Here’s an update on Link station boardings/alightings from ST spokesman Bruce Gray, a continuation of previously released data from 2010. For some reason, the 2nd quarter is the season for these.
Each value includes both people getting on and getting off at the station, so it sums to twice total system boardings.
2Q 2012 Boardings/Alightings by Station
Chg Fr. 2011(%)
Chg Fr. 2010(%)
The relative shares of the stations has remained basically constant over the last couple of years. The Rainier Valley is a quarter of all boardings and alightings. Assuming that no trips remain entirely in the Valley*, then just over half of all Link trips are to or from a station there.
This is the update to my Seattle Frequent Transit Map that reflects the big Fall 2012 Metro service change. It presents a general overview of transit service in the city of Seattle that operates every 15 minutes or better during weekdays, from 6 am to 6 pm. Also included on the back is an evening frequent service map.
While the map retains its mostly monochromatic look from the previous edition, there are a few improvements:
Route numbers and lines should be easier to read and follow, especially in the downtown area. RapidRide lines get a thicker red line. And Link is still king.
Park areas and points of interest have been added, as is some of the street network for greater context. The streets also help readers visualize gaps in the frequent service network.
Slightly more descriptive frequent service guide. Link’s frequency is summarized graphically. Metro, Sound Transit, and OneBusAway contact info is now included.
Even with the expansion of frequent service into Ballard and West Seattle, the map now fits on a single sheet of standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper for easy printing.
It is now called the “every 15 minutes (or less) map”, in reference to Los Angeles’ map of the same name. I don’t care if you still call it the “frequent transit map”.
The “Evenings in Seattle” map was derived from the main map with lines removed for clarity. The night owl routes could be added in future revisions.
One of the more exciting ideas in the new Transit Master Plan is the Rapid Streetcar Network, which is a way of having Seattle control its own transit destiny. The crucial word is “rapid,” which makes this potentially transformative rather than a fancier bus line. The lines would have significant stretches of dedicated right-of-way and ubiquitous priority treatments. But how are Seattle’s existing and under-construction lines doing in this regard?
According to SDOT’s Ethan Melone, of the 18 signalized intersections on the South Lake Union line, ten have some sort of signal priority or preemption, while only one has a queue jump.
That’s not ideal, but it’s a magic carpet compared to the First Hill Line. I count twenty-two signals each way, and Mr. Melone confirms there will be only four priority signals: across Broadway & Boren and Broadway & Howell in both directions; southbound, the left from Broadway to Yesler and the right from 14th to Jackson, across the diagonal of Rainier/Boren; and northbound, the left turns on and off 14th Ave.
Mr. Melone explains that cost, which is “a few thousand dollars per intersection,” is not the constraint. Instead, the transit lines and high vehicle volumes that cross Broadway make “it difficult to prioritize green time for the streetcar through movement, because of the impacts to transit/traffic on the other movements.” However, he adds:
Signal priority is therefore pretty limited, but we have made other changes—signalized left turn pockets on Broadway, the southbound exclusive track on 14th, and the streetcar-only approach lanes at each terminus, some new left turn restrictions—that supplement the signal priority in terms of speeding up the streetcar operation as much as possible in this corridor.
I find this disappointing for reasons of perception and branding. Although from an engineering perspective the time penalty of a traffic light may be small, coming to a complete stop creates the perception that the ride is slow. If the city can show voters that the streetcar network is more than just more transit stuck in traffic, they might be more inclined to support it. And frankly, if rail isn’t a means of making priority more politically viable the capital expense is much less compelling in corridors that don’t need the extra capacity.
At last week’s Sound Transit Board Meeting (video here), one of the more interesting reports was the staff analysis of the D2 roadway, which runs between I-90’s Rainier Freeway Station and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. There are also PowerPoint slides.
No matter what, these lanes will be closed to all traffic during track construction later in the decade. But afterwards, Sound Transit has always assumed that the 554 would terminate at either Mercer Island or South Bellevue Station. Metro has five peak-only routes that serve the I-90 corridor: the 212, 214, 215, 216, and 218, which together amount to about 18 trips per hour in the peak, that it might prefer to keep running into downtown. In 2010, these added up to about 1 million rides a year, or about 4,000 per day*. For these routes, there are four main options:
Run joint operations on the roadway, as is currently done in the DSTT. This doesn’t necessarily mean buses would still run in the DSTT itself, but will create similar reliability and schedule impacts to both buses and trains. This is the baseline assumption in the ST budget.
Run trains only on the roadway, forcing buses to access downtown via Rainier Avenue and S. Dearborn St. This speeds up the trains a bit but makes the buses slower and much less reliable. It saves on capital costs but Metro will pay more to operate buses.
Terminate Metro buses at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. This creates at least some transfer penalty for bus riders, but keeps trains fast (carrying the bulk of the riders) and saves Metro about 15,000 service hours annually, or around $1.5m, that could be invested in more service on these or other routes.
Squeeze the tracks on one side of the roadway, allowing a one-lane busway for peak-direction trips. ST staffer Ric Ilgenfritz testified that this is likely cheaper in capital expense than the joint operations option. See the illustration, along with some discussion, below the jump.
Sound Transit’s June 2011 service change took effect today. As usual, Link has the basic span and frequency of service information in a schedule. For those who want more detail, I created this unofficial schedule[UPDATED: October 2013] that shows, to the minute, when frequency changes and the first and last trains of the day. It includes a fare table and line map with station-to-station travel times.
The reason I didn’t include times for every station in my schedule is because the pattern is very consistent and the math is simple. In fact, I’d argue that my schedule is unnecessary once you learn the pattern. All you need to know are the first and last train times from Westlake and SeaTac/Airport, the frequency schedule, and the travel time between stations. Knowing that, you can derive most of the detailed schedule from Sound Transit’s basic schedule.
As I spent time creating this schedule I saw why Sound Transit made its schedule the way it is. Of course, many people won’t spend time figuring this out, so a more detailed schedule than currently printed is still needed. All they need to do is add the timetables to the current format. I tried and it works, with some space left for other useful information like travel times and late night/early morning bus connections. Throw in some real-time arrival predictions at stations and the result is a significantly more user-friendly system than what we have now.
I wouldn’t expect someone who wants to build everything — highways, transit, etc., to have much of a problem with the deep bore tunnel. I certainly wouldn’t expect a pro-highway, anti-transit person to like surface/transit. What less understandable is people that think the marginal dollar is better spent on transit, including the vast majority of the people hanging around here, are at the same time surprised that STB would take a strong position in favor of surface/transit/I-5.
I’ve triedseveraltimes to break down the numbers in different ways, but I think those articles may be a bit hard to follow. I think the chart below really lays it out. It shows what the money is being spent on in the deep-bore tunnel, four-lane rebuild, and surface/transit/I-5 options that were in play in late 2008 and early 2009 when Governor Gregoire, Executive Sims, and Mayor Nickels reached their agreement. For clarity, I’ll leave out the $1.1 billion in “Moving Forward” projects, mainly the highway through Sodo, that are uncontroversial and apply to any option. S/T/I-5 has the most transit and the least highway.
All figures in millions
“Other” includes the seawall, mitigation, the park, and so on.
In the current debate, spending $1.2 billion on highways and hundreds of millions of more on city streets is viewed as irretrievably hostile to drivers.
Once again, I have to point out that of the $2.4 billion in gas tax money committed to this project, $1.1 billion is going to the aforementioned moving forward projects, and all the plans have well over $1 billion in highway projects, so it’s simply not true that the bulk of the gas tax money couldn’t be used for the other options.
Lastly, a word about our continuing coverage of this issue. STB staff are encouraged to write about whatever interests them, within reason. This debate has been prominent for a while, which creates interest. Second, the level of public discourse has been exceptionally poor, filled with distortions, fearmongering, tangents, and lots of misconceptions; I think articles not afraid to get into the numbers and bring the subject back to first principles are a useful corrective. Third, the tunnel is very likely to happen given its very strong support at all levels of government and divided public opinion. The Protect Seattle Now initiative is a necessary but not sufficient step, but the most important task is to convince people there are better options.
* The $190 million in transit capital for DBT isn’t going to materialize. It’s really “$0.”
Although Community Transit has suffered deep service cuts and has no state-granted ability to raise tax rates, it hasn’t stopped visualizing what Snohomish County’s transit network should look like in two decades.
The study, conducted by Nelson/Nygaard and completed last month, identifies key transit corridors and appropriate levels of additional investment for each by 2030.* It is a statement of aspirations, designed to drive future investment decisions, rather than a firm, funded project list. “Economic recovery and new transit investment will happen,” the report explains. “When it does, the new system that is built will be different than the one that we cut.”
Like many other agencies, CT is looking to support rapidly densifying cities like Lynnwood with frequent, rapid all-day service through less emphasis on peak-only commuter routes, very much helped by the fact that Link will be moving masses of people from Lynnwood to the UW and Downtown Seattle. More after the jump.
One really interesting component of Metro’s proposed Eastside service revision is the huge amount of service between Bellevue College and the Eastgate Park and Ride. Like many colleges, BC is a big all-day traffic generator, and Eastgate is of course the main access point to I-90 buses for a wide swath of Bellevue. There is a much better way to serve these nodes, but to date none of the involved parties has stepped up with the leadership and capital funding to make it happen.
Currently, four routes of varying quality shuttle between these nodes, and revised service would also have four routes, three with 30 minute headways and one with 15.
These two major transit hubs are less than a half mile apart as the crow flies. Unfortunately, terrain and the road network make this a very bad connection. Coaches go all the way out to 148th Ave and turn onto Eastgate Way; this amounts to three signalized left turns in the northbound direction, in addition to a lot of added distance. Google pegs this as a 5-minute drive; add time for a bus taking this route. More after the jump.
[Important note: this is not an editorial advocating anything. It is an attempt to quickly analyze some planning tradeoffs.]
When Central Link opened, Metro eliminated some redundant lines (194, 42X), but the bulk of I-5 routes from South King County continue to run into Downtown Seattle, at great cost and with a parallel Link line able to carry those people at nearly zero marginal cost. The best place to make a transfer from I-5 is at Rainier Beach Station, although that location has serious problems. What are the tradeoffs?
First, Google Maps pegs the driving time from Exit 157 (MLK) to Sodo Station as 10 minutes, vs. 3 minutes to MLK & Henderson. Link takes 15 minutes from there to Sodo, meaning that in the baseline scenario the transfer is 8 minutes slower. If you like, subtract a minute for buses being slower than cars.
To this time loss, one must add walking time. If Metro did the user-friendly thing and put the stop on the south side of Henderson, there’s a crossing of two not-crowded lanes. Experience at other stations suggest an easy jaywalk that might take a minute, more for those that insist on a signal. Moreover, there will be wait time: for bus to train, the average varies from 4 to 8 minutes depending on time of day; train to bus, typically 8 to 15 minutes.
On the other hand, the Rainier Beach run is essentially uncongested, while I-5 is often not. The gap shrinks with any delay on I-5. Also, the further north the destination, the smaller the gap is. Going north from Sodo, trains have signal priority and limited-stop advantages over buses, and in some cases a tunnel advantage as well. This adds up to between zero and 6 minutes savings to Westlake in the schedules.
Although in some cases time may be a wash, in general trips with this transfer will be slower and this will cost riders. Unlike the 194/Link tradeoff, all of these trips will still require a bus and won’t attract those that refuse to get on one.
On the other hand, by my count Metro runs 295 trips every weekday via I-5 and the busway, plus 179 on Saturday and 117 on Sunday. With a half-hour of savings per trip, that comes out to around 44,000 service hours, of which 26,000 are charged to the South subarea. For comparison, a draft service cut plan last year took about 45,000 service hours out of the South, and that’s before union concessions saved another 20% of threatened service hours. Alternatively, those hours could be redeployed elsewhere, even by roughly halving headways on routes like the 150.
Other fringe benefits include much improved connectivity between Southcenter and its transit-dependent customers in the Rainier Valley. At some operating cost, buses may terminate at Rainier and Henderson, where there is more bus layover space.
Restored service on the low-ridership southern end of MLK is canceled out by reduced connectivity at the Spokane St. busway stop.
Such a shift also frees up capacity in the busway and DSTT, which can provide a new route to West Seattle post-viaduct and improve reliability on Link.
There are also 198 weekday and 68 weekend trips on Sound Transit buses on the busway, all of which are charged to the Pierce County subarea. Sound Transit and Metro also run 84 and 6 weekday trips, respectively, and 62 weekend ST trips, that bypass the busway to go right into Downtown Seattle. I’ve omitted those from the analysis above.
Whether this kind of service change is worthwhile depends ultimately on how you comparatively value intra-South County service with respect to the quickest possible connections to downtown. Everything has an opportunity cost, and resources can be spent on expresses into Seattle or into reducing headways between suburbs. High capacity transit services like Link provide an option, albeit imperfectly, to avoid gutting one to emphasize the other.
With the planned elimination of the Montlake Flyer Stops, a smooth connection to light rail is critical. However, corridor HCT analysis suggests that 60% of bus passengers will head for the medical center or campus, 20% will transfer to another bus, and only 20% are transferring to Link. This led WSDOT to place stops A through C, near the current stop, on the short list, while retaining the (unfunded) option of constructing another stop on the east side of Montlake Blvd.
Option A, essentially the current location, provides the shortest walk for UW bound riders while dropping people off well away from the rail station. It also has relatively quick times for buses to transit through the area. Options and B and C have similar statistics.
To pick one of the alternate plans, Option D (depicted below the jump) brings both Northbound and Southbound buses by the station before turning on Pacific Place and merging onto Pacific St. Obviously, the balance of walking times shifts considerably in favor of the station, and buses take another 1.5-2.5 minutes to get through the area.
Obviously, the walking distance issue could be remedied by combining the two, and having another stop both somewhere near the station and at the intersection of Pacific and Pacific. When I asked WSDOT about this, they said that (i) there would be yet more delay to buses going through, and (ii) Metro is generally reluctant to put stops so close together.
I’m a big supporter of Metro’s stop consolidation, but this seems like a good instance to make an exception. We have two potential high-volume stops that are serving important destinations arrayed around a very large open space. Metro could realize huge savings by having a high-quality transfer to Link and severely curtailing downtown-bound buses. Continue reading “Montlake Triangle Bus Stops”
The FTA has a new (January) report on carbon footprints of various transit modes, based on 2008 data. For electric transit, the authors use estimates based on the composition of that region’s power grid. Here are the locally relevant figures:
lbs. CO2 per passenger mile
Washington State Ferries
Avg. U.S. SOV
King Co. Vanpools
Snohomish Co. Vanpools
Pierce Co. Vanpools
Seattle Center Monorail
For comparison, the Portland MAX, a more mature system, comes in at 0.213. The national champion is Maryland’s MARC commuter rail at 0.013. Of large systems, BART (0.085) is very efficient with particularly clean energy.
Here are some miscellaneous questions and answers from my interview with SDOT Senior Engineer Darlene Pahlman. For the most part, these words are paraphrases. See also Part I of this report.
What can operators do to improve their practices? SDOT has transmitted to Metro’s training staff the accumulated best practices. If operators would like SDOT to come provide another training seminar they’d be happy to do so; please coordinate this through your training focal.
Is manual control of the signals possible? “We can remotely access the controller and can issue manual commands.”
What is the minimum achievable headway is on MLK? “We think we can successfully operate a system at 5 minute headways.”
What is the signal cycle length on MLK? 2 minutes, although there’s no firm bound on how long a car might wait.
Is there a special operating mode at late night or on Sundays? At these times we “run free”, meaning we try to grant demands to cross the tracks as they arise.
Are there any plans to expand the “running free” period? Not unless the data shows us a problem.
Is there any threshold of poor traffic flow where trains lose signal priority? That is no city policy at this time.
Would SDOT consider opening their controller configuration? No, for security reasons.
How are the pedestrian crossings working? At first, we had a lot of complaints about inability to cross MLK on a single signal. We installed the “countdown” signals and those complaints dropped precipitously.
Smaller transit systems generally don’t have the funding to have fast, frequent service, nor the demand to justify it. However, over the last few years Whatcom Transit has found a way to make their regular bus service a little more appealing.
It’s called the “go lines” program. No route in WTA’s system has consistent 15-minute headways, but there are signficant corridors where they collectively meet that standard. Beginning in 2005 with three lines, WTA rolled out a color-coded five line system (completed in January 2008) that connects Downtown Bellingham with major destinations, such as Western Washington University, the Alaska Ferry, and the Amtrak station, in addition to all of the city’s planned urban villages.
All five lines guarantee 15-minute headways on weekdays from 8 am to 6 pm, with longer waits at other times. In some cases this involved adding a few trips to meet the standard. The Red Line (to the Amtrak station) also achieves 15 minute headways on Saturdays. WTA and the City of Bellingham have also worked to give signal priority to buses on certain segments of the system.
Each of these lines (Red, Blue, Green, Gold, and Plum, map (.pdf) here) have distinctive signage. Unfortunately, “the fleet is not big enough” to allow the buses themselves to be distinctively marked, according to WTA spokesperson Maureen McCarthy. There are also some other routes that share part of a go line’s path, resulting in some potential confusion.
In spite of these problems, the Go lines have been a hit. For instance, according to McCarthy, ridership on components of the Green Line increased 260% after the go line was introduced. Indeed, in 2008 WTA had the highest ridership increase among small and medium-size systems in the nation (32%), and in 2009 experienced a 5% increase in an environment where most transit agencies had significant decreases.
Like virtually all other transit agencies, WTA is facing a funding crisis. Fortunately, they currently only assess a 0.6% sales tax, giving them room to raise more funding without involving the legislature. There is a ballot measure in April that seeks to raise taxes to 0.8% to simply maintain existing service. Polls indicate this measure is likely to pass.
Smaller agencies are often a good source of innovation in simple and low-cost ways to improve service by making it easier to use and understand. Here in King County, we already a suffer from a surfeit of bus brands, and it’s not clear we need another one. However, the Metro bus system is virtually incomprehensible due to the glut of peak-only and otherwise not-that-useful routes. Some effort to highlight more broadly useful routes (like the 15-minute map that Oran has been tinkering with) would make the system more usable for newcomers.
This isn’t really new, but Clark County’s high capacity transit study concluded last year and advocated three BRT lines and other improvements by 2030, with two of them running substantially in an exclusive lane. The study did not include the controversial Columbia River Crossing in its scope. According to spokesman Dale Robins, “One of the main assumptions of the Clark County HCT Study is that [light rail over the Columbia river] would exist as part of the region’s HCT system.”
C-TRAN is leading the effort to determine which HCT corridor of those identified in the Clark County HCT Study should be the first to be implemented. They are currently in the process of developing a 20-year transit plan, which appears to give priority to the Fourth Plain corridor [depicted above]. C-TRAN is seeking funding for an Alternative Analysis in their preferred corridor and hopes to get started on that process in the near future.
It’s not entirely clear what the revenue source would be, but last year the legislature passed SB 5540, which allows a Sound Transit-style 0.9% sales tax to pay for HCT corridors. At the time we interpreted that as a bid to allow MAX expansion, but it may very well be used to extend lower higher-quality bus service further into Clark County.
If you read Section 2 of the law you’ll find all sorts of tax constraints that make this a bit more restrictive than the RTA law that authorized Sound Transit. In particular, C-TRAN cannot go to the voters to fund this until July 1, 2012. It’s also a one-shot deal; by law, they can’t go to the voters for part of the authority and then have a second measure to use the rest of it.
Sound Transit doesn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around right now, but should that change, surplus subarea funds might be used to construct an infill station — that is, an additional station on an existing line. There are 5 such stations that come up now and then. What follows is a highly speculative review of each of these; note that all of these have the drawback of increasing travel times by a minute or two. Click on each station name to see a Google map of the approximate location.
1. MLK & Graham St.– This station would plug the biggest gap in the Rainier Valley segment and place virtually everyone within a half mile of a station, potentially allowing cutbacks in Metro service in this corridor. It would also serve a minor retail district, middle school, and in the long run probably allow MLK to become a solid line of dense development instead of islands around stations.
2. Boeing Access Road – Long mentioned and long lamented, BAR station actually has fairly low ridership estimates, as there’s almost nothing to walk to. Additionally, potential building heights are unimpressive because it’s at the foot of a runway. However, BAR is the only place for an intermodal Sounder/Link/Bus transfer point aside from King St; the connection would facilitate connections from the Green River Valley to the airport, provide a bypass of the Rainier Valley for Link riders from Federal Way, and possibly allow the truncation of bus service along I-5.
3. S. 133rd St. A station here would also break up the huge stop-less stretch between Rainier Beach and TIB. It provides a superior transfer point to get I-5 buses like the 150 off the freeway before they enter town. However, there is no Sounder connection. Since it’s in Tukwila, this station would have to be paid for by South King funds, which might otherwise be used to extend the line another stop.
4. Broad Street Sounder. A station on the Belltown end of downtown would improve anemic ridership on North Sounder by providing better connections to jobs in Seattle Center, SLU, and Belltown. It’s not entirely clear that the logistics of terminating South Sounder here work out, but if they did that would be an additional bonus. One drawback is that fixing the street grid could be messy and expensive.
5. Ballard Sounderwould bring Sound Transit service to an otherwise ignored quadrant of the City. It would provide a traffic-independent means downtown and boost ridership on North Sounder. However, the tracks run well away from the population and business centers, hurting ridership. Furthermore, this station would credibly require North King operating funds to contribute to North Sounder operations, which is a either a feature or a bug depending on what else is going on.
Puyallup is the only city in the region, aside from Seattle and Tacoma, that has two designated urban growth centers. One is the downtown area near the Sounder station, and the other around South Hill Mall. The city is in the early stages of connecting those two areas with a Bus Rapid Transit line, modeled on the Eugene’s EmX service.
It’s called EZRA (“Easy Rider Area”), named for Ezra Meeker, the 19th century founder and first mayor of Puyallup. The only online resources I’ve identified are the City website and a blurb in the Tacoma News-Tribune. See especially the pdf slideshow in the first link. I briefly chatted with Puyallup City Manager Gary McLean about the project.
The line’s proposed features, and its legal and funding status, are after the jump.
This is the sixth and final installment of my series on County Executive Kurt Triplett’s plan to solve a Metro budget crisis that now amounts to $501m over four years. The plan, when finalized in September, will serve as the basis of the budget the Council actually adopts in November, to be implemented beginning with the February 2010 service change.