Bus Wraps: All Wrapped Up?

It appears the wrapped buses are going to be going through some changes in the future according to a news release from King County. Full bus wraps have been responsible for generating much needed revenue for Metro. This has come at a price to the riders of these buses. People who ride can’t see street signs or buildings, and if dark outside it is impossible to see anything causing people much frustration. The wraps are currently on 25 buses which is less than 2% of Metro’s fleet. If Metro completely phased out the wraps that would result in a loss of $743,000 in 2008. So Metro came up with a new partial wrap that will allow wrapping to only a portion of the window plus the rest of the bus.
From Ron Simms:
Metro would be the first transit agency in the country to offer this type of partial-wrap to advertisers. Metro believes the new partial wrap advertising option can generate interest from national and local clients to advertise on Metro’s fleet and become a model for other transit agencies to follow“.
They will allow these partial wraps on 50 buses and may generate $450,000-$900,000 in revenue.
This is good for Metro and it seems it will be good for the passengers as well. Although I am not a fan of the green/purple and gold color schemes, it is eye catching to see the wrapped buses from the outside. I truly dislike being in them, especially on a sunny day. One difference that was pointed out to me was that in places like San Francisco and Vancouver B.C. (which I visited recently) they have advertisements at bus shelters. There are many bus stops in downtown Seattle where many passengers get on/off buses. It seems that they could gain additional revenue by adding panels to these stops. Metro could even charge premium rates for higher volume stops.

Density Again

There has been a lot going back and forth about density, so I’d like to write about it yet again. My basic argument about density with relation to transit is that transit creates density, not the other way around. New York had 500,000 people when it’s first railway was built in 1849 , 617,000 people subway was built in 1869, and had 7,891,957 people 80 years later in 1950. London had 1.35 million in 1831 when it’s first railways were built, had 2.5 million when the tube began construction (in 1863) and had ballooned to 8,615,245 76 years later (1939).

So when you here about transit and density, think not about how much density is required to support fixed-guide-way mass transit, but instead think about how much construction will be built around that transit. Case in point: Saturday the New York Times ran this piece about transit oriented development in Utah.

Murray City and Hamlet Homes are taking advantage of growing buyer interest in living and working near the regional TRAX light rail system, which has operated in the Salt Lake Valley since 1999. The Murray North station, one of three TRAX stops in Murray City — population 50,000 — serves as the centerpiece of Birkhill at Fireclay.

Salt Lake City and its closest suburbs built the $520 million, 19-mile, 23-station TRAX system, which carries more than 55,000 riders a day, well ahead of ridership projections. Voters have also repeatedly passed sales tax increases, including one approved last November, to spend $2.5 billion more in the next decade to complete 26 additional miles of light rail, 88 miles of heavy commuter rail line and nearly 40 extra station stops. The only American metropolitan area that is building more regional rapid transit capacity is Denver, which is constructing a 151-mile system.

Uh, does it seem to me that the low density places like Utah and Denver benefit more from new rail already high density places? Development is relatively easy, there is more community transformation and it is easier to obtain rights of way. In fact, one of the reasons that was so cheap was the right of way was an abandoned railway. Sounds a bit like the BNSF corridor on the Eastside, doesn’t it?

So you may think that means that high-density Seattle won’t get much out of transit. But Seattle is actually relatively low density. People get confused because the downtown core is so dense, they think that Seattle is a dense city. It is not. I have compiled this table of city densities with how populated Seattle would be if it were that dense.

As you can see, even epitome of sprawl Los Angeles is far more dense than Seattle. In fact, Seattle would have 700,000 people (by my calculations), instead of the 580,000 it has now, if it were as dense as Los Angeles. Seattle is about like Cleveland and Detroit, not cities I think of when I think of dense.

Despite it’s recent condo boom, Bellevue is far to the low end of cities, though it is probably unfair to compare a satellite city to main ones. The point remains, this is a low density region, and mass transit won’t have quite the effect here as it had in London or New York, but I imagine with enough transit built Seattle could easily get to be as dense as San Francisco or Chicago, in the one million people range.

Here’s a decent argument from Clark Williams-Derry (of Sightline) about how transit works in Vancouver, and how it could work here from the Tacoma News Tribune.

But when density rises a bit, transit becomes viable. By clustering homes near transit stops, and mixing residences with stores and services, neighborhoods in greater Vancouver have created more opportunities for convenient, cost-effective transit service.

Data from the Canadian census shows that roughly two-thirds of greater Vancouver’s residents live in a compact neighborhood – the sort of place where transit begins to be convenient and reliable. At last count, only about one-quarter of the people in the greater Puget Sound region live in that kind of compact neighborhood.

Transit doesn’t solve everything, of course. Despite its transit-friendly neighborhoods, greater Vancouver’s traffic is still pretty darn congested. Still, even if Vancouver’s focus on transit-friendly neighborhoods hasn’t guaranteed breezy commutes, the effects have almost certainly been worthwhile. First, without Vancouver’s transit edge, the city’s commuters would almost certainly be worse off than they are right now. If you lowered Vancouver’s transit ridership to Seattle-Tacoma levels, tens of thousands of additional cars would flood their roads during peak hours – the very time when they’re already jammed to capacity.

He’s got the argument backwards as I keep pointing out. Vancouver wasn’t dense before they built Skytrain and other transit options, it became dense when transit became more reliable. The argument about lowering Vancouver’s transit ridership is silly, because if they had never built Skytrain, Vancouver and it’s suburbs wouldn’t be nearly as dense as it is now, with far more sprawl, and far fewer compact neighborhoods. Building transit here will allow for more density. It certainly won’t solve everything, but more roads won’t either.

Clark Williams-Derry does have this nice point:

And finally, Vancouver’s transit-friendly neighborhoods have kept residents safer. In Washington, car crashes are the leading killer of people under the age of 45. But Pierce County residents are 70 percent more likely to die in a car crash than are residents of greater Vancouver – not because the roads are less safe, but simply because residents in counties like Pierce have to drive so much. (Mile for mile, riding a bus is about 10 times safer than driving a car.)

Well, I will feel a little more safe aboard the bus tomorrow.

Beacon Hill Tunnel Update

The PI published an article on Beacon Hill Tunnel progress when Sound Transit put a tour on Sunday.

“It is probably the most challenging construction project along the whole Link light rail line,” said transit-board member Larry Phillips, a Metropolitan King County Council member from Seattle, said during a tour Sunday morning. “The methods used to mine out this station have never before been used at this depth. We are standing here in an engineering and construction marvel that will be known throughout the world.”

That’s pretty awesome if just a bit exaggerated.

Phillips said the tunnel proves Sound Transit has the know-how to deliver 50 more miles of light rail, if voters approve it this fall. But the mining is tricky enough that officials canceled a deep train platform they once promised at busy First Hill.

Hmmm… I wonder if my fantasy ballot measure could some how include the First Hill station…

Morrill is Dead Wrong

I get exhausted writing these responses to confused articles, but Richard Morrill’s piece is such a doozy I just had to respond.

I find it nothing short of insane to spend far over half ($24 billion out of $38 billion in the November ballot package) of potential transportation investment (capital and operating) on trains which cannot possibly meet more than 1 percent of demand for trips, an amazingly small fraction.

Here and at other blogs, we’ve gone over the $38 billion stat ad nauseum, so I won’t bother to repeat the argument. But where does this 1% trip number come from? Sound Transit says “These investments will expand daily regional transit ridership to nearly 370,000 by 2030”, which is nearly as many riders as Metro’s 100 million a year. Even if you figure ST will only carry 370,000 riders on weekdays, that’s still about ten percent the population of the region. That number is just completely wrong.

There’s also a nasty class issue our leaders ignore. Who benefits and will be obscenely subsidized? Rich professionals, of course. And who pays? The more lowly workers in those scattered but necessary service, retail, manufacturing, construction, and transportation workplaces.

How do we know it’ll be the “rich professionals” that are subsidized? Even on my Microsoft Express bus a huge number of the riders aren’t professionals, but contingent staff.

We don’t need a six-lane Highway 520 or a giant new viaduct, or two additional lanes each way on Interstate 405, given the inevitable constraints on single-occupancy vehicle use in the not-very-distant future.

Are you sure about that, Richard? Everytime I sit in traffic for hours (even on the bus) I wish there was an actual HOV lane there, which has nothing to do with single-occupancy vehicles. And what does the Viaduct have to do with anything? Who is talking about that? RTID isn’t.

Oh well. Richard Morrill is battling strawmen with made-up statistics.

Buses Aren’t Good Enough

At Slog, Charles Mudede wrote about a film writer who couldn’t get around on bus fast enough to see the movies at SIFF. Fact is, buses aren’t good enough. They take too long to get between population centers here. Yesterday, I took the bus from Kirkland to the city (I woke up at a friend’s house after my birthday party). I was lucky there to have walked up to the stop at the same time the bus came, since I would have had to have waited 30 minutes for the next 255 that was actually a very good experience. I read the Sunday paper and enjoyed the ride. Later, I needed to go to Fremont, and I waited at 3rd and Olive for a 26 or a 5 for so long that I ended up just getting on the 358 and walking from 46th and Aurora down to Fremont. The entire trip took me 50 minutes including the wait (25 of those 50) and the walk (15 of the 50).

That won’t get people out of their cars. Buses here are only good if you are commuting on a regular schedule, otherwise, you might as well walk. If we want people to quit driving, or to move people who don’t, can’t or won’t drive around reliably, we need something more than buses.

What is the perfect bus shelter?

This Bus Chick post reminded me of the contest SF Muni (San Francisco’s Bus and Rail company) is currently running to design new bus shelters for the service. This is what current muni shelters look like. All of the possible shelter designs include a “next bus” sign with information about the next bus. Take a look at the photo below of a next bus sign in Melbourne Australia. Vandalism is probably less of a problem in Australia than it is in Seattle (and in Seattle FAAAAAAAR less than in San Francisco.

I haven’t thought a lot about what the perfect metro bus stop would be like, but it would definitely include a next bus sign, and uh, a shelter. I take the 545 at Bellevue & Olive Street (down a block from Olive Way, confusing, right?) and its great to just show up in the summer since the bus comes every 8~12 minutes and the weather’s wonderful but come January, I’d like to know when the bus is coming, and be able to stand under a shelter. Have you got anything more than that you’d like in the perfect shelter? Wi-fi is probably asking too much… Japanese train stations always have fabulous vending machines that serve a variety of cold drinks in the summer, and a mix of hot and cold drinks in the winter (actually you could replace ‘train stations’ with basically anything in that sentance). I think a perfect bus station would have a vending machine because I’m always thirsty.

3rd Ave

… will remain transit-only until viaduct replacement is complete. That’s what the City has told me. Here’s an old-school photo of a Metro Bus going down 3rd Ave.

Don’t Let the Cross-base Highway Ruin Everything

For some reason the Cross-base highway is this tremendous deal breaker for a lot of lefties. Why? Apparently when they found out two weeks ago that it would go through the some woods in Pierce County they never knew existed they were worried it would destroy the environment. Which means they won’t vote for Roads and Transit, which would be a big win for environmentalists with its 50 miles of light rail. I am an environmentalist, and it would be awful if that road is built, but I think the good outweighs the bad in this case. And as Orphan Road has pointed out, even if it is in the RTID, it’s not gauranteed to be built.

Over in Stranger comments Tip-toe Tommy wrote:

BTW–the RTID package that builds all those new lanes actually does a few nice things for Seattle. It will help fully fund new overpasses and ramps for cars and transit at Lander and Spokane streets. These two projects will actually begin to implement some of the things one would have to do if you were going to do a surface option on the waterfront. They will be done by the time the viaduct likely comes down. The package also will help pay for improvements to Mercer that will help knit Queen Anne and South Lake Union together. The RTID also replaces the South Park Bridge, a vital lifeline to one of Seattle’s best working class neighborhoods, and the worst bridge in the state. It also builds bus lanes on Aurora in Shoreline that match the ones Metro is building in Seattle and it builds a new off ramp for buses only for the HOV lanes coming from South King or Pierce county. The Seattle stuff is almost all transit. Take a look at it again.

If Roads and Transit doesn’t pass, everyone will say “the transit side was too big” and we’ll get a second ballot with less transit and more roads. No one will say, “Roads and Transit didn’t pass because of the Cross-base highway”.

Carless Road Trips!

This week’s Seattle Weekly has a great article about carless road trips. It has a bunch of nuggets like this (well the monorail would have been nice):

Contrary to what those monorail morons wanted you to believe, getting out to West Seattle couldn’t be easier, on the back of the mighty Metro 54. Hop on it downtown, and it’ll whisk you over the freeway and down the length of Fauntleroy Way. At about the 30-minute mark, you’ll hop off at Lincoln Park, one of Seattle’s best—and not all that heavily used by those outside the neighborhood. Its 135 acres includes five miles of trails, including a stunner that goes all along the point under a canopy of trees; it’s one of the best Puget Sound walks you’re going to find. At the tip of the point is the park’s most famous amenity: an Olympic-size, heated, outdoor, salt-water pool that’s open summer-only. The 54 runs twice an hour on weekends.

When I was a kid, my siblings and I used to bus out to Discovery Park. I think it was the 31 we took with a bit of a walk in at the end. The other option was the 33, I think, from Downtown. When I was in college, we used to go to Vancouver on Amtrak, Greyhound and Quickshuttle. We always had a blast. Have any of you guys done a successful carless road trip?

Metro’s 40/40/20 rule

A month ago I mailed King County Exec Ron Sims about Metro’s 40/40/20 rule that was put in place in Metro’s last six-year-plan. The rule basically indicates that 40% of new Metro service should be created on the Eastside, 40% in South King County and only 20% in the city. When I read about it, it seemed unfair to me since the city is 35% of the county’s population. I asked Sims whether such a rule would be put in place in King County’s next six-year-plan for Metro and here’s the response I recieved:

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your email of May 21, 2007, to King County Executive Ron Sims, regarding the 40/40/20 percent policy addressing the distribution of new Metro service hours between the Eastside, South King County and Seattle/Shoreline subareas. Executive Sims asked me to respond to you on his behalf. This is a policy that has caused a great deal of controversy and confusion, but it has been supported by a majority of King County Councilmembers.

As background, it’s useful to know the existing distribution of service hours between subareas. Currently, approximately 64 percent of Metro’s service hours are allocated to serve the “west” subarea that includes Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park, which comprises about 35 percent of the county’s population. The other two subareas share the remaining 36 percent. Seattle has a greater share of service per capita primarily for historical reasons. When Metro was formed it absorbed the established Seattle Transit, which had an extensive route system and frequent service. Prior to Metro’s formation there was meager transit service in the suburbs.

Since the entire county contributes to Metro transit, there is a desire in the East and South subareas to gradually improve the level of transit service to get closer to the higher baseline for service that Seattle enjoys. It is easy to understand their point of view. The 40/40/20 policy, which addresses only new service added to the system, is intended to achieve a more even balance of service hours per capita between subareas over time.

It’s also easy to understand concerns in Seattle and Shoreline, where ridership and expectations for service improvements continue to grow, especially as gasoline prices have increased. This is one reason the Transit Now program established a “service partnerships” program. Metro can now provide matching funds to leverage investments by local jurisdictions and/or public/private partnerships in service or speed and reliability improvements that benefit transit. This program was created in part to allow Metro to respond to emerging transit demands and desires for a higher level of service than the baseline we provide county-wide. Some of the funds Seattle authorized through the Bridging the Gap initiative may be spent to add service in Seattle under the partnership program.

At this point, Metro does not plan to recommend reconsideration of the 40/40/20 policy; however, the County Council is due to revisit transit policies over the coming year, and if you want to pursue the issue further, you may want to contact your representative on the King County Council or the Council’s Regional Transit Committee.


Kevin Desmond

General Manager

Metro Transit Division

cc: The Honorable Ron Sims, King County Executive

De’Sean Quinn, Director, Council Relations, King County Executive Office

Harold S. Taniguchi, Director, Department of Transportation (DOT)

Victor Obeso, Manager, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DOT

David Hull, Supervisor, Service Planning, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DO

Best / Worst Bus Routes?

I want to take nominations on what people think are the best and worst Metro and Sound Transit Routes.

To me, the 545 is one of the best. It comes every 10 minutes or so during peak hours, is usually on time, has wi-fi on some buses, and actually beats driving in terms of commute length much of the time. The others would be the old 72, but now that it goes through SLU and Eastlake its a whole lot slower, and the 8 which tends to be impressively reliable.

How about worst lines? The 44 is awful. Never on time, and usually travels in packs of two or three. It was actually worse in the days of the old 43 that went all the way from downtown to Ballard through the UD and Wallingford. The 48 can also be a nightmare.

Tell me your opinions!

Water Taxi to Des Moines?

The Highline Times thinks its possible under the new Ferry District in King County. The ferry service would be model after a passenger-only ferry between San Francisco and (I think) Tiburon.

Speaking of King County, have you seen this annexation page? Basically, the county is trying to get out of the business of running services in unincorporated areas such as Skyway, North Highline and Juanita. They have encouraged cities to look at annexing the unincorporated areas near them and want all the “urban unincorporated areas” annexed or incorporated by 2012. Recently voters in Renton voted down the annexation of East Renton Highlands, and if Renton residents don’t want the affluent Highlands, what makes anyone think that they will successfully annex Skyway?

Meanwhile, Seattle and Burien are fighting it out over North Highline, also known as White Center. Seattle wants to annex it but some people in the city wonder if it offers any advantage to Seattle. Burien wants to annex part of it, but since Seattle is willing to get the whole thing, they are unable to officially take that stance. The problem for Burien is that North Highline’s 32,400 people are about as many as Burien’s 34,000 and would create a $3.5 million loss on a $15 million budget for Burien, that’s with a sales tax sharing from the state for 10 years (Cities over 400,000 people, of which Seattle is the only one, are not eligible for the sales tax sharing from the state.). For Seattle, the area would cost about $4.6 million out of a total budget of close to $2 billion.

In Burien, the vast majority of the population is against annexation, in Seattle no body really seems to care much one way or another. In North Highline, their is a mild majority tilting toward Burien. They will be the people who ultimately decide. To make the whole thing more complicated, there’s the whole issue of who will pay for the replacement of the South Park Bridge which is set to fail to pieces any day now. Neither city wants to pay for the $70 million it’ll cost to replace the bridge. It’ll be weird to see how things play out on this and the other annexations.

Spare the Air Days

In the Bay Area they have something called “Spare the Air Days“. Basically, on days when the air quality is poor (when the “Air Quality Index” goes above 100) most rides on transit in the Bay Area are free. These days are meant to encourage transit and have a pretty strong lingering effect; when I used to take Caltrain, the train was more full all summer starting on the first Spare the Air Day and ending sometime around the end of summer (October or November in San Francisco). Actually, Caltrain seemed to be constantly increasing its ridership as gasoline became more expensive.

Anyway, I think this idea would work in Seattle, make transit free on a few weekdays in the summer, and you’ll find people will want to take transit all day long. I wonder how much it would cost Sound Transit and Metro to implement this kind of system. I’ll make sure to ask in my next meeting.

Richardson is Pro-Transit

This post over at NPI’s blog about New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson’s stop in Seattle has this nice nugget:

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.

Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It’s the biggest pork in any bill. And it’s billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It’s gone up. And that’s money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.

Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be “a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation.”

Richardson’s answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally – presidential candidates don’t spend much time talking about it – but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

His point is pretty well thought-out. The joint-bonding would help speed up development since we know that all Sound Transit needs to complete its project faster is more of its money upfront. It can only issue five-year bonds, which means that it can only spend five years’ worth of income at a time. If the feds would joint issue the bonds, the bonds could be for 30 years with a much lower interest rate which would dramatically speed up the projects and actually make them cheaper.

What Ever Happened To ORCA?

Remember ORCA? It stands for One Regional Card for All (I think the namers were LOTR fans), and was a test of a regional smart card that would work on seven transit systems: King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit Route, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries, and Pierce transit. I never heard anything about it again after that, so I asked the ORCA team, but they never responded.

Does anyone know anything about it?

Transit News Roundup

The PI endorsed the surface and transit option … well the study of it at least. In this op-ed piece, the paper “strong encourages” the council to “approve the $8 million study”. They also seem to support amendments to the proposal that would keep improvements that would lead to replacement from being started.

They also sort of come out against the streetcar, saying that its usefulness is suspect and that funding it will get in the way of expanding bus service in the city. I agree that the city can’t afford to lose any bus improvements, but the street car could become part of a larger network of cars that will cross the city and improve mobility dramatically. San Francisco’s Muni cars are a huge part of it’s transportation system, though I have to concede in some places they resemble Link more than the streetcars Seattle is building.

King-5 had a piece about how transit ridership is up. All the major transportation agencies in the region have seen year-over-year increases of about 8-10%.

Metro Transit

– Boardings were up 8.9 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006, translating to about 30,000 more weekday riders.

Pierce Transit

– Boardings were up 8.7 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

Sound Transit

– Bus boardings were up 10 percent overall in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

– Sounder commuter train boardings were up 27 percent in the same period.

Community Transit – … double digit increases in April 2007 compared to April 2006. That’s similar to the jump from the same time last year.

Apparently, gas prices, traffic fatigue and new employment is the cause. But as more people take transit, the demand for more transit will grow, and the political movement behind building more will grow.

Finally USA today discussed the 100 million more people who will live in America by 2040 (a couple million of which will live in the Seattle region), and how transit projects are being approved all over the country.

Shilshole to Downtown Ferry?

Everybody loves the Elliot Bay Water Taxi. This Ballard News Tribune piece about transportation brings up the possibility of a Ballard to Downtown Ferry.

A new King County Ferry District ordinance, passed recently by the Metropolitan King County Council, could potentially fund a feasibility study for a passenger-only ferry route from Shilshole to downtown Seattle. The district could also support the operation of Vashon-Seattle ferries and year-round Elliott Bay Water Taxi service.

Funding to study the Shilshole Ferry idea could be included in that plan, he said.

That study would raise many questions about how the route might operate, such as dock site, customer market, operating issues and parking.

The piece also mentions the idea of a Sounder stop in Ballard, which would likely slow down the trip to and from Everett but would probably add a lot of numbers to the route. It wouldn’t be that expensive either since the line goes through Ballard already.