Seattle Subway: Build the Aurora Line

Aurora Line conceptual rendering (source: Seattle Subway)

Aurora represents an incredible opportunity for transit expansion.  The four urban villages north of the ship canal carry a massive capacity for recently upzoned density. The huge lots of big box stores that dot the landscape are a prime target for Transit Oriented Development. Grade separated transit will allow the street to feature wider sidewalks and fewer lanes.  The Aurora that can be is a place the Aurora that is wouldn’t even recognize.  

Transit on the Aurora corridor is already a huge success. Aurora carries over 32,500 daily riders in packed buses, including the E line, the busiest bus in the state.  It’s clear that even more people will choose transit when we add the speed, reliability, and comfort of Link to the equation.

Continue reading “Seattle Subway: Build the Aurora Line”

Private operators for some 520 routes?

92nd/Yarrow Point Freeway Station Platform

Great scoop from Mike Lindblom and Daniel Beekman in the Times:

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff is considering hiring private contractors to drive four Sound Transit Express routes between the Eastside and Seattle, prompting quick outrage from labor leaders who called the move a threat to existing union jobs.

A few quick thoughts. First, it’s amazing that once-beleaguered Metro is now the belle of the ball: everyone wants to buy bus service these days. Unfortunately for the agency their base capacity planning has not kept up. The proposal to haul coaches up to Kirkland every morning from a far-flung base doesn’t seem like a great idea, but Metro has limited supply and two customers (Sound Transit and SDOT) showing up with bags of cash so it’s not surprising they’re setting the terms and charging full price.

Second, I’ve seen people conflate this at times, but “private” does not automatically equal “nonunion.” As the Times article notes, Sound Transit contracts to Community Transit for some service, and CT in turn subcontracts to First Transit (using union drivers) for some routes.  The City of Seattle proposed using private shuttles recently, but the city council shot down the idea. 

Third, it would be a surprise if the winning bid ended up being a nonunion private company, as the ST board is full of elected officials who need union support. That said, the agency is always under the gun to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, so a little due diligence, even if it comes to nothing, might help on the political front. 

Finally, if Sound Transit does indeed have cash to throw around at buses, how about increasing the frequency of the 550, which currently goes to a sad 30 minutes after 7:30pm every day (and all day Sunday).  Trains with 10-minute (or better) headways will start running that route in just a couple of years, doesn’t it warrant more than half-hourly service today? Or consider the 512, which will (eventually) become a train as well? Is half-hourly on Sundays really the best we can do?

KIRO on ST3

Graham Johnson, KIRO:

Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.

That could rise even more, between about $500 million and $2 billion, if Sound Transit decides to enhance the routes beyond the basic alignment approved by voters.

“Tunnels are really more expensive, said Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s Executive Corridor Director for West Seattle and Ballard.

The costs of the representative alignment are creeping up.

The accompanying video segment is excellent as well. The content won’t be surprising to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s really well put together and does a good job of explaining the high-level tradeoffs.

Watching it I was struck by how far we’ve come as a region: zero minutes of airtime are given to light rail opponents. Everyone interviewed supports the project. 10 years ago this same piece would have had at least one person talking about how buses are better and light rail is a waste of money.

See also: Seattle Magazine touting the best neighborhoods near light rail. Remember when the Freeman-backed Bellevue City Council fought like hell to keep Link away? You don’t hear much about that anymore.

I-90 bridge’s Link retrofit almost finished

A worker inspects a reaction frame inside a pontoon. Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit announced on Wednesday that construction crews are nearly done with their work retrofitting the I-90 bridge for East Link. Crews have worked for more than a year to post-tension the bridge’s pontoons.

ST reinforced the bridge to help it carry the load of Link’s tracks, overhead lines, and vehicles. The retrofit also improves the integrity of the bridge in heavy wind and an attendant storm surge, the likes of which sank the eastbound span in 1990.

All the Lake Washington floating bridges use a system of tensioned steel cables to hold the span in place. Construction crews installed additional cables in the pontoons of the I-90 span. The cables, which crews stressed and winched, pull the pontoons closer together, which creates greater load bearing capacity. Altogether, according to Sound Transit’s Zach Ambrose, “crews installed and stressed 1,080,000 feet of steel strand and applied 41,000 pounds of pressure.”

Steel cable and the frame that anchors it. Credit: Sound Transit

Giant steel structures, called reaction frames, anchor the new cables at both ends. They absorb the force from winching the steel cables, and whatever event that might stress the structure. Each of the ten reaction frames weigh about 17,500 pounds.

The structural work is finished. Crews are removing equipment from the pontoons and grouting the housing of the cables, to prevent water corrosion. After that work is done, construction of the guideway can start.

A diagram of the retrofit. Credit: Sound Transit

Link Advisory Group Reviews Chinatown, Sodo, Water Crossing Issues

The railroad stations and 4th Avenue viaduct from above. Credit: Bruce Englehardt

On Monday, the Sound Transit West Seattle and Ballard Link stakeholder advisory group, which includes transit advocates, prominent community members, and business and labor leaders, moved further along the process of selecting alignments and station locations for the West Seattle and Ballard light rail lines.

In Monday’s meeting in Union Station’s Sound Transit boardroom, agency staff briefed the group on siting and alignments in Sodo and Chinatown. They also briefed the group on water crossings at Salmon Bay and the mouth of the Duwamish river.

The advisory group will eventually pass recommendations to a subcommittee of the Sound Transit board, which in turn will recommend the ultimate preferred alternative to the board as a whole.

A breakout group at work. Credit: Peter Johnson

In breakout sessions conducted over pad thai, the advisory group discussed the alignment and station locations of the new West Seattle line’s Sodo station. The advisory group also discussed the location of the new Chinatown/ID station, which will have far-reaching impacts on the future of the light rail system.

The Chinatown station, and the segment of the new line closest to it, was the subject of intense discussion, with good reason. It’s the centerpiece of the project, and it could have the most disruptive construction impacts of any Link project so far.

Tough choices for Chinatown/ID station and alignment

Concept map of the alignments. Credit: Sound Transit

The future Chinatown station is one of the most critical elements of the new Link line. It will be the southern terminus of the new downtown tunnel, the site of hundreds of thousands of intra-Link transfers every day, and the light rail network’s busiest multimodal hub, with connections to Sounder, Amtrak, public and private buses, and the Seattle streetcar.

The station and alignment’s siting and design will have permanent impact on Link’s capacity, headways, and expansion potential. Sound Transit is committed to making the Chinatown station a central transfer hub, so it has to be built adjacent to the existing Chinatown/International District Link stop next to Union Station.

Construction in Chinatown and Pioneer Square is complicated. Much of the area is infilled tideland, which would liquefy during an earthquake. Liquefaction aside, the loose soil requires deep foundations for newer construction, and would force Sound Transit to make a deep bore tunnel even deeper than in most areas of the city.

Plus, many of the buildings in the area are built on pilings, since the neighborhoods are the city’s oldest. Those pilings could be obstacles for any alignment, and might not be replaceable with a new foundation. Demolition isn’t a way out of that problem: a large slice of the area—and King Street and Union Station themselves—are historic landmarks, or in historic districts.

4th Avenue vs. 5th Avenue

Sound Transit’s “representative alignment” is under 5th Avenue, with a station perpendicular to King and Jackson streets and parallel to the current Chinatown/ID station. During the first round of outreach with the Chinatown and Pioneer Square neighborhoods, there was strong demand for siting the line and station on 4th Avenue, or under Union Station. Continue reading “Link Advisory Group Reviews Chinatown, Sodo, Water Crossing Issues”

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

Continue reading “PSRC assigns federal funds to Link and four BRT projects”

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

Continue reading “What’s in the One Center City Action Plan”

Sound Transit to use PTC on all Sounder trips by December

Sounder South at Safeco Field. Credit: Andy Tucker

Sound Transit will implement positive train control (PTC) on all Sounder trips by the end of 2018, according to Sound Transit Director of Systems Engineering Peter Brown.

In a presentation to the Sound Transit board on Thursday, Brown summarized the progress of PTC implementation. In 2008, the federal government mandated that all commuter rail systems implement PTC on all trips by 2020, and show progress on implementation by the end of 2018. Sound Transit expects to beat the deadline by two years.

Continue reading “Sound Transit to use PTC on all Sounder trips by December”

Sound Transit Looking to Improve Passenger Information Systems

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In a Request for Proposals released April 13th, Sound Transit outlined a set of system upgrades for its passenger information systems (PIMS). The most visible component of these systems are the realtime arrival information for ST trains and buses, but they also include backend systems that collect and process the data. This project has three major components: real-time prediction enhancements, better schedule integration, and cross mode messaging, integrating data from multiple transit modes into a single enterprise system. The contract will replace the Public Address system and the station Variable Message Signs currently in place for Link, Sounder and Tacoma Link. Bringing all of this data in to a single combined system may require new or augmented data collection equipment (e.g. tracking or passenger counters).

Passenger-facing improvements include provisions for communicating train size, passenger load, and out-of-service indicators, among a long list of other datapoints. Information would be displayed on station signage, the Sound Transit website, on One Bus Away, and in GTFS/R feeds that interface with third-party services such as Google Transit.

East Link’s budget already funds augmenting the current system to support multiple lines serving the same station. The current two-minute warning announcements would be modified to announce the train’s destination and line color. If the RFP failed for some reason, the existing project would still support multiple lines, while riders would not enjoy any benefits of a more modern information system.

Sound Transit notes that the current Link passenger information system is approaching the end of its life (though some readers may proclaim that has already passed). Replacing the entire PIMS is a disruptive task and Sound Transit has wisely identified that the best time to complete a major overhaul would be in conjunction with the opening of East Link, when major modifications would have been taking place anyways.

The project is backed by lifecycle replacement funds that periodically repair and replace aging equipment as well as a portion of ST3’s technological innovations budget. This RFP covers Link, Tacoma Link and Sounder. Future RFPs will bring ST Express and ST’s future BRT lines in to this system. The RFP boldly states that “multiple, unintegrated systems does not satisfy the [requirements],” but then admits that implementation may come in multiple phases, thus diluting–or at least postponing–the very goal this and the future RFP set out to achieve.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in 2019; proposers have been asked to offer implementation schedules that deliver benefits as early as realistically achievable. However, some aspects have hard deadlines to coincide with the launch of East Link service.

The full list of features the contract is looking to provide looks like it was lifted out of STB comment threads, and is listed after the break:

Continue reading “Sound Transit Looking to Improve Passenger Information Systems”

Can Sound Transit make room for a homeless shelter in Bellevue?

This concept design shows a reconfiguration of the TOD area to accommodate a shelter (in orange). (Image: Kevin Wallace)

Bellevue is planning a permanent men’s homeless shelter in the city. After a proposed location in the Eastgate area drew controversy, the City considered two alternative locations including one near the planned Sound Transit Link maintenance facility in the Bel-Red area. Sound Transit has opposed this because it is within an area to be marketed for TOD after it is no longer needed for construction staging.

With active construction already underway on East Link, Sound Transit claimed the dispute may imperil the East Link timeline if unresolved.

A nonprofit group, Congregations for the Homeless, has operated a shelter in Bellevue for several years. In recent years, it was in a Sound Transit owned building in Bed-Red that was no longer available once OMF-E construction commenced. More recently, they’ve operated out of a temporary facility on 116th. That building is substandard and cannot be operated year-round, adding to the urgency of a permanent site. For a while, the City appeared to have found a site at the County-owned Eastgate Public Health Center, across the street from the Eastgate park-and-ride. [This paragraph updated for clarity about the history of the CfH shelter in Bel-Red. Comment below]

The reaction of neighbors at Eastgate has been negative. Though not immediately adjacent to homes, Bellevue College is nearby and there are townhomes a few hundred feet away. In April, the Council approved a letter of agreement with the County to consider the Eastgate site, but also asked staff to study two other candidate locations including Bel-Red. This effectively deferred a Bellevue decision on the preferred location, while allowing work with partners to proceed at Eastgate.

Continue reading “Can Sound Transit make room for a homeless shelter in Bellevue?”

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.

A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?

Another initiative by Tim Eyman

Eighteen years ago, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman decimated funding for public transit with his first $30 car tab initiative, which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).

His latest initiative, I-947, once again proposes to replace the current MVET with a flat $30 car tab fee. The initiative is estimated to cost Sound Transit between $6.9 billion and $8.1 billion. By Permanent Defense’s count, this is Eyman’s sixth attempt to kill funding for transit.

Currently, car owners pay several different fees depending on where they live when renewing vehicle tabs. The Department of Licensing provides a calculator to estimate vehicle tab fees.

  • Everyone in the state pays a standard fee of $38.75 plus a weight fee which helps fund highway maintenance and construction projects, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington State Ferries.
  • Local jurisdictions have the option of charging car owners an additional fee by forming a transportation benefit district. These districts are allowed to collect up to $20 a year without voter approval, or up to $100 if approved by voters. Approximately 50 cities have established transportation benefit districts around the state. Seattle collects an $80 fee to expand bus services and distribute bus passes to middle and high school students through the Youth ORCA program.
  • Car owners living in the Sound Transit taxing district pay an additional fee. With the approval of the ST3 package, the MVET rate increased from 0.3% to 1.1% of the assessed value of the car.

If I-947 passes it would roll back the standard fee to $30 and eliminate all MVET. It would end weight fees imposed by the state government, transportation benefit districts fees and all car tab taxes helping to fund Sound Transit, according to the initiative’s website. Under the initiative, car owners would pay a $30 annual fee. Weight fees and TBDs could be restored by voter approval.

The initiative would also eliminate a 0.3% tax on retail car sales that funds the state’s multimodal account. This account provides grants for regional mobility, rural mobility, special needs, and vanpools.

Although I-947 eliminates the only MVET in the state, it also requires any future MVET to use the Kelley Blue Book value to compute the tax. As Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon explained on STB, this technique cannot be bonded against and effectively rules it out as a funding tool for major capital projects.

Continue reading “A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?”

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.

Continue reading “Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal”

A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement

I-90 Floating Bridge and Mercer Island (Image: Joe Wolf)

The Sound Transit Board approved a $10 million settlement agreement with Mercer Island after residents lost special access to Interstate 90 due to the expansion of light rail. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Sound Transit board member, cast the only dissenting vote during the board’s June 22 meeting.

“As a fiduciary of this organization I’m not going to be able to support this today,” Strickland said. “We have to look at things such as equity and fairness.”

“Some of this agreement does include the mitigations we would make, but it’s not a $2 million settlement, it’s not a $4 million settlement, it’s not a $6 million settlement, it’s a $10 million settlement,” she added. “In the world of Sound Transit maybe that’s budget dust, but we are setting a precedent. It’s not about the amount, it’s about setting a precedent, despite the fact that we, Sound Transit, keep winning in court.”

In February the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the town lost special access to I-90’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to make room for light rail. Mercer Island drivers would now have to abide by the HOV-2 standards. Mercer Island argued that a 1976 agreement provided them with lasting rights to HOV lanes, while WSDOT said that single-occupant vehicle (SOV) access to HOV lanes was intended to be temporary, and allowing continued SOV use of HOV lanes would violate federal law and jeopardize funding agreements.

Bellevue Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci defended the settlement, calling it fair, reasonable, and the board’s responsibility after conditions changed and Mercer Island was no longer able to retain the same access to I-90. Continue reading “A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement”

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.

Continue reading “SR520 Route Restructure Open House”

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.

Sound Transit Breaks Ground on East Link Construction

IMG_0394

On an overcast Friday afternoon at a gravel lot in downtown Bellevue, Sound Transit broke ground on the East Link light rail extension, bringing rail transit from Seattle to Overlake via Bellevue one step closer to realization.

The ceremony, attended by Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, current Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, former Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Mayor John Stokes of Bellevue, King County Council member and former Bellevue mayor Claudia Balducci, and other local politicians, was attended by a few dozen Sound Transit staff, contractors, and members of the public, who listened to a series of short speeches and enjoyed live music from the Mercer Island High School Jazz Band. Of note was the clever use of biodegradable chalk marking out the Sound Transit logo on the dirt that was dug up by dignitaries with their golden shovels for the actual groundbreaking.

Since it was approved as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot in 2008, East Link has been mired in setbacks and delays ranging from routing choices and station placements in Downtown Bellevue to lawsuits launched in opposition to the project by various groups. The $3.7 billion project, funded partially by a $1.7 billion federal loan, is scheduled to open in 2023 as the Blue Line and projected to carry 50,000 riders every weekday; end-to-end travel times between the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and Redmond Technology Center on the Microsoft campus is estimated at 29 minutes, which is as fast as existing bus service during the best of traffic conditions.

Some homes in the Surrey Downs area, near the future East Main Station at the south end of the Bellevue Tunnel, have already been demolished in preparation for the start of tunneling. Construction on the 1/3-mile tunnel through downtown Bellevue is scheduled to last well into 2020 and will be excavated conventionally by hand via the Sequential Excavation Method (SEM), a departure from tunnel-boring machines used on other Link tunnels. The Overlake and South Bellevue segments will both begin construction later this year. Other work in downtown Bellevue, including the construction of a station at Bellevue City Hall a block east of the transit center, will begin in mid-2017 at the same time as major work on the Bel-Red and Interstate 90 segments of the line, the latter of which includes retrofitting the Homer M. Hadley floating bridge and existing tunnels in Mount Baker and Mercer Island for light rail trains.

The Bellevue Tunnel segment of East Link is expected to play a large role in the proposed Sound Transit 3 expansion, with the possibility of trains from Seattle and Issaquah/Eastgate interlining through Downtown Bellevue before splitting off to serve Redmond and Kirkland. The proposed southern transfer between the lines has moved from Wilburton Station (near the Overlake Hospital east of downtown) to East Main Station, providing direct service from Issaquah to Downtown Bellevue but also inciting the wrath of nearby homeowners demanding less frequent trains. Even as East Link construction moves forward, there may be further changes afoot for the line in the near and (very) far future.

51 New Double Talls Coming to Puget Sound

Table 1: Quantity of Buses

51 new buses–with options of up to 92 more–are soon coming to the Puget Sound. Sound Transit recently released a Request for Proposals for a joint procurement of double deck transit buses. This joint procurement includes Sound Transit, who currently operates five double deck buses; Community Transit, who operates 45; and Kitsap Transit who evaluated one last year. Presumably Kitsap Transit’s testing went well, despite a driver’s inadvertent attempt to wedge it underneath the overhang at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal.

All three agencies have used the Alexander Dennis Enviro500, which is one of the few double deckers is currently able to meet the contract’s stipulation of the FTA’s “Buy America” regulations, stating that the vehicles must be assembled in the United States and be assembled with 60% domestic content.

Four of the vehicles being purchased by Sound Transit are funded with a Washington State Regional Mobility Grant, and the first 16 vehicles ordered by Sound Transit will hit the streets no later than July 1, 2017. Schedules for Community Transit and Kitsap Transit will depend on contract negotiations.

While the RFP does not specify which routes each agency plans to run them on, based on past usage they can be expected to run on commuter routes.

If you’re looking for some weekend reading, the 272 page RFP details nearly every aspect of every component of the vehicles.

ST3: Bus Rapid Transit on I-405

I-405 BRT Corridor Options

There has long been a regional consensus that I-405 Bus Rapid Transit would be a part of the ST3 program. But that general agreement has hidden a fuzziness about the form it would take. The December 4 workshop saw a range of options presented. The studies make a compelling case for a low-cost version of I-405 BRT, but complicate the case for doing much more. The eye-popping conclusion is that a range of investment levels between $340 million and $2.3 billion all produce the same ridership.

Staff presented “low capital” and “intensive capital” representative models. In between are a long list of a la carte options. There are two alternatives for a southern terminus; one at Angle Lake, the other at Burien TC. The “low capital” model leans heavily on existing infrastructure, and is less ambitious than any of the options examined in the previous set of studies in 2014.

Low Capital BRT

Staff analysis helpfully breaks out cost and performance by segment. Segment A, Lynnwood TC to Bellevue TC, is the most productive with up to 10,000 riders, about 60% of all the ridership on the BRT. 10 of the 19 miles are served via general purpose lanes on I-5 and I-405 (other than limited shoulder-running southbound on I-405). Only the portion between Brickyard and Bellevue can be served via HOT lanesSegment B, Bellevue to Renton, runs entirely in HOT lanes, but achieves fewer than 1,500 riders. That would include a deferred project to build HOV direct access ramps at N 8th St in Renton.

Beyond Renton, there is little new investment. Segment C, Renton to Tukwila International Boulevard Link Station, would run in HOT lanes on I-405 and general purpose lanes on SR 518, achieving a respectable 3,500 riders with little cost other than vehicles. From TIBS, the service could continue to Angle Lake via BAT lanes on SR 99 (Segment D1), or to Burien Transit Center via general purpose lanes on SR 518 (Segment D2).

The total capital cost under $350 million is modest for the ridership, mostly because the highway infrastructure is largely existing or funded through WSDOT. 28% of the cost is for parking.ST3_i405BRT_Elements2

Intensive Capital BRT

The ‘intensive capital’ option adds several stations and upgrades others. It eliminates much of the interaction with general purpose lanes via added ramps in the north and BAT lanes in the south.

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Kirkland’s BRT Design

CKC_BRT2
Kirkland’s preferred option for BRT on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor

Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.

Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.

The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions trails and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.
The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan has walk, bike, and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.

Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.

What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.

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