Monorail Travel Time

Here is my correspondence with SMP staff regarding travel time.

First, my questions to them:

From: Mike Schuh
Sent: Monday, March 22, 2004 1:16 AM
To: Bob Derry
Subject: RE: monorail questions (fwd)

Hi Bob,

[Note to Larry Phillips staff: I am including your office because one of
my questions involves Metro property and I am in your district.]

Thank you for your reply to some of my questions several weeks ago.  As 
might have been predicted, your answers lead me to ask more questions.

Regarding using the Metro Transit Central and Ryerson Bases for the SMP 
operations and maintenance center, you wrote:

>1. The Metro property was rejected for a number of reasons. First,
>construction of the operations center would disrupt Metro's operations at
>the site for 12-24 months. We would have had to acquire and build out a
>temporary location for them in the area which might not have been
>feasible and would have been very expensive.

Somehow, WSDOT managed to build a set of freeway ramps above the base 
without doing these things.  Surely, SMP could do the same.  Unless you're 
in some kind of a hurry, that is.

Most of the land at the bases is used for storing buses.  So, rent the
(huge, empty) parking lots (in Interbay, coincidentally enough) just north
of Piers 90 & 91 during construction.  I suspect that sufficient land is
available elsewhere in the Industrial Area, including the Metro bases
themselves.  Not perfect, but doable.

Actually, I get the impression that SMP's leadership really, really wants
to do a deal with the Northwest Center folks, although I don't know why.

I mean, why not use the nearby vacant lots?  The National Guard property,
the abandoned buildings closer to Garfield St., the warehouse that
burned down a several months ago...  They've got to be cheaper than
destroying a sheltered workshop for the less fortunate.

>Second, we anticipate that our operations, maintenance, and
>administrative uses will consume the entire site.

The proposed footprint of the site in Interbay is *much* smaller than the
combined Metro bases.  Also, administrative offices can go elsewhere (or
above the "train" level - think vertically).

>Third, since our operations are so different there wouldn't be any shared
>use of facilities which might lead to operating efficiencies.

The monorail will be elevated, yes?  So build the operating and 
maintenance facility *ABOVE* the Metro bases!  Among other things, it will 
reduce weather exposure for the buses.  Heck, SMP might even be lauded for 
an innovative solution.

My suggestion was *NOT* prompted by any imagined efficiencies from
combined operations, but rather from concerns that the construction of a
*THIRD* major operations and maintenance base (Sound Transit's LINK light
rail base being the second) will consume yet more private land, removing
it from the rolls of tax producing property.  Do we have to do this?  I
don't think we need to.

I also received a response (dated December 30, 2003) from Jonathan Dong on
this question.  He gave two objections:

"LOCATION IS NOT ON THE GREEN LINE"  He stated that the Metro bases are
"not located directly on the Green Line".  I note that the Northwest
Center site isn't "directly" on the line, either.  Further, he points out
that the proposed route is along Third Avenue - which is all of about 100
yards from the Metro base on the east side of 4th Ave. South (by
comparison, the Northwest Center is also about 100 yards off of the
proposed alignment).  Finally, he mentions the station planned for east of
Safeco Field.  I presume that this station, which has been criticized as
unnecessary and too close to the King St. station, would get in the way of
an operations base.  This, of course, depends on how the two are sited.  I 
submit that, even with a station near Safeco Field, connections to an 
operating base east of Fourth Avenue can be made.

states that the operations center site must be "at least 7-10 acres".  
The Metro properties between Fourth and Fifth Avenues South total about
6.6 acres (source: City of Seattle Department of Planning and
Development).  The airspace above the Metro busway could be used, bringing
the total area above 7 acres.  If needed, the much larger Central Base
property is just another block away to the east.  By comparison, the
Northwest Center property is 7.7 acres, although vacating portions of
Wheeler St. could increase this.  Mr. Dong concludes by claiming that "it
would be difficult to construct an operations center that would avoid
taking land that is needed for the storage of buses".  Difficult, perhaps,
but possible.  Again, WSDOT seems to have been able to build a major
freeway ramp and "floating" street intersection without severely impacting
Metro's operations.  As a taxpayer, I hope that SMP is just as competent.

In short, I find the arguments against using the airspace above the Metro
bases to be wanting. Please put the operations center over the Metro
bases.  Please don't destroy a viable sheltered workshop.

>2. The Elliott-Western-Denny-Fifth route was studied by the ETC. The
>main problem is Denny. We have looked at it again and again but there is
>no way to put the guideway down it without either removing a lane of
>traffic, the sidewalk, or buildings.

Why is this a problem?  Elsewhere, SMP has been seemingly casual about
occupying lanes (viz. the recent change down Second Ave.), sidewalks
(everywhere), buildings (approximately 19 places), and, of course, ripping
out trees (cutting through the heart of the Seattle Center).  Why the
reluctance do so along Denny Way?  The traffic on Denny Way is less than
further north on Elliot Avenue, where the monorail is proposed to be
built.  From the diagrams you sent me (see below), there will be just two
travel lanes in each direction (and *no* parking) along Elliot.  The
stretch of Western Ave. from Denny Way to Elliot is five lanes wide, one
more than the (busier) section of Elliot will have post monorail; taking
one lane for the monorail here is no worse than it would be further

[This past week, in fact, one westbound lane of Denny Way has been blocked
off for some underground utility work - and traffic is not noticeably worse
than usual.  Besides, isn't the monorail supposed to reduce traffic?]

Denny Way is 5 lanes wide from Western to Second Ave. and the monorail
could use the northernmost lane (although turning the corner from Western
might be tight, but no tighter than any of several other turns).

A station could be placed on Denny Way between First and Second Avenues.

Walking distance to the Coliseum from there is just three blocks, on a
par with what most patrons walk now.

East of Second Avenue, the alignment could shift slightly to the north and
pass over the Science Center's bus loading/unloading area.  Continuing
east from there to Fifth Ave. is fairly straight forward.  The proposed
Broad St. station could be moved to Vine St., where there are two small
underdeveloped triangle blocks, or be on the north side of Denny just
west of Fischer Plaza between Broad St. and Fourth Ave.

Of course, it would be even better for the monorail to go straight down
Second Ave., which is even shorter (cheaper, faster) and avoids several
sharp turns downtown.  This alignment would save even more money by
eliminating the need to tear down the existing monorail - and it could
continue to run through the EMP, something that seems very important.

The Denny Way route will be shorter than the favored Northwest route, 
which translates into faster trips and lower construction (and operating) 
costs, something that the cash-strapped SMP should seriously consider.
As SMP's leadership has said, the best idea costs less.

I find the reasoning against the Denny Way alignment to be weak and easily 
answered.  They make me think that SMP doth protest much.  What is there
that is so wrong with Denny Way alignment to prompt such resistance to

Or is there some reason why the monorail really, really has to go
through the EMP?

>3. Prospect has been considered. It is one of the options studied in our
>EIS. Two reasons for putting the station at Mercer instead of Prospect
>1) there is higher potential ridership at the Mercer & Elliott site and

Where will these riders come from?  How will their numbers compare to the
potential ridership related to the *existing* Helix project and the other
employers on adjacent property?  These latter passengers exist today,
while the ones that might board at Mercer St. are largely hypothetical -
the nearest office building is small (compared to Helix) and several
blocks away.

If the Denny Way alignment were selected, a station near Thomas St. would
connect with the proposed pedestrian overpass to Myrtle Edwards Park and
serve the buildings at the foot of Harrison St., perhaps with a direct sky
bridge connection.  The proposed Mercer St. station would be several
blocks north of this cluster of employers.

>2) it would be too close to the proposed station at Blaine. 

Which, the last I checked, will be deferred.  Or has SMP changed its mind
again?  Without the Blaine station and no station at Prospect, there will
be a long stretch of Elliot and 15th Avenues with no service.

Also, the spacing between a station at Blaine and one at Prospect would at
least as far apart as the Safeco Field and King St. stations.  If the
spacing at Safeco Field is acceptable, then I would think it should be at
Prospect St. as well.

By the way, the Safeco Field station will get limited use - before and
after game crushes, which will not be adequately served by the monorail,
for just 80 games a year - which hardly seems sufficient to justify a
station at that location.

>4. We are in the process of updating the time/distance chart. It will be
>on the SMP website soon.

I can't find it.  Can you please send me the current version of the
time/distance chart?

On the SMP web site
it is claimed that "If required, trains could run at 2-minute intervals,
doubling the capacity."  How will this be possible between NW 65th St. and
NW 85th St.?  This is a distance of 1 mile.  Because it will be single
beam (allegedly because it will be more aesthetic - an implicit admission
that the monorail will be visual blight - but actually 'cuz SMP won't have
enough money to build 14 miles of double beam) a northbound train ready to
leave the 65th St. station will have to wait while a southbound train from
85th St. travels the entire distance.  At 60 mph, the southbound train
would take exactly a minute, as would the northbound train, which
translates into a two minute headway.  However, the trains are advertised
as running at 50 mph, not 60 mph, and the "exactly a minute" doesn't
include acceleration/deceleration, slowing for curves, or switching

Here are my calculations.  If there are inaccurate, please tell me where
I have erred.

Assumptions: trains will accelerate/decelerate at 5 mph/sec (which is 
rather aggressive; see note below) and will have a top speed of 50 mph.

Time required to accelerate/decelerate to/from 50 mph = 10 seconds.  
Distance covered while doing so = (A * T^2) / 2 = 0.07 mile.  Doing both
requires 20 seconds during which the train covers 0.14 mile.  The
remaining 0.86 mile requires 62 seconds at 50 mph, for a total of 82
seconds.  Doubling this (to account for the wait for the opposing train)
yields 164 seconds, to which we need to add the switching delay.  This
delay, the time required for the comparatively massive switch to change
for the waiting train, is probably somewhere between 5 and 15 seconds.  
I'll be generous and use the lower figure; this brings the total up to 169
seconds - which does not include slowing down before the curve just north
of the 65th St. station or any other delays (operational slop, passengers
holding doors open, etc.).  But whatever - this is nearly three minutes
between trains and assumes no other delays.  In other words, the claim of
two minutes is false, at least north of 65th St. and west of S. Lander

In practice, acceleration/deceleration rates of 3 mph/sec are more
realistic (and 2 mph/sec more comfortable).  Using 3 mph/sec would add 6
seconds to the travel time NW 65th and NW 85th and 12 seconds to the
combined headway for a total of 181 seconds - or just over 3 minutes.

I freely grant that three minutes versus two minutes is small, but I do 
call into question SMP's claim of two minutes when it is easily 
demonstrated to be inaccurate.

I believe that the above calculations are correct.  Again, if I have
erred, please tell me where.  I imagine that your engineers have done
similar ones.  If their results match mine, why does SMP's web page still
claim that a two minute headway is possible?

>5. I'll send a draft copy of the lane diagram to your PO Box.

I got it, thank you.  Presently, at the northbound turn off of Elliot on
to the Galer St. overpass, the right lane is "Must Turn Right", leaving
just two (2) northbound travel lanes.  From your diagram, there will be a
total of three lanes on the east side of the monorail "lane".  If the
westernmost lane (the inside lane) becomes a left turn lane (as it will
elsewhere), this will leave just one (1) lane for northbound travel.  I
also understand that an addition to the Galer St. overpass is being
considered.  If this is built, then it will also consume a travel lane (or
two).  Surely, I have something wrong in my understanding here.  Please
clarify how this intersection will work, post-monorail.

From a recent Seattle PI article 

 If the line does become too crowded, monorail deputy director Anne 
 Levinson said, more cars could be added to the trains.

But only to the length of the shortest station.

 Or, Horn said, people could take the train when it wasn't as crowded, 
 much as drivers avoid rush-hour traffic on the highways

Which is fine if one's employer offers flex time...

Thank you for your time.  At the corridor hearings a few weeks ago, one 
speaker complimented you by name for your efforts to answer questions.  
While I might not like all of the answers, I do appreciate the time you 
take to respond.  Thanks again.

Mike Schuh -- Seattle, Washington USA

And the reply from SMP staff:
Subject: RE: monorail questions 
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004 10:30:07 -0800
From: "Lars Henrikson"
To: schuh

Dear Mr. Schuh,

Thank you for your extensive comments on the Seattle Monorail Project.
Bob Derry asked me to get back to you.

Jonathan Dong was correct in his response to your suggestion.  He did
not say your idea was impossible or without merit.  He did point out
that there were a number of technical and scheduling concerns that could
likely add costs, delays and coordination conflicts.  All of this
doesn't mean it's a bad idea, but it does mean that there are a large
number of risks and uncertainties, and in a project like this risk and
uncertainty end up having a dollar value and schedule consequences.

Our staff has investigated many, but not all possible options for how to
build the Green Line.  We have gone over early decisions in the light of
further engineering, environmental review, and public input and made
some changes to respond to this new input.  Now that we have completed
the Environmental Impact Statement and have a staff recommendation ready
for final Board approval, we would have to have a very compelling reason
to alter course dramatically at this point.

You may disagree with the Elevated Transportation Company's decision to
route the Green Line on 5th Avenue, or our subsequent decision to keep
the Monorail off of Denny.  In fact both of those decisions involved
extensive public input and analysis before they were made.  In the case
of 5th Avenue, the route is now what we legally must build, having been
approved by the voters.  In the case of Denny, the alignment has impacts
to traffic and little if any support from the surrounding community.
The Monorail Board will be voting to adopt specific alignment and
station locations on March 29th.

You are correct that trains will not be able to run at two minute
intervals on the single track portion of the line north of 65th Street
and south of Lander.  This does not preclude trains from running every 2
minutes through the highly traveled core from Market Street in Ballard
to SODO.  We anticipate that trains on the outlying areas of the Green
Line will probably arrive every 5 minutes.

All Monorail stations are planned to have the same length platforms that
will be able to accommodate longer trains than may initially be needed
to meet ridership demands.  If, in the future, trains have to be
lengthened beyond even that additional platform length, the platforms
will have to be lengthened to accommodate the added train cars.  

We appreciate your attention to our Project.  Please keep following our

Lars Henrikson
Community Input Coordinator
Seattle Monorail Project