. With some more outreach, hopefully DPD and SDOT will address the concerns so this project can move forward.

* I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve never gotten a good answer on who is to blame.

Capitol Hill Mobility

12th Avenue On-Street Bike Parking (Photo by SDOT)

Just over a year ago, Mayor McGinn formally recommended the Broadway/Yesler/14th/Jackson alignment for the First Hill Streetcar. At the end of his letter to the council, McGinn also pledged support for a number of related transit changes:

• Improving transit access to the Boren/Madison area, through measures such as speed and reliability improvements to existing Metro routes;
• Developing alternatives that provide north-south transit service in the 12th Avenue corridor;
• Extending the First Hill Streetcar to the north end of Broadway, to support the economic revitalization of Broadway and improve neighborhood access to the Capitol Hill light rail station.

In Seattle political realities have often dictated that we undertake Transit-Planning-By-Consolation-Prize.  When First Hill lost its Link stop, it got the streetcar instead.  When the Broadway alignment was chosen for the streetcar, McGinn then pledged support for additional service on the neglected alignments.  As imprudent as such a patchwork approach may be for transit planning, it also opens up the broader discussion of how best to serve those markets.  So, how should the arrival of rail affect bus service on Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District? To my mind there are several important guiding principles:

  • How can we best emphasize high-quality transfers?
  • How can we create an intuitive grid amenable to spontaneous transit trips?
  • How can we eliminate redundant CBD trips that could be made on LINK or the FHSC?
  • How can we add service to 12th Avenue and Boren Avenue in an intelligent and non-duplicative way?
  • How can we maintain our trolley network without being bound to its historical routing choices?
  • And most of all, how can we do all of this with equivalent (or fewer) operating resources?

In the spirit of Martin’s Rainier Valley Mobility proposal, I started playing with scenarios.  I intend this proposal strictly as a conversation starter: What are the pros and cons of a radical grid system in central Seattle?  The bus routes below collectively represent about 99,000 boardings per day (2009 data), and wholesale changes would not be likely without the arrival of rail. But I’m convinced that by eliminating redundant routes and making peace with single transfers, we can offer 7-15 minute service on every route without incurring additional operating costs, while sensibly leveraging our investment in rail. So here’s a fairly radical sketch to tear apart in the comments:

Much more after the jump…

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Trolley Open House Report

Photo by Atomic Taco


Last night Metro held an open house detailing the initial findings of the Trolley Evaluation Study. The purpose of this study was to determine if the purchase, operating and maintenance costs of electric trolleybuses exceeds that of diesel-electric series hybrids. The initial findings, released two weeks ago, summarized the preliminary findings, indicate that electric trolley buses outperform diesel hybrid buses in comparisons based on cost, energy, and environmental effects. This study is not about whether or not the trolley system should be expanded or what the new buses should look like (e.g. three door boarding).

The presentation provided a few more concrete numbers. It is important to note that the study was based on present-day facts and figures and not projections or speculations. For example, one citizen at the meeting suggested that ridership would improve with the purchase of trolleys over hybrids. Metro reps suggested that was speculation, and that the study would assume ridership was not affected by bus type.

The FTA standard for the vehicle’s useful life is 15 years for a trolley and 12 for a diesel hybrid. The cost difference for 60 foot buses is $1.285m for a trolley vs. $785,000 for a hybrid. Because there are many manufacturers offering hybrid buses, the figure for hybrids was easy to obtain. Since fewer manufacturers produce trolleys, these numbers were based on those paid by other North American agencies and quotes from manufactures such as New Flyer and Vossloh Kiepe. This annualized cost for this report was calculated over one life-cycle for each vehicle type. Also included was fixed-guideway grant money—something the feds give out to operators of trolley networks. This money would mostly be used to cover the difference in capital cost of the trolleys. Not included in the 2009 audit but evaluated here were the costs to decommission the trolley infrastructure ($37 million) and the costs to expand fuel capacity at the base ($5 million). More after the jump.

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Resurrecting Route 50

From Metro's 2008 Proposal

One early component of Metro’s Southeast Seattle service reorganization proposal was replacing Route 39, running from Seward Park to downtown, with a Route 50 that would run from Seward Park to the Junction in West Seattle. The 50 would have had a sizeable diversion through Sodo to improve connections from both neighborhoods to jobs there.

As  a member of the advisory group for those changes, I’m sorry to say I had a small role in this idea dying. There were two big concerns: this route was more expensive to operate than the 39, and therefore would divert resources from other priorities in the Southeast; and there was an extensive and persuasive campaign from the VA hospital to keep the one-seat ride from their front door to downtown.

All that said, as the link suggests I think the VA is not a good long-term reason to keep the 39, and tight budget constraints will hopefully not last forever. Crosstown connections between West Seattle and Southeast Seattle are atrocious, often requiring a trip all the way downtown; connecting West Seattle’s transit hub with a route that crossing all the key corridors in the Rainier Valley would solve this problem.

If the 50 does come back, I hope Metro reconsiders the routing through Sodo. There’s value in providing a direct connection to the Link station and Sodo jobs, but it would add substantially to travel time and introduce reliability problems due to game traffic and the like. Shortening it to, say, Lander St., would involve crossing the train tracks at grade, creating more disruption.

Moreover, if we invoke the principle of a gridded system, it’s far more direct to briefly exit the Spokane St. viaduct to drop people off at the entrance to the busway, providing easy transfers to hundreds of buses headed north, and then get right back on the viaduct and West Seattle Bridge to head to the Junction. Eastbound, buses would use the 4th Ave offramp and two quick right turns to do the same thing.

A direct route is more likely to attract choice riders and give West Seattle residents a quality connection to Link southbound. I don’t have data, but it might also make the cost implications neutral or even slightly positive.

Bus Only Lanes Coming to Battery, Wall and Howell St

Battery St and Wall St Changes (Via Metro)

Starting as early as next week and going until June, Metro and SDOT will be installing new bus only lanes in two north downtown corridors. The first project will install a 24/7 bus only lane on several blocks of the Battery St/Wall St couplet between 3rd Ave and Aurora Ave N. This project also includes a queue jump at the intersection of 5th and Wall, to help buses entering downtown merge to the far left lane to turn southbound onto 3rd. These improvements will be used by the 5, 26, 28, and 358, which combined carried ~25K riders a day in 2009.

More after the jump.

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Metro Releases Trolley Analysis


In advance of next week’s trolley open house, Metro released the preliminary results of their study of trolleybus impacts last week.

The study was a comparison between diesel hybrids and electric trolleybuses with off-wire capability. All other technologies were dismissed as having either too much environmental impact or being insufficiently mature.

On environmental criteria, the trolleybuses came out ahead on every metric except visual impact. As Seattle City Light’s energy comes mostly from hydro, the Carbon footprint was much smaller. Importantly, overall energy consumption is over 30% lower. This is important because electric vehicle critics often point out that the marginal unit of energy consumed often is quite dirty, since SCL’s surplus is often sold to other jurisdictions, where the alternative might be coal.

One might argue that environmental impacts are nice, but really ought to be addressed in a budget that isn’t supposed to be used for getting people around. Fortunately, the study indicates that, barring a 70% cut in federal fixed guideway funding, a trolleybus system is actually cheaper to operate. This finding, illustrated above, contradicts last year’s audit result.