Get on the battery bus: King County leads way with $90M+ plan for new electric buses

(Image: King County)

(Image: King County)

You likely won’t see one regularly crossing Capitol Hill until 2020 but King County Metro is accelerating its efforts to reduce emissions and become a carbon neutral system with a $90 million-plus plan to add more than 100 battery-only electric buses to its fleet.

“This puts us in on the forefront of innovation and technology,” King County Council member Rod Dembowski said. “We were innovators in wheelchair lifts. We were innovators in hybrid electric. Transit agencies look to us for what they’re going to adopt.”

“We are signaling that is is proven technology,” the county District 1 rep tells CHS. Continue reading

Unofficially, 3,000-plus daily First Hill Streetcar riders

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The trams aren’t as full as they were during the free preview days like this scene from January but, unofficially, First Hill Streetcar ridership is right on track (Image: CHS)

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-1-49-08-pmAs CHS broke the news about the First Hill Streetcar’s extension plans being put on hold by the city, here is a look at just how many people are riding the 2.5-mile line every day.

Data provided by the Seattle Department of Transportation shows that the streetcar line served more than 3,300 riders daily in October and that ridership appeared to have been slowly climbing since the streetcar’s early 2016 start of service. In addition to the many delays in beginning service on the route, SDOT had to tackle a bug with its automated passenger counters that left the department without access to the information. Continue reading

Starting in 2017, the 8 won’t be (as?) late thanks to changes on Denny and Capitol Hill

route-8-improvements-diagramThe notoriously undependable but much-depended on Metro 8 might be a little more trustworthy thanks to changes planned on Denny Way including two stretches of bus-only lanes and improved bus stops on Capitol Hill segments of its route.

“Though reliability increased when Route 8 was divided into two separate routes in March 2016, late buses are still a problem, especially during rush hour and major events at the Seattle Center,” the agency said in its announcement of the planned streamlining.

On Capitol Hill, Metro announced that “on-street parking will be restricted on short sections of Denny Way, Olive Way, East John Street, and East Thomas Street” and two bus stops on E Olive Way and E John will be expanded “so buses don’t have to leave and re-enter heavy traffic, and to provide more space and amenities for waiting passengers.” Continue reading

Motör wants to be Seattle’s super local, safe take on ride-hailing apps

Motör drivers are just like you and me (Image: Motör)

Motör drivers are just like you and me (Image: Motör)

Need a ride to get around Capitol Hill tonight? The creator of Motör has lived in Seattle his entire life and wanted to create a rideshare that allows his community to get to where they’re going efficiently, safely, and affordably.

Sotirios Rebelos comes from a long line of cab drivers. Both of his parents met while driving cabs in downtown Seattle at the Elephant Car Wash. When he read on a community Facebook thread that service industry workers didn’t feel safe walking home at night after their shifts, he decided to do something about it.

“We are drivers, not an app,” Rebelos said.  “The app is secondary. We’re not trying to upscale and dominate globally, we are just trying to give rides to the neighborhood and we need an app to do it.” Continue reading

Microsoft running larger employee shuttles more often through Capitol Hill amid increased demand

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

At least 31 passenger buses roll through three Capitol Hill stops every day, but they don’t belong to King County Metro or Sound Transit.

The Microsoft Connector, which shuttles full-time employees from Seattle to the company’s campus in Redmond and offices in Bellevue, has recently stepped up its central city service frequency and bus size across Capitol Hill due to increased demand, the company says.

Launched in 2007, Microsoft’s Capitol Hill shuttles were recently replaced with larger buses, but the company would not say how many employees on average use the service, only that its fleet of buses can carry more than 7,000 passengers. On some routes like the 12 on 19th Ave E, it appears the corporate perk far outperforms public transit in terms of ridership.
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First look at how light rail, route revisions have changed Capitol Hill bus ridership

Over the weekend, CHS’s Re:Take history series took a look back at some of the lost bus routes of Capitol Hill. We don’t have to look back far in time to find the changes. Late last year, Metro planned out a wave of revisions and reroutes to optimize its service around the opening of light rail service to Capitol Hill Station and UW.

Now, the Seattle Transit Blog has provided the first look at how ridership on the altered bus lines has changed in the first months as ridership on light rail has soared.

STB grouped the impacted Capitol Hill routes into a set of winners…

  • Route 11: up 38% — The #11 is likely absorbing demand on Pine Street east of Broadway for former Route 10 riders unwilling to walk to Link. Continue reading

Why Sound Transit is not rolling out more 3-car light rail trains

Southbound trips

Northbound tripsSound Transit may consider it an encouraging problem to have that the chief complaint among riders of its recently expanded light rail system is that trains are sometimes overcrowded. During last week’s Sound Transit board meeting, members asked transit officials to respond to public demand for more capacity and explain why more three-car trains are not running on the mostly two-car system.

It turns out that even with the huge boost in ridership since the Capitol Hill and UW stations opened in March, Link light rail is still well within its capacity on most trips.

“We cannot guarantee that everyone will have a seat during peak hours, nor was that how the system was designed or funded,” said David Huffaker, Sound Transit’s deputy executive director of operations. Continue reading

$2.65M deal for affordable housing site puts Capitol Hill Station development in motion — UPDATE

Early concept of the development coming to "Site B North"

Early concept of the development coming to “Site B North”

Sound Transit is finally ready to sell off the first of five properties surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail station that will transform Broadway and serve as a new gateway to Capitol Hill.

The board is expected to approve the $2.65 million sale (PDF) of Site B-North to developer Gerding Edlen during its Thursday afternoon meeting. The Portland-based developer previously selected Capitol Hill Housing to develop and own an 86-unit affordable housing project on the site, which runs along 10th Ave between John and Denny Way.

UPDATE (4:35 PM): Sound Transit board members approved the Site B-North sale agreement during their Thursday afternoon meeting. Despite a Sound Transit staffer reminding the board the action was “a very, very big deal,” the approval was rather unceremonious as one member had to be pulled in from the hallway to make a quorum for the quick vote. There was no board discussion of the measure.

“The Capitol Hill community has repeatedly and strongly expressed its desire for affordable housing,” said Brie Gyncild, co-chair of the Capitol Hill Champion community group. “We need truly affordable housing as soon as possible and we near it near the light rail station.”

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(Image: Gerding Edlen)

According to Gerding’s winning proposal, half of Site B-North’s units will be restricted to households making no more than 30% of the area median income. The other half will be made affordable to households at or below 60% of AMI. A quarter of the units will have two or three bedrooms. Initial plans call for a community center and a daycare, as well as a rooftop deck and computer lab.

The $2.65 million price tag for the “transit orientated development” “Site B North” comes just under Sound Transit’s estimated price last year. A substantial percentage of the proceeds will go towards paying back federal transportation grants that were secured for the project.

In August, the board is expected to approve land leases for three other sites so Gerding Edlen can move forward with its plan to build 100,000 square feet of commercial, housing, and community space. Seattle Central College has been given a right of first refusal to develop a fifth parcel, Site D, due to the site’s location directly next to the school’s Broadway promenade.  Continue reading

Bus Rapid Transit: Weigh in on Madison’s new station and road designs

BRT-Update-12-18-15The framework may already be set for a new 11-stop “bus rapid transit” line along Madison, but you can still have a say on the interior design.

Stretching from 1st Ave downtown to MLK Way in Madison Valley, the future Madison BRT will travel in a dedicated center lane with island stops from 9th Ave to 14th Ave while the rest of the route will either run curbside with right-turning traffic or in mixed traffic. Within that outline there are still some decisions to be made.

City planners are holding three community meetings around Capitol Hill in August to show off the latest BRT designs and to take public feedback on the project. Seattle Department of Transportation officials are specifically looking for feedback on updated station and roadway designs, which will be unveiled at the first meeting:

  • Wednesday, August 3rd, 5 – 7 PM
    Seattle University, Campion Ballroom, 914 E Jefferson St
  • Thursday, August 4th, 11 AM – 1 PM
    Town Hall Seattle, Downstairs, 1119 8th Ave
  • Tuesday, August 9th, 5 – 7 PM
    Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA, 1700 23rd Ave
  • You can also submit comments online by emailing MadisonBRT@seattle.gov.

“In 2015 we sought feedback on which blocks the stations should be at, and now we’re narrowing it down to exact location within the identified blocks and how riders will access the stations,” said SDOT spokesperson Emily Reardon. Continue reading

City: Thousands of Seattle drivers ditched own vehicles for car share

Three Car2Go cars ready to go

Thousands of Seattle drivers turned in their private vehicles for a Car2Go membership in 2015, a trend poised to continue in 2016 as a new provider gears up for service in the city.

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, 14% of Car2Go members gave up a private vehicle in 2015. Half of those said the availability of free floating car share was part of the reason. That translates to roughly 9,100 private vehicles let go by car share users in 2015, with around 4,500 dropped because owners had access to the Daimler AG-backed service.

The data is also a good sign for BMW, which is nearly ready to launch its re-booted car sharing service in Seattle. BMW is expected to officially launch the Car2Go competitor here soon with testing of the all-electric i3 fleet already underway. UPDATE: BMW also uses non-electric Mini vehicles in its car share fleet, which have recently been spotted around Seattle.

Meanwhile, City Hall has also rolled out a Drive Clean Seattle initiative to improve infrastructure for electric vehicle and electrify the city’s own vehicle fleet.

BMW’s preparations come a year after the Seattle City Council voted to allow three more free-floating car share vendors to join Car2Go. Car2Go currently has 750 vehicles permitted for its service — the maximum allowed by the City for an individual provider. With four vendors, that means Seattle could have up to 3,000 free-floating cars on the road. Continue reading

Sound Transit 3: Big, long, Ballard by 2038

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

2016_0324_ST3_DraftPlan_BoardhandoutIt’s finally here: the Sound Transit 3 draft proposal (PDF) for how to extend and complete the agency’s regional light rail network, a $50 billion package which will be put before voters in the fall of this year. Seattle’s transit wonks will be tearing every piece of the proposal apart in the coming days, weeks, and months, but for now, here are the basics.

It’s big. Really big. As local transit advocates had hoped in the build up to yesterday’s unveiling, Sound Transit decided to go all-in with package to build out light rail lines north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and Issaquah, and highly anticipated lines to West Seattle and Ballard.

And it’s long. Really long. Timelines call light rail to West Seattle in 2033 — and then, five years, later, light rail to Ballard.

The plans will require digging a new transit tunnel under downtown and a total of 108 miles of new light rail track.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 6.45.47 AM

There’s no “Metro 8 Subway,” a proposed line running between south lake union and the future Judkins Park station in the Central District (mimicking the Metro 8 bus route); an unlikely investment—it wasn’t even a candidate project or potential investment study—that Seattle subway had been pushing for.

In addition to the new light rail lines, the package also includes a variety of bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects—BRT lines on I-405 and SR 522, capital improvements to Metro’s existing C and D Rapid Ride lines, and potentially using highway shoulders for buses during peak congestion hours on the likes of I-5 and I-405—as well as three studies of potential future investment including light rail lines from Ballard to the University District, West Seattle to Burien, and further north to Everett Community college. The Seattle Transit Blog has a detailed, full run-down here on the package and all its non-light rail elements, like Sound Transit’s proposed utilization of their surplus property for transit-oriented, affordable housing development.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project, by the way, won’t be part of ST3’s funding — the city will now have to turn to the feds or beg from the state legislature to power that plan to overhaul Madison from downtown to the Central District. Continue reading

As City Hall considers bike share bailout, Seattle car sharing ready to expand

As a Car2Go competitor makes ready to make its move in Seattle, the City Council could be ready to rescue Seattle’s bike share system and put Pronto on track for an expansion in 2017 with a committee vote on Friday.

A year after the Seattle City Council voted to allow three more “free-floating car share” vendors to join Car2Go, a BMW-backed competitor to Daimler AG’s Car2Go service is preparing to launch in Seattle after folding operations in San Francisco last year.

(Image: DriveNow)

(Image: DriveNow)

CHS has learned DriveNow has started hiring for its Seattle operations and is in the midst of setting up a downtown office. DriveNow’s all-electric BMW i3s were also spotted driving around Belltown this week. According to SDOT, DriveNow has not yet filed for a special parking permit that would allow drivers to park cars without paying street meters — a key component to free-floating car shares.

A spokesperson for DriveNow told CHS the company is “exploring the potential” of operating in a number of cities, but declined to comment on the recent hires or the cars seen in Seattle. DriveNow CEO Rich Steinberg previously said service would start in mid-2015.

Launched in Munich in 2011, DriveNow currently operates in several European cities. After its 2013 launch of U.S. operations in San Francisco, the company closed up shop last year citing insurmountable problems with the city’s parking regulations.

Bike bailout
Meanwhile back on two wheels, the city’s bike share plan appears to be to keep the system outside of the for-profit business sphere. Unless the City Council approves a $1.4 million rescue package for Pronto by March 30th, the system goes belly-up. Transportation committee members will once again be considering the deal during their Friday afternoon meeting.

UPDATE: Committee chair Mike O’Brien decided to delay a vote on the plan until early next month so council members could focus on gathering more information.

Continue reading