Blogging in the Mayor’s Pajamas

Bloggers always hear jokes about mom’s basement and pajamas. Locally, some of that image is fading thanks to the great work of Publicola, West Seattle Blog, Capitol Hill Seattle, and others. Another sign of the times is that when Seattle’s Mayor feels like has to respond to critics on his 520 study, instead of sitting down with the Times, he blogs.

Maybe this will convince mom to get off my back.

[UPDATE from Martin: the most interesting thing to me in the Mayor’s blog post is the proposal to save money by building only four lanes between Montlake and I-5.    While that would be terrible for 545 riders, for those heading to UW (or using Link to get downtown), there shouldn’t be that much impact.  Judging from the cost maps for Option A+ and the four-lane rebuild, this would save at least $150m and potentially much more.]

520 Rail Advocates Should Forget the Pontoons

Additional pontoons for light rail in orange.

WSDOT has (basically) responded to McGinn’s report concerning the feasibility of light rail across the new bridge 520. McGinn’s report showed that unless the current design is modified, light rail will probably never be feasible across the bridge, but WSDOT says that light rail is possible across the span:

Will the new SR 520 floating bridge be able to accommodate light rail?

Yes. WSDOT engineers have designed the new SR 520 floating bridge so that additional supplemental pontoons could be added in the future to support the weight of light rail.

That response really seems, well, not true. The opening “yes” has little to do with the rest of the statement, because even without changes to the pontoons, the current design will effectively preclude light rail. (That’s the difference between “physically being able to carry trains” and “accommodating light rail.”) Additional pontoons are just one issue that McGinn’s report called out; it also spoke to two other concerns that would be significantly harder to accomplish with a retrofit. As we wrote earlier this week:

  • The west approach (meaning through the arboretum) would have to be at least 10 feet wider than the current A+ alternative to accommodate light rail without having to significantly modify the structure later.
  • Through the arboretum, the bridge must be wider (or have a gap) to allow light rail to enter and exit the center HOV lanes and diverge from the freeway.

While these changes would be difficult to add during a retrofit, we have no clue how much they would cost to accomplish if we do things “right” from the beginning. The difference is important: if voters choose to put light rail across 520 and the only marginal cost is adding more pontoons and installing rail infrastructure, we could be save hundreds of millions of dollars compared to retrofitting more difficult design changes. The cost and disruption would be so great that a retrofit of these changes is practically infeasible, meaning that light rail would never cross 520 even if all of the transportation experts said it should. (Which is a big assumption, since right now no single 520 alignment looks very useful.)

More after the jump…

Continue reading “520 Rail Advocates Should Forget the Pontoons”

ST Capital Committee Recommends B2M & C9T

As we predicted, the Sound Transit Capital Committee made a recommendation of B2 modified and C9T for the preferred alternatives earlier today.  Bear in mind that this is a mere recommendation and that the ST Board will make its official decision later this year.  For those unfamiliar with the East Link alignments, B2 runs up straight up 112th Ave SE as opposed to B3 (the original preferred alternative), which curves away from Surrey Downs and back west on Main Street.  C9T is the newest tunnel option that we’ve been covering.  We’ll have a more detailed break-down later.

[UPDATE 4:23pm] An alternative recommendation of C11A for the downtown segment was also made.

The Bus Bunching Mystery

'Metro Route 7' by Oran

Bus bunching is something that’s often mentioned as a problem spot for bus reliability and particularly frustrating when riders have to wait 20 minutes longer than expected only to find two buses rumbling along one after the other.  As it turns out, however, bunching isn’t some systematic anomaly that no one has the answer to.  While there are a lot of factors that end up fluctating actual headways (as opposed to scheduled headways), late buses only exacerbate tardiness, therefore resulting in bunching.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “The Bus Bunching Mystery”

“Will”, “Should,” and 520

520 Bridge under construction, 1962 (wikimedia)

While agreeing with almost all of Ben’s post on 520, I’d like to make a subtle distinction about what I think should happen, as opposed to what will.

I agree that it is extremely unlikely the State will modify the bridge to easily accommodate light rail, as that would cost more than $400m and introduce some project delay. I agree that 520 is not a particularly high priority for rail and probably isn’t even in the cards for ST3. And I agree that in the abstract a Sand Point/Kirkland alignment is superior to one over 520, although I’d add several more shades of uncertainty on that point in the absence of any serious engineering analysis on either corridor.

Given that uncertainty, it would certainly be nice if we preserved the option of going over 520. The question is how much that is worth. I’ll leave comment on how McGinn is or is not damaging his relationship with Olympia to the political hacks. From a pure resource-allocation perspective, it’s really a question of where the hundreds of millions come from, and how much of it must be done during the bridge’s construction.

If it comes from the gas tax kitty for the bridge, then that’s great; taking gas tax revenue reduces the pernicious things the State can do with it.  If it’s coming from somewhere else (a TBD, tolling, or anything else that could be used for transit) I’d agree with Ben that there are other priorities that are more important on both the East and West side, especially since we may not need that investment after all.  Similarly, if most of the required changes can be deferred to the moment of rail construction, and the immediate needs are relatively inexpensive, then the core objection that the bridge is not rail-ready is a stronger one.

I don’t think Mayor McGinn’s planning has advanced to the point of seriously looking at immediate costs and revenue sources, but they are crucial to the validity of his points.

News Roundup: Mainly PubliCola

photo by papahazama

This is an open thread.

Rethinking Station Access (I)

"Where's Mt. Baker TC?", by Oran

An important part of Seattle’s decision to not build park-and-rides near most Link stations was the idea that people could take walk, bike, or take the bus to the train.  Indeed, one frequent criticism of Metro is that bus connections are not good enough.  Although Link is usually the better option if you’re actually at the station, close examination of transit options indicates that at the close-in stations if you’re already on the bus, the transfer generally doesn’t pay if you’re headed for the downtown core.

To reach Rainier Beach Station, riders may take the 106.  Simply remaining on the bus will get you downtown in about 38 minutes in the morning rush.  Link takes about 23 minutes for the same trip, so it will get you to work a bit faster, even when you factor in crossing a couple of streets and waiting an average of 4 minutes for a train.

At Columbia City, the 39 is your downtown-bound bus option.  Incredibly, the station is not a timepoint (!), but it’s about 26 minutes to University Street, vs. 16 minutes for Link.  However, in the peak, almost anyone on the 39 for any significant length of time can also choose the 34, which is 11 minutes faster to University Street,  beating 39+Link.  Off peak, the train is either better or a wash, but the 39’s headways are pretty awful.  The 42 is 20 minutes to the ID vs. 12 for Link. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Rethinking Station Access (I)”

McGinn Study Details Issues With 520 Light Rail

A slide from the presentation: "further study" means either bus or rail.

Today, the Mayor has released the report his office commissioned with Nelson/Nygaard to determine the feasibility of light rail on 520. This study was reportedly presented to the Mayor’s office last week, but its release was delayed until today. It’s finally come with a blog post from the Mayor, essentially framing it in the most positive tone possible.

The obstacles the report highlights are similar to what we’ve discussed here in comment threads:

  • The pontoons would have to be designed to accommodate the weight of trains, and are not.
  • The west approach (meaning through the arboretum) would have to be at least 10 feet wider than the current A+ alternative to accommodate light rail without having to significantly modify the structure later.
  • Through the arboretum, the bridge must be wider (or have a gap) to allow light rail to enter and exit the center HOV lanes and diverge from the freeway.
  • From there are four choices for getting from 520 to the University – a flyover bridge starting out in the middle of the arboretum, a low level bridge along the east edge of the Montlake Cut, a tunnel underneath the Cut, or a surface option along Montlake Boulevard.

Our analysis after the jump:
Continue reading “McGinn Study Details Issues With 520 Light Rail”

ST wants Input on Fare Change Proposals

ST Express Proposed Changes
The three-zone structure will be reduced to two with an inter-county provision.

Last month, we told you about Sound Transit’s proposed fare changes, which involves a simplifying the fare structure from sub-area zones to county zones. Along with changes for ST Express fares, Link fares will rise by a quarter for adults and will also see a more simplified structure beginning June, 2011. The agency wants to collect public comments regarding the matter to help direct the next course of action.

From the press release (PDF):

The proposal is two-phased, with one set of changes in June 2010 and another in June 2011. Sound Transit will host a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed changes April 22 from 12 – 12:30 p.m. People can also e-mail comments to STfarecomment@soundtransit.org or send them by mail to Sound Transit, Fare Proposals, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104. All written comments must be received by April 22nd.

You can find more information from the proposal draft here (PDF).

Second to Last Step for First Hill Streetcar Alignment

Update @ 5:20pm: Slog is hosting the letter that the Mayor sent to the City Council.

The Mayor’s office just sent out a press release announcing that he is asking the City Council to approve the two-way Broadway alignment. This is the recommendation made by SDOT. This isn’t a surprise but what caught my eye were a few details that I have bolded.

… There are many advantages to the recommended route. The Broadway/Jackson route is estimated to cost approximately $125 million, comfortably within the maximum Sound Transit funding limit of $132.8 million, and will provide an efficient and accessible new transit option.  The route also presents opportunities to rethink the Broadway streetscape in ways that support walking, biking and riding transit. In the Chinatown/International District, the Jackson Street route and the Pioneer Square loop integrate well with other transit and connect First Hill and Capitol Hill to this historic district and the adjacent stadium district.

The mayor is committed to developing plans to address the key transit issues that stakeholders identified throughout this process, including:

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

All of this bodes well, although certainly doesn’t ensure anything.

Obama’s Three Narratives

I. Yesterday was the day that the EPA issued new vehicle emission rules that will raise mileage standards across the board in the United States. Obama announced the plan early in his administration, and it was spurred on by governors from various states, including our own Christine Gregoire. No foolin’.

II. The day before, Obama announced the government would make much of the east coast available for off-shore oil exploration and drilling. He said during his announcement: “But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term.”

III. The week before that, the Obama administration said it remains firmly opposed to a gasoline tax increase to fund the next federal transportation bill, even though many point out an increase could reduce emissions and raise substantial revenues.

CT Service Cuts Now Final

"CT Layover Site", by Oran

The Community Transit board, having not been given additional funding flexibility by the State, finalized their draconian June service cut, eliminating all Sunday service and making deep reductions in weekday and Saturday service.  They did approve the late proposal to modify routes 247 and 277 to keep some service in Stanwood and Gold Bar.

CT’s webpage on the changes is here.

City to Develop Transit Master Plan

Eastlake bus stop. Photo by flickr user photocoyote.

Central District News is reporting, in an impressive scoop, that the city is developing a transit master plan, in the model of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian master plans. They quote the mayor’s office:

The new Transit Master Plan, which we expect to begin developing within the next few months, is envisioned to serve as a blueprint for transit investments in the same way that the recently adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans are guiding the development of improvement to help make biking and walking easier in Seattle.

Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan outlined the broad goals of the transit master plan to the neighborhood blog:

  • Develop transit service and capital investment priorities and recommendations
  • Make commitments to provide minimum levels of speed and reliability for high-ridership transit routes
  • Identify minimum service frequencies and span of service for high-ridership routes
  • Generate more transit funding to support growth in Seattle and the region
  • Improve coordination with Metro and Sound Transit planning activities
  • Include a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transit vehicles

When asked about how much public feedback would be incorporated into the plan, Sheridan told us that “public involvement is absolutely needed” to shape the plan.”

“There will also be an advisory committee supporting the work made up of members of the public,” Sheridan said. “However, full details concerning these elements have not yet been worked out.”

The plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011.

Whatcom Campaign: “Preserve Our Public Transit”

Whatcom Transportation Authority is trying to save their transit service.

In the last year, they’ve been forced to cut $2 million in service – and they’re looking at another $4 million in cuts next year, including most evening and all Sunday service. That cut would be devastating – WTA had the highest percentage ridership increase of any agency in the nation in 2008, with 32% more riders – Whatcom County has a huge number of transit dependent rural, fixed-income, and student residents.

Whatcom’s GO lines have only recently started offering 15 minute service – the agency has been trying very hard to provide services that let people actually live without a car, and now they’re one of the hardest hit by the recession. A sales tax increase is their only option to raise more revenue, and it’s a hard sell.

If you want to help them out, have a look at Transportation Choices Coalition’s post about the campaign. I don’t know if we have many readers from up that way, but if you have friends at Western, this would be a great thing to call them about.

Council 520 Study: No Great Options

Yesterday, the city council released the executive summary from its 520 replacement study. The conclusion? Basically, there aren’t any options on the table that meet all of the councils goals effectively, but the city council could pursue some changes on the margins. Publicola reports:

In addition to suggesting that the city council push for higher occupancy minimums for HOV lanes and continue to work with the legislature for more transit on the bridge, the council’s report recommended that the state reduce the size of the Montlake Interchange on the Seattle side of the bridge; ditch a proposed seventh lane over Portage Bay, instead using bridge shoulders for merging and I-5 exiting; and working to reduce the impact of traffic on the environmentally sensitive Arboretum.

The Times also has a nice break-down of the report.

In related news, the Mayor’s office was planning on releasing its report about light rail over the new SR-520 span but now they’re planning on “putting it out early next week,” according to Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for McGinn.

Metro Puts Data for Developers Online

Screenshot-01
One Bus Away is powered by Metro's GTFS feed.

King County Metro has posted a data file that defines all of its routing and scheduling information to its servers for anyone to access.

The data is in the GTFS format, which stands for Google Transit Feed Specification. This feed powers Google Maps’ transit directions and third-party services like One Bus Away. Transit agencies across the world are exporting their data to the de facto industry-standard format, so some applications based around GTFS that are built for Portland’s data, for example, could also work for Seattle depending on the context.

“King County is home to some of the best and brightest tech minds in the world, and we want to tap into their ingenuity,” said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. “Our customers love the apps that are already out there for their phones and computers, and we think there is a lot of potential to create more.”

Metro began opening up the feed late last year, but this is the first time that anyone can access the data without first contacting the bus agency. Developers can access the data file directly online, but must agree to King County’s terms of use. Notably, the terms do not prevent developers from profiting from their use of the data.

Most transit agencies do not post their feeds directly online, and Metro is taking a progressive step that should be applauded.

A Confession

Over the last few years, STB grown into a pretty significant site, and an essential source for people interested in transit in the Puget Sound region.  Now that the site’s credibility is well established, it’s time to come clean.

The actual author of this site is me, Joey DiCarlo, pictured at right.  I’m a Greenwood resident and a student at Ingraham High School.  The STB bylines you’ve seen here for years have been carefully constructed identities.

And what a lot of effort it’s been!  Maintaining several different email addresses, keeping track of which “writers” cover which issues, trying to develop a unique style for each… probably the hardest part was getting some of my father’s friends and coworkers to play the roles of the STB staff for the meetups and provide photos for the About Us page.

In retrospect, I don’t think all my characters were that successful.  I ran out of stuff for Andrew to write and had to “retire” him.  John and Martin sort of sounded alike.  Ben was sometimes a bit over the top, and I never found much occasion to use Oran or Eric’s voice.

Why go through all that trouble?  It’s hard to get taken seriously when you’re  a 15-year old high school student blogging out of your parents’ basement.  And being known as the author of a serious blog can complicate the social life of a teenager.  But now, it’s time to end the facade.  I think I’ve proven my credentials with my body of work on this site; I hope you’ll stay with us me as I continue to advocate for improved public transit in Seattle.

News Roundup: 82% of U.S. Wants More Transit

This is an open thread.