Published on by | Filed in Transit, Transportation

sound-transit-logoSound Transit released this month’s construction update for the University Link light rail extension, which is now over 90% complete! This is up from our last update in September when the project was only 87.2% complete. The University Link project remains ahead of schedule and under budget, and will be opening for service sometime in early 2016.

What to expect in the coming months:

  • At the Capitol Hill Station, the red wall will be removed creating a temporary reprieve from construction until the residential/commercial property development work begins in earnest; and
  • Restoration of Broadway and the Broadway Protected Bike Lane will begin.
Photo courtesy of SoundTransit, on Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Sound Transit, on Flickr.


Here’s where we’re at so far with project work:

UW Capitol Hill
Demolition 100% 100%
Station excavation 100% 100%
Tunnel construction – TBM mining 100% 100%
Tunnel construction – cross passage excavation and lining 100% 100%
Station construction 100% 81%
Power systems and track overall 62% 62% 62%
University Link Extension overall 91.6%

*As of December 2014

Data courtesy of Sound Transit.

For more information about the University Link light rail project which will bring Link light rail from Downtown to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington, check out the project site.

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Published on by | Filed in Cycling, Transportation


Roy Street today, behind the Seattle Center Parking Garage.

Roy Street serves as the main bike arterial between South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne, passing north of Seattle Center. As part of the Mercer Corridor Project, the street was changed from a wesbound one-way street to a two-way street. Buffered bike lanes were added on either side of the street during the process. The City of Seattle identifies the painted bike lanes as ideal in the Bike Master Plan, however with growing demand in that corridor, a protected bike lane should be added.

Roy Street is broken into two segments by Aurora Avenue (SR-99). The segment on the west side runs from Queen Anne Ave to 5th Ave and on the east side from Dexter Ave to Fairview Ave (also called Valley St in some places). These two segments have many differences, so the protected bike lane configuration would not be the same.

The proposal: existing or planned protected bike lanes in green, existing bike lanes that could become protected bike lanes in red.

Western Segment (Uptown, Queen Anne Ave to 5th Ave)

Since there is no on-street parking on the south side of the Roy Street, it would be easy to lay down a cycletrack along it. To do so, the westbound bike lane would need to be relocated from the north side of the street and incorporated into the cycletrack creating a two-way bike facility. Bollards added to the already-existing (though relocated) buffer would separate it from traffic. SDOT should place other safety devices like green paint at intersections and driveways, and post no-turn-on-red signs for vehicles headed eastbound on Roy St and northbound on side streets. These would ensure that drivers are aware of cyclists and stay out of the bike facilities. Given the layout of Roy St here, bike-specific signals are not necessarily warranted at this time as turning movements are limited, except at 5th Ave where the cycletrack would end anyway.

Eastern Segment (South Lake Union, Dexter Ave to Fairview Ave)

The eastern segment of Roy Street differs from the western segment in that the parking is present along the south side of the street instead of the north side. The street also crosses each direction of the South Lake Union Streetcar tracks at 45-degree angles along two intersections. Bikes must cross rail tracks at a right angle to prevent the rail from grabbing the tire and causing falls. Since parking is provided along the south side of the street, the cycletrack would be located on the north side. However, there still are a couple of obstacles to overcome.


On the east-west block from Terry Ave to Westlake Ave, there is a right-turn lane on the north side of the street, and between Boren Ave and Terry Ave there is a four-car passenger loading zone on the north side of the street. The right-turn lane would be relocated to the outside of the cycletrack, and turn movements at Westlake Ave would be restricted by the already-existing right turn signal. The cycletrack would need to curve into the passenger loading zone, perhaps reducing the capacity of it by two cars, but improving the safety significantly.

5th Avenue

Since Roy Street does not have a bridge over or under Aurora Avenue, bikes must head over to Mercer Street, a block south, to cross the busy highway. For bikes, the shift from Roy St to Mercer St is done via 5th Avenue. 5th Avenue would include bike lanes from Roy S to Mercer St, but then transition to a sidewalk-level cycletrack on the west side of the street. The Bike Master Plan identifies 5th Avenue as needing a protected bike lane up to Roy Street from Denny Way. However, the Mercer Corridor Project will likely only provide a painted bike lane.


If left as it is, the Mercer-to-Roy block will be one of the most confusing and least efficient bits of bike infrastructure around. Under the current configuration, a cyclist traveling northbound on the 5th Ave cycletrack would have a very challenging time trying turn left onto Roy St and head westbound. The reason for this is that SDOT will deploy a cycletrack on the west side of 5th Ave south of Mercer St, but north of this, regular bike lanes are on either side of the street. A cyclist in the cycletrack would be forced to to exit it at the intersection with Mercer St and enter a precarious confluence of conflicting traffic movements–all before crossing to north side of the street. But if that weren’t bad enough, a cyclist would again have to cross 5th Ave to make a left at the following light at Roy St. Zigzagging–and dangerously at that–will not be popular with regular cyclists.


All of this could be simplified. The City should shift the bike lanes on the 5th Avenue block between Roy and Mercer to the west side of the street. By doing so, continuous cycletracks would create a safe and simple solution for bikes.


On Roy Street west of Aurora Avenue, the bike lanes are moved to the south side of the street into a protected bike lane, from Queen Anne Ave to 5th Ave (a total of seven blocks). On the part east of Aurora Ave (Valley Street in some places), the bike lanes are moved to a protected bike lane on the north side of the street from Dexter Ave to Fairview Ave (a total of six block). On 5th Ave between Mercer St and Roy St (one block), the bike lanes get moved to the west side of the street, lining up with the other block of protected bike lane from Mercer St to Republican St.


The  city’s bike network would see 14 blocks (nearly a mile) of added protected bike lanes under this proposal. While this may seem small, it would be a huge boon for cyclists who want to travel cross-town or access other key facilities of the wider bike network. But it’s more than just convenience and connectivity, it’s a seamless set of facilities that would serve all ages and abilities; a big change from the current arrangement, which is less safe and more geared toward vehicular cyclists.
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Published on by | Filed in Carsharing and Ridesharing, Technology, Transit, Transportation

IMG_1624The Transit App just keeps getting better and better. Yesterday, software engineers behind the app enthusiastically announced the roll out of a new transportation service to the app with the introduction of Car2Go. As a carshare service, Car2Go has become wildly popular with over 59,000 registered users in the Seattle area. Naturally, the carshare service has also become a staple in their daily and weekly transportation mix. So, it makes sense to have Car2Go as one tool in the transportation app toolbox.

Car2Go joins a growing list of supported non-transit transportation services like bikeshare and rideshare (where available). In December, Transit App rolled out national coverage of Uber as their initial rideshare partner. And, throughout the summer, Transit App began a soft deployment of bikeshare integration with Pronto! going live locally in September. With addition of Car2Go to app, Seattle has become one of 9 metropolitan areas that utilizes the full suite of services from The Transit App.

Car2Go Integration

The new Car2Go feature works seamlessly within the existing user interface. Much like the bikeshare service, Car2Go is shown as baby blue dots–as opposed to green dots–when zoomed out. As you zoom in, small baby blue pin drops with car icons begin to appear. You can tap on any of these which will show a bubble identifying the carsharing service, how much fuel is in the vehicle, and the corresponding license plate number. By tapping the bubble, you will be given an option to reserve the vehicle or learn about Car2Go.

First time users of Car2Go on The Transit App must authorize the app before reserving. This can be done the same way as a normal reservation through the app, except that the user will be prompted for their screename and password. Once a vehicle is reserved, a checkmark appears on the pin to indicated the reservation. You can see a countdown timer to reservation expiration by tapping on the reserved vehicle. And, just like Car2Go’s native app, users can cancel any reservation that they don’t want. Simply tap on the reserved vehicle and choose the “cancel reservation” option.


If you’re hoping for other features that found in Car2Go’s native app like automatic door opening, you’re out of luck. But, you can swap to the Car2Go app on-the-fly and continue with your reservation. Another functional limitation with the Car2Go integration is trip planning. Under this initial release, it is not possible to estimate cost and time to destination like transit and Uber.

Other Changes

In addition to Car2Go integration, the revised app includes an updated widget and calendar/contacts support. Users of The Transit App can activate a widget in iOS Notifications screen to show the nearest transit lines and the next departure times. Uber is now added to the widget, but the occurrence from our experience is rare. The Transit App also features a handy search bar that allows you to see recent locations dropped or searched for, major destinations like Westlake Station, and all the transit lines in your region. The search bar will now support contacts to show their addresses and calendar events. By selecting a calendar event, you can plan your trip based upon the location and start time.

In order to activate all of these new features, you will need to download Version 3.4 to your mobile device.

Supported Puget Sound transportation services by The Transit App include: Sound Transit (buses, Link Light Rail, and Sounder), King County Metro Transit (buses, streetcars, and water taxis), Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit (buses and foot ferries), Intercity Transit, Washington State Ferries, Pronto! Cycle Share, Car2Go, and Uber. The Transit App also serves over 85 metropolitan areas in North America and Europe. 

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Published on by | Filed in Highways, Transportation

People keep asking “When will the SR-99 tunnel be complete?” It’s a great question because right now is seems more likely never. We thought the new tunnel would wrap up digging and open in late 2015. Then it got pushed back to 2016. And now it’s maybe August 2017 at the soonest, but even WSDOT doesn’t buy that.

Why the creeping schedule? Well there’s no certainty that Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the contractors leading this catastrophic project, will actually successfully dig down to the tunnel boring machine cutterhead and replace it by April. In spite of a sinking Pioneer Square, the contractors continue their effort to reach the cutterhead in earnest, dewatering the waterfront and Pioneer Square in the process. The excavation effort remains a mere 6 feet from the cutterhead, but as we have all observed, this project has lurched from one disaster to another usually without notice.

Even if STP does manage to daylight the cutterhead and boring machine, Bertha may be totally unfixable, end up in lengthy lawsuits, or breakdown again in Downtown. And then what?

Who could beat Bertha?

So while Bertha’s laying patiently in her lonely, cavernous tunnel, we thought it would be useful to entertain a thought exercise. How many times could you walk the length of Bertha’s alignment before she makes it to the North Portal? 

Trick question! An infinite amount of times. While we’re pretty certain that this tunnel project won’t be completed, we did run the numbers just for kicks and grins.

Let’s suppose that Bertha somehow makes it to Thomas Street by October 2016: a comparable walk would take an average of 44 minutes to go one way along a 2-mile corridor. We estimate that you could walk the length of Bertha’s alignment about 18,980 times*, or the equivalent of  37,960 miles, between now and then. With that amount of walking, you could go from one end of SR-99 to the other in Seattle 2,480 timestravel between Seattle and New York City 15.7 times, or go around the globe 1.5 times. You could even get nearly 1/5th of the way to the moonWalking.

Walking route in blue, Bertha's alignment in red.

Walking route in blue, Bertha’s alignment in red.

If somehow the SR-99 tunnel project reaches completion (and that’s a big “if”), we’re betting that it will be beat by an early opening of Northgate Link. Yes, that tunnel project is considerably longer: 5.2 miles longer** to be exact! And, it isn’t even slated to open until 2021. However, Sound Transit has oscillated from being ahead of schedule to just on-time with an exceptionally generous project float time. But word is that it could open as early as 2019. That’s how much more confidence we have in Sound Transit than WSDOT.

Why is that? The simple answer is that Sound Transit has a great track record of successfully delivering complicated tunneling projects on-time and under-budget. University Link is the poster child of good tunneling projects with opening of the line in the first quarter of 2016, a solid 6-8 months ahead of schedule. We expect the Northgate Link schedule to contract while the SR-99 tunneling project schedule will continue to balloon–until it’s ultimately cancelled.

So, keep walking folks. You’re faster than Bertha, and that’s saying a lot.

*Based upon 580 days to completion of tunnel boring in October 2016.
**The Northgate Link project involves twin-boring the length between Northgate and UW Station, a distance of 3.6 miles per tunnel.

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Published on by | Filed in Plans and Policy, Transit, Transportation

Spring St bus-only lane and queue jump.

Spring St bus-only lane and queue jump.

Traffic bound for Interstate 5, especially during rush hour, has long plagued transit riders heading from Downtown Seattle to First Hill and points east. Thanks to the passage of Proposition 1, which increased transit funding within the city of Seattle, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has finally revived their plans for improving transit reliability along the Spring Street corridor.

Starting this summer, SDOT will change the southern-most curb lane from general purpose traffic and parking into an exclusive, transit-only bus lane from 3rd Ave to 6th Ave in Downtown. In addition, SDOT will also install a queue jump traffic light which will enable buses to enter the intersection of Spring St, 6th Ave, and the southbound I-5 on-ramp before general traffic. This will allow buses like the King County Metro Route 2 to cross I-5 unimpeded. During the current afternoon rush-hour, it can take up to 15 minutes for transit to traverse this three-block section of Spring St.

SDOT will begin speaking to local stakeholders along Spring St on planned changes beginning in February. Lane striping and the queue jump light should be completed this summer.

While this change will be immediately beneficial to the King County Metro Route 2 bus and all of its daily riders, it also has the potential of positively affecting the Madison BRT bus line should the Madison St/Spring St couplet be chosen for the new BRT line.

A special thanks to all the folks who have been advocating for this transit improvement as well as the folks at SDOT.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the First Hill Improvement Association Board and sit on the Open Spaces and Transportation Working Groups.

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