All of Lake City Way Should Have Frequent Bus Service

As we covered a while back, Metro is gathering input on bus routes following the implementation of Lynnwood Link. They have initially proposed a sizable service gap along Lake City Way, as well as limited connectivity in the area. This should be fixed.

Current Service and Future Plans

There are three buses that run on Lake City Way south of Northgate Way: The 322, 372 and 522. The replacement for the 522, the S3, will no longer go on Lake City Way. Metro is planning on eliminating the peak-only 322. The 372 (or its replacement, the 72) does not go south of Ravenna Avenue. This would leave a considerable stretch of Lake City Way with no bus service at all.

Ridership and Coverage

The 522 currently serves a bus stop at 20th and 85th, along Lake City Way. Before the pandemic, more 522 riders used that stop than any outside Seattle. Close to 400 people used the bus stop every evening on that bus alone. This was for an infrequent 522 that did not connect to Link. Prior to Northgate Link, the stop was served by other express buses (like the 312 and 309) which had another 150 riders. This was happening before the current boom in development around the bus stop.

But it isn’t just the ridership from that one stop. Without service along that corridor, the coverage gap from eliminating the 73 grows larger. It is easy to argue that riders of the old 73 should walk to Lake City Way or Roosevelt to catch a bus, but if there isn’t service on Lake City Way, a lot of riders would have a very long walk to the nearest bus stop. The 372 does not serve 95th (as it has to move over into the left lane to get on Ravenna Avenue) and there is no crossing Lake City between 20th (85th) and 95th. This makes the trip to the nearest bus stop much longer than it appears. To get from these apartments on Lake City Way to the nearest 372 bus stop is quite the trek, no matter which way you go.

There is also the fact that the 522 and 372 go to different locations. The 522 connects to Roosevelt, a growing and increasingly important neighborhood. Directly connecting the Lake City and Roosevelt neighborhoods (as well as the places along the way) is a worthy endeavor, and will increase ridership along that corridor. It is also a much faster way to get to Link. According to Google, it takes about 20 minutes to get from that neighborhood to Link via the 372 while it takes only 5 minutes via the 522. This time savings applies to anyone along Lake City Way south of Northgate Way.

Route Options

There are a number of different ways to cover this area, but I assume it will require a new route. For sake of argument, I will call this new route the 76.

Option 1: Lake City to Roosevelt Station

The cheapest option for the 76 is to go from Lake City to Roosevelt Station. It is short and fast enough that a bus could make a live loop using 65th, as shown above. While short, it is likely this would be one of the most useful, cost-effective buses in the area.

Option 2: 145th to Green Lake Park and Ride

The second option is to basically do the reverse. Instead of starting in Lake City, it would start at the Green Lake Park and Ride. It could then do a live loop in Lake City, using 30th, 145th and Lake City Way. This would connect to Stride S3 (522) as well as more of Lake City. With bus service this far north, we could truncate the 72 at the Fred Meyer location, or double the service (and halve the headway) between 145th and Lake City.

Option 3: Lake City to U-District

The third option is to run from Lake City to the U-District, providing one-seat rides to the second biggest destination in the city. I show the bus laying over at Campus Parkway, but there are other options, such as through-routing with a bus going through campus or going further to the UW Station. A bus serving the U-District could potentially live-loop on either end, although it might be too long of a route.

With any of these options, the bus should be synchronized with the 72, providing very good headways along much of Lake City Way for relatively little cost.

No matter how it is done, the area should have frequent bus service along this corridor. Please let Metro know by commenting on the Metro Restructure for Lynnwood Link by March 10th.

Does the Stride S3 (522) Need a Shadow?

The buses in the north end of the county will be restructured with the arrival of Lynnwood Link. A big part of this is the new Stride S3 route (also known as Stride 522). Some have called for a “shadow” of this new frequent and fast, limited-stop route.

What is a bus shadow, anyway?

The term “shadow” is a bus that makes all the stops, while the other bus does not. A good local example is how the 101 “shadows” Swift Blue. Swift sometimes has very long distances between stops — well over a mile in some cases — while the 101 makes a lot more stops.

The 372 and 522

Currently, the 372 and 522 follow much the same pathway from Lake City to Bothell. The 372 makes more stops, but not a lot more. The Stride S3 will make even less, and it won’t go to Lake City. Metro is proposing to do away with the 372, and replace it with two buses — the 72 and 324. While the 324 does other things, it also operates as a shadow for the S3. In the following I break down the S3 bus stops into sections to see what stops might be missed without the 324.

148th Station to Lake City Way

The proposed 72 covers this section. Even if Metro alters their plans, it is highly likely some bus will run here.

145th to Ballinger Way

There are only two bus stops that the 372 covers that Stride will not. The first is a southbound-only stop at Bothell Way & 39th Avenue NE. This bus only carries 3 riders a day (on average). The other is very close to the Ballinger Way stop (about 200 meters) and is not covered by the existing 522.

Ballinger Way to Kenmore Park and Ride

The S3 will continue to use every bus stop in this stretch. Even if it didn’t, the 331 (or its replacement) will cover this section.

Kenmore Park and Ride to 96th Ave NE (Waynita Way)

This is where things get interesting. There are no planned S3 bus stops along this section, while there are four existing 372 stops, and one 522 stop. Prior to the pandemic, these stops served about 150 riders a day. I think it is fair to say that most of these riders would walk quite a bit farther to a bus stop if there was no bus along that stretch.

96th Ave NE to Bothell

There are no S3 stops between Kenmore and 98th Avenue NE. Fortunately, the 230 meets Bothell Way at 96th Ave NE (Waynita Way) then heads northeast towards Bothell. The 239 crosses the river and the highway on 102nd Avenue NE, before covering the heart of downtown Bothell. Basically those two routes have it covered.

Conclusion

While seen as a “limited stop” bus, the new S3 will make almost every stop along its route. The one area that lacks service is between Kenmore and Bothell. The 230 and 239 cover some of this, leaving only the section between 68th Avenue NE and 98th Avenue NE needing coverage. That is the only section where a shadow would make sense. This could take the form of a 331 or 225 extended eastward from Kenmore to Bothell.

New Metro Restructure Proposal for Lynnwood Link

Metro is seeking input on “Phase 2” of Lynnwood Link Connections. In Phase 1 they gathered input on what the public wanted, and now they have taken those ideas and proposed a restructure. There are several themes common with this proposal, which are listed after the map.

Fewer Routes and Less Coverage

After the Northgate restructure, there were 5 express buses from the north end. Now that is down to just one — the 322. It is the only bus to go over the I-5 ship canal. Buses will instead connect to Link. This reflects a move away from expensive, peak-only express routes, towards a more all-day system.

But that isn’t the only place where service is being simplified. Several corridors will no longer have coverage. The 73 is gone, which means no service on 15th NE between Pinehurst Way and 75th. 5th Avenue NE, between 120th and Northgate Way (served by the 75 and before that the 41) will no longer have service. The 346 is gone, and with it is service on Meridian between 130th and 200th. There are more, but the most controversial change (to me, anyway) is the loss of service along Lake City Way between Ravenna Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue.

More East/West Service

One of the big suggestions to come out of phase one was to improve east-west travel in the area. Several routes help accomplish this goal. The 61 replaces the 20, linking up Greenwood with Northgate and Lake City. The 65 now covers the 125th/130th corridor, connecting Bitter Lake with Lake City and 35th NE (making a trip from Ingraham High School to Nathan Hale High School a one-seat ride). Instead of going north, the (3)72 heads west, to the station at 148th. Riders can continue to Shoreline by taking the 333 further west. There is now coverage along 175th (via the 334) while the 336 and 348 go over 185th. Finally, the 333 runs along the county border, connecting the Mountlake Terrace Station with Aurora Village and Shoreline Community College.

Routes are Split Based on Demand

The 372 is split into two routes: The more frequent 72, and the less frequent 324. The 75 ends at Lake City, which means it is largely a coverage route for Sand Point Way. As a result, it is slated to run less often (30 minutes outside of peak). The 331 is more or less split into two, with the eastern half (the 334) running a lot less often than the western part (the 333).

Conclusion

Overall, I consider this a strong step in the right direction. I have ideas for changes, but I’ll make that another post (along with comments here). Survey ends March 10th.

Metro celebrates an all-hybrid/electric fleet

A 30′ Gillig Phantom seen on route 331 in 2009, photo by the author

On Friday Metro celebrated the retirement of the last diesel bus—part of the fleet dubbed “the 1100s”. Metro’s fleet is now comprised only of diesel-electric hybrids, battery-powered buses, and electric trolleys. To celebrate, a “Gold Tire” retirement ceremony was held to recognize the last bus, which will be preserved by the Metro Employee Historic Vehicle Association (MEHVA) which you might be able to ride some day.

The ceremony comes several months after the last trip operated by an 1100 series bus, which last saw service in late March 2020, when route 200 was suspended. The first of the 1100s entered service in 1999. A more recent addition–the D40LF or “3600s” made by New Flyer, were added to the fleet in 2003 and last saw service in April 2020.

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A funding plan for Metro Connects comes into view

The projected funding would add a million Metro service hours by 2030 and place the agency on a trajectory for further expansion (Image: King County)

Earlier this year, the King County Council ordered a review of funding options for Metro Connects. This Wednesday, the Regional Transit Committee receives a status update on the effort. It considers a $220 million increase in annual funding for Metro, enough to get Metro to its long-range service goals.

Metro Connects is Metro’s long range plan, designed to integrate with Sound Transit expansion through 2040 and to meet the transit needs of city and County comprehensive plans. The Metro Connects plan, adopted in 2015, envisions a 70% increase in Metro bus service hours by 2040 over 2015 levels. That would increase transit ridership to 1 million daily boardings, and enable frequent service within 1/2 mile for 73% of county residents.

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Early Via shuttle results are decent

Via service area in the rainier valley

Express an interest in transit at just about any cocktail party in the Rainier Valley, and you’ll hear how what Sound Transit really needs to do is provide a shuttle to get people to the stations. Inevitably, people are proposing a solution to their specific problem without much awareness of scale or efficiency. Much like park-and-ride spaces, shuttles are probably more effective at allowing people to conceive a way to use light rail than actually providing that access at scale. On the other hand, Metro and ST seem to have worked their way into a contract that projects a pretty good yield from what some might call coverage service.

The Federal Transit Administration is willing to give shuttles a shot, possibly anticipating that autonomous vehicles will eventually transform the economics. Metro and Sound Transit won $350,000 from FTA in a research project combined with LA Metro. This sum, combined with $100,000 each from Metro and ST, would have funded a peak-only shuttle at a couple of Seattle stations and Tukwila International Blvd, according to Project Manager Casey Gifford of Metro.

Enter Seattle, with Transportation Benefit District funds that Metro doesn’t have the capacity to serve with more buses. Its $2.7m contribution dramatically expanded the concept to include four Seattle stations and service over the full span of Link operations. Tukwila, which didn’t top it up, is only available from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm.

For the next 12 months or so, riders traveling between a Link Station and the areas shown above can use an app or phone number to summon a minivan operated by Via. They can pay for the ride just like any Metro bus, except for cash: an ORCA that fully transfers to Link, or a Transit GO ticket that doesn’t. Although this payment scheme will shift some more ORCA revenue from ST to Metro, only the small amount of Transit GO tickets (and additional volume) would put more fare revenue into the system as a whole.

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Routes 3 and 4 Will Stay on James Street

Metro route 3. Photo by Tim Bond.

After soliciting feedback last summer about a potential move to Yesler Way, Metro has decided to keep Routes 3 and 4 on James Street between 3rd and 9th Avenues:

We considered this change as a way for the routes to avoid traffic congestion near the James Street I-5 ramps, improving their speed and reliability. About half of those who responded to our survey supported the concept, but many people who work, live, or travel in the immediate area had concerns about how it could affect seniors and people with disabilities and/or low incomes who use stops along this steep section of James Street to reach housing and social and government services.

In addition to receiving public feedback on this concept, we also studied its feasibility and travel-time benefits, as well as the costs of improvements necessary for trolley bus operations along the Yesler Way routing. The study found some potential for travel-time improvement in one direction, but that improvement would not be significant for the routes overall, and would not justify the high cost of new infrastructure to support the change.

Though public feedback was in favor of the change, 53% to 40% (87%-13% from the Yesler Terrace Community Council), several organizations voiced concerns about access to services along James Street including municipal facilities and a food bank, that would be impacted.  We wrote favorably about the proposal, which would have saved riders up to 4 minutes and improved reliability, and suggested some mitigation strategies for impacted riders.

Between the equity and access concerns and the high costs of trolley wire, Metro decided not to pursue it.  Instead, they say they will work with SDOT and work with partners to “explore future large capital improvements to the James Street and I-5 interchange.” What that will look like is anyone’s guess, perhaps some kind of dedicated bus lane on James Street that skirts the I-5 queue.

Metro and Rob Gannon move up a notch

Credit: 19adam99

On Monday, the King County Council unanimously voted to separate Metro from the Department of Transportation and make the agency an autonomous, cabinet-level department. In the same meeting, the council unanimously voted to keep Rob Gannon as the director of the agency; as an autonomous department, the Metro director is now a political appointee, rather than a civil service position.

Since its inception, Metro has long been a part of King County’s Department of Transportation. KCDOT administers Boeing Field, the West Seattle Water Taxi, county roads, and the county’s vehicle fleet. Metro has run more or less autonomously for years, but was still supervised by the KCDOT director.

“It’s organizational authority and flexibility,” says King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “It gives you more ability to set your own destiny. That extra layer of bureaucracy might not sound like much, but it’s a real thing. I say that as someone who ran a department here.”

Balducci ran the county’s jails from 2010-14. She said that, while she held that position, Metro’s head always sat in on cabinet meetings with the King County executive. That arrangement created awkward conflicts of interest, since the director of KCDOT—the Metro director’s boss—was also in on the meetings.

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PSRC assigns federal funds to Link and four BRT projects

Boarding Swift and RapidRide buses. Credit: Atomic Taco

On Thursday, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Transportation Policy Board (TPB) recommended that five transit projects receive additional Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) funding in 2021-22.

The projects were part of a larger disbursement of federal transportation funds, including highway funding, which must be approved in a meeting of the PSRC’s Executive Board on July 26. Area agencies submitted proposals for a competitive bid process earlier this year.

PSRC staff selected the five projects from that group of proposals, and created an additional list of projects, including Rainier RapidRide and Colman Dock, that could receive funding should additional federal funds become available.

Three of the five projects did not get as much funding as they initially requested. Four of the five projects are for BRT, and East Link also got a boost. According to PSRC spokesperson Rick Olson, that’s because the funding competition was remarkably popular. Bidding agencies worked together to make sure that funding dollars could be used to the furthest possible extent.

“The projects that got less funding than requested this round voluntarily took cuts in order to get more projects funded,” Olson says. “We had far more funding requested than was available.”

Link in Redmond

The segment of East Link between Microsoft and downtown Redmond gets $7 million towards the Microsoft and Redmond stations and the guideway between them. According to Sound Transit’s presentation to the PSRC on the project, the Redmond funds will also be applied towards a cycle track near the downtown Redmond station, a bike and pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek, and several trail connections.

Community Transit’s Swift Orange line

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What’s in the One Center City Action Plan

Credit: Bruce Englehardt.

The One Center City (OCC) Advisory Group, tasked with developing a plan to increase mobility in central Seattle during the impending period of maximum constraint, released its recommendations for near term capital projects in June. The plan must still be approved by the Seattle City Council and other stakeholders.

Early discussions proposed transformational changes downtown and large-scale bus service restructuring, neither of which materialized in the final list of projects and improvements.

The OCC group was formed in order to proactively keep megaproject-related pain to a minimum over the course of 2019-21. During that time, Highway 99 will move from the viaduct to the new deep-bore tunnel, the Washington State Convention Center expansion will close critical parts of the grid, a critical bridge in South Lake Union will be closed and rebuilt, and the transit tunnel will close to buses forever.

5th and 6th Avenue northbound lanes; 4th and 2nd Avenue improvements

The most significant changes that the OCC group endorsed are northbound transit-only lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues. Some Metro routes will move to those streets from 4th, while Community Transit and Sound Transit buses would remain in their original configuration.

The hope is that the 4th Avenue buses will benefit from a lower volume of bus traffic. SDOT would also invest in queue jumping and signal priority for buses on both 2nd and 4th. However, since overall traffic on all downtown streets is expected to increase during the period of maximum constraint, the gains for 4th Avenue buses might be marginal.

The OCC group punted on major proposals

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City Council votes to reject private bus service, reallocate Transportation Benefit District funding

The City Council voted yesterday afternoon to kill a controversial private bus pilot program proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan. The pilot was opposed by unions and transit advocates, who mounted a last-minute advocacy push to defeat the program over the past two weeks.

The bill will also, as Martin reported, reappropriate unused Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funds for bus service improvements, and provide ORCA cards to Seattle primary and secondary students. Durkan is expected to sign the ordinance.

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King County restarting Northgate TOD project over City Council objections

 

A map of the site from the original RFP’s fact sheet. Courtesy Metro.

In a surprise move earlier this month, King County officials decided to restart the process that could eventually construct hundreds of affordable housing units within walking distance of the Northgate Station.

The decision will likely delay construction of an eventual dense, mixed-use transit oriented development project. The revamped process could yield hundreds more units of housing, including additional affordable housing.

Why King County cancelled the RFP

Metro, which owns the parcel that will eventually become the site of the TOD project, cancelled a request for proposals on June 5. Two companies, Lake Union Partners and Stellar Holdings, answered the original RFP. The developers did not respond to requests for comment.

In a notice sent to the bidders, and in subsequent public comments, county officials explained that they cancelled the RFP to incorporate new and anticipated changes to laws governing the RFP process.

A new state law, which came into effect June 7, allows local governments to give surplus property to developers for free, as long as the property will be used to house families who earn 80 percent or less of the locally adjusted area median income.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering whether to upzone the Northgate TOD plot. As Bruce pointed out, an upzone could make Northgate a major urban center.

Northgate Station under construction from the TOD site. Courtesy Sound Transit.

Diane Carlson, Metro’s Director of Capital Projects, was involved in the decision to cancel the initial RFP. Carlson says that the county wants to take advantage of the statutory changes because of the site’s potential.

“We’ve given [ourselves] an opportunity to potentially create more housing on that site, and we want to take advantage of that,” Carlson says.

What might go into a new RFP

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Lyft and Uber Tackling Last-Mile Problems

Lyft geolocation
Geolocation around Westlake station. Courtesy of Todd Kelsay.

The latest update to Lyft’s app will include a trip planning feature designed to encourage passengers to consider combining rideshare or carpool with transit, walking, and bikeshare. The move comes as part of a large push by the ride hailing company and its arch-rival, Uber, to try and capture a share of the first mile/last mile market. The service will go live by the end of June.

Lyft has won contracts with agencies around the country to provide final mile service, and recently launched pilot final mile programs on Mercer Island and in Pierce County. Eventually, ride hailing services could reduce the need for park and ride spaces.

“If we can get more people to solve the first and last mile problem with rideshare, that’s good for us. Ultimately, if that gets more people on light rail, or taking buses, that’s good for the environment, and that’s what we’re about,” says Todd Kelsay, Lyft’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest.

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What’s in a reroute?

Every year the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge closes for the Blue Angels performance. As one of only four ways around Lake Washington, the closure hugely impacts the region’s transportation system. It is a safety zone mandated by the FAA to “keep the public and pilots safe and to minimize distractions.” The bridge closures take place midday on weekdays and weekends, and causes 1.5 mile backups, while affecting the two all-day routes over I-90.

These two routes–both Metro-operated Sound Transit routes 550 and 554–miss two stops: The Rainier flyer stops and Mercer Island Park & Ride. It is impossible to serve the Rainier flyer stops during the closure, as the stops can only be accessed from the bus-only express lanes in the center of I-90, and the next accessible exit is on the other side of the bridge that is closed. Luckily, routes 7 and 106 provide a frequent (though not as quick) connection from Downtown to the Rainier flyer stop.

According to data from Sound Transit’s 2017 Service Implementation Plan, Mercer Island passengers account for 10-11% of route 550’s average ridership and 4-7% of route 554’s average ridership. The SIP numbers suggest that about 60-85% of riders originating at Mercer Island are headed towards Seattle.

Neither Metro nor ST were able to provide me with stop-level data, but unofficial ridership numbers show that route 550’s weekday demand drops sharply after about 9:15 and doesn’t pick back up until mid-afternoon. Much of route 550’s demand on Mercer Island centers around parking availability at the 447 stall Park & Ride, so once the lot is full, ridership originating at that stop drops. Weekend ridership is across the board making it difficult to draw conclusions.

Almost two thirds of route 550’s Bellevue ridership uses the three stops in Bellevue’s downtown core; if ridership from the recently-closed South Bellevue Park & Ride is excluded that number jumps to almost 80%.

Despite the majority of the ridership not going to Mercer Island, Metro has designed their reroutes to prioritize Mercer Island ridership. After leaving the tunnel, the route heads over SR-520 (the only logical choice) and sails past Bellevue in order to reach a connection in southern Bellevue to connect to a temporary Metro shuttle. From there it continues on its normal route, albeit on a much delayed schedule. In 2016 and 2017 I inadvertently timed it just right so that I was able to catch a rerouted trip. The reroutes were slightly different each year.

Route 550 Reroutes

Blue: Normal route; Red: Common reroute; Black: 2016 reroute; Green: 2017 route

2016’s reroute was slightly more sensible, but due to the closure of the South Bellevue Park & Ride for East Link construction this was no longer possible in 2017. In 2016, the route used the Bellevue Way ramp from SR-520 and ran without stops between SR-520 and South Bellevue Park & Ride. At the Park & Ride, the bus was able to make a U-turn through the park & ride and continue to/from its normal route. Despite vocal objections from riders, the operator didn’t make any stops in Bellevue while continuing to/from 520.

In 2017, the same route wasn’t possible and the route was extended even further to Eastgate Park & Ride to connect to the Mercer Island shuttle. From Eastgate, the route continued to/from Bellevue Way via I-90 to its regular route.

I asked Metro why stops couldn’t have been made in reverse order, and King County’s Scott Gutierrez explains:

The ST 550 reroute also was seen as the most efficient and least confusing for customers and operators. For customers, this reroute essentially maintained the usual sequence in terms of stops (other than the I-90 stops). Making the Bellevue stops in reverse order would have been very challenging to communicate to customers. For operators, this option allowed them to use an established layover location with access to comfort facilities.

The operator I spoke to mentioned that he didn’t have any access to the comfort station and was running his trip late as a result.

Having a chance to reflect on this, I’ll agree that running in reverse order isn’t the best solution. However, there is a solution that would allow operators adequate layover time, provide access to all regular stops outside Seattle, and prioritize the highest ridership routes.

Similar to Zach’s idea to permanently move route 550 to SR-520, the reroute could be changed to serve Bellevue immediately, with the Mercer Island shuttle connecting in Downtown Bellevue and serving Bellevue Way riders. The rerouted trip could end at the existing layover space next to the Bellevue Library or at the Bellevue Transit Center before looping back to the library. This means the operator of the 550 would likely have a much longer layover, as any delays from 520 would be more than offset by the truncation of the route. However, this means that the Mercer Island/Bellevue Way shuttle would have much higher platform hours. The connection in Bellevue could be made in a “bump and run& fashion–as both routes serve the same stop, and once passengers deboard from one route and board the second, each leaves, ensuring a seamless transfer for all.

There is no doubt that closing off any part of a route is going to cause delays, inconvenience riders, and cause confusion–even if no stops are missed. Despite costing more to implement, it prioritizes the locations where the most riders are headed.

Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

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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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Tunnel WiFi is here to stay

The DSTT is no longer an area devoid of communications. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s now a somewhat suspicious-sounding but completely legitimate “Tunnel WiFi” available at all five DSTT stations (but not in the tubes between stations). Launched by King County on March 9, it was promoted so riders could start planning for route changes. King County will continue to maintain it after ST turns on cell coverage but is not planned to be extended in to the tubes.

For cell coverage, ST’s Bruce Gray explains:

The plan is still to have the cell service up and running in the tunnels and stations from UW to downtown by the end of this summer, then in the DSTT this fall and in the Beacon Hill station and tunnels early next year.

Metro’s Battery-Powered Proterra Buses Now Running Revenue Service

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst

On February 17 Metro held a press event to announce that their three all-electric Proterra Catalyst battery-powered buses would be hitting the streets in revenue service that day. The buses will operate on routes 226 and 241—two routes that operate in a loop from the Eastgate Transit Center through downtown Bellevue.

Initially 4602 was entered service at Eastgate at 11:25 but it later broke down completely at Bel-Red Rd & 124 Av NE about an hour later. A diesel hybrid was brought in to replace it, and three hours later a mechanic brought out 4603 to run the rest of the trips for that run.

I rode route 241, and when it arrived at Eastgate TC it had used just 48% of its capacity after running a complete 18 mile loop of almost two hours. The layover time between these two trips is just 12 minutes. Since charging takes approximately 10 minutes and is required after every loop, this may mean that the trip will leave late if there are schedule delays on the incoming trip. Metro has not built in any additional layover padding next shakeup.

The “docking” process of the vehicle pulling in to the charger is almost completely automated; the operator simply holds the go pedal down and the bus takes care of forward acceleration. When the charge is complete, the arm automatically retracts.

The interior layout is designed to maximize seated capacity, with three seats being wedged in transversely between other rows of seats in order to make maximum use of space. The rear door is a passenger-activated plug door–the doors slide parallel to the body rather than pivoting. The rear section features a rear window and will soon be the only vehicles in the fleet to do so.

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst interior looking back

The entire interior of the bus is made of plastic (save for the seats and structural components of course) and despite this the bus was not squeaky on the inside Continue reading “Metro’s Battery-Powered Proterra Buses Now Running Revenue Service”

Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys

King County Metro XT40

If you’ve been on the streets of Seattle lately, you may have noticed one of Metro’s prototype 40 foot trolleys cruising the streets. Identical twins 4300 and 4301–officially New Flyer XT40 trolleys–are out simulating service on a 90 day test run. This allows Metro to identify any minor adjustments that might be needed prior to New Flyer’s production run beginning in early 2015. The remaining 84 vehicles will start arriving in June and will hit the streets after they’ve been tested and had various accessories installed (farebox, bike rack, radios, etc). The 60 foot prototype will arrive around March 2015, with production of the remaining 54 beginning in late 2015 or early 2016.

Continue reading “Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys”