Owen's Portal > Professional > Portfolio
This page features some examples of my professional work as a transportation engineer; my specialty is transit operations and implementing projects to improve the speed and reliability of buses on arterial streets. I currently work at King County Metro, in a team called Speed & Reliability. Our job is just that, to make buses run faster and more reliable. We do this through a number of different angles: We design and operate systems that detect buses and give them green lights at traffic signals (this is called Transit Signal Priority, see below), we work with cities when they are rebuilding roadways to make sure that they include things like bus lanes, we provide recommendations to transit planning and scheduling staff about better ways to run the buses, and we also try to fix traffic problems that hinder bus movement. If you are observant, you might see some of my work in action on the streets in King County.
This portfolio is split into four parts, first are some examples of my implemented projects that you can see and experience as you travel around King County, then I have a collection of presentations and papers that I have presented in various academic contexts, followed by some tools & spreadsheets that I have created and are available for download, and finally some selected works from my graduate and undergraduate studies at the University of Washington are featured. I have attempted to write this page to be understandable by the general public, however my papers and presentations available for download are fairly technical, for those that would like to know more detail.
Traffic signals can be a significant source of delay for buses. Sometimes the traffic signal can be re-timed or reconfigured to help bus operations. Sometimes a special signal phase for buses can be installed to allow buses to make specific movements through an intersection. Cities usually do a good job in keeping their traffic signals maintained and operating efficiently, but sometimes they need a little hint about where buses are having problems and where there are opportunities for improvement. Reducing bus delay saves Metro money, so Metro can often justify giving the city some money to fix a problem or make an improvement.
Signal improvements are not as obvious to the average roadway user or bus rider as other types of transit priority improvements, like queue jumps and bus lanes. After all, if you didn't know there was a problem at a traffic signal before it was fixed, how would you know there was an improvement? Here are some of the more significant traffic signal improvements that I have worked on:
Bus Stop Consolidation is a project to evaluate all of the bus stops along an existing bus route and close or move selected stops in order to reduce the total number of stops along the route. The primary goal of a bus stop consolidation project is to reduce the travel time and improve reliability of the route as a whole. Other benefits of bus stop consolidation include reducing the number of bus stops needed to clean/maintain, possibility of adding features like benches and shelters since more riders are concentrated at fewer stops, offering a smoother ride to passengers, and sometimes improved traffic flow along the street.
Bus Stop Consolidation projects tend to open up a can of worms and are labor intensive projects. Although bus riders in general are supportive of fewer bus stops (based on surveys conducted by Metro), those that are negatively impacted by a bus stop change will complain vociferously. My graduate thesis project [linked below] was a thorough discussion and analysis of a bus stop consolidation project along Metro's Route 48 that I conducted in 2002-2003. Over the course of a year, I evaluated most of the bus stops along the route, and closed about 40 of them. I had to take feedback and form a consensus among bus drivers, commuters, little old ladies, other transit agencies, persons in wheelchairs, city officials, blind-deaf individuals, non-English speaking immigrants, irate property owners, and high school vice-principals.
Since the Route 48 project, I have been only peripherally involved in other bus stop consolidation projects that Metro has since embarked upon (or, "bus stop spacing projects", as they are called now), but my Route 48 project had laid the groundwork for the process that was largely followed in the later projects.
Oh, the good old days when you could take any bus for free within Downtown Seattle. The Ride Free Area (RFA) was a perk enjoyed by residents and visitors to Seattle since its inception in 1973 until its demise in Fall 2012. While popular with some riders, the RFA cost about $2 million per year to operate, resulted in an awkward fare structure throughout the Metro system (pay on exit), and was despised by bus drivers due to the frequent use of buses by persons for non-transportation purposes. Part of the reason that the RFA was maintained for so long was that it was oft-cited as critical for maintaining bus throughput and reliability through Downtown Seattle. Metro management feared that getting rid of the RFA would result in backups and gridlock throughout Downtown. This all came to a head in 2010 when an audit of Metro highlighted the cost to operate the RFA, and Metro was suffering from declining revenue and facing potential service cuts. Around this time, the Deputy General Manager stopped by my office, made himself comfortable in my spare chair, and wondered aloud if and how it would be possible to somehow test or simulate downtown bus operations without the RFA, to see if and how bad delays would become with everyone having to board through the front door and pay a fare.
Next thing I know, our team has a new assignment: designing and conducting a series of "Pay-on-Entry" simulations. My job was to amass an army of "volunteers" to count passengers, run stopwatches, and purposefully delay buses at bus stops during a weekday PM commute to simulate what would happen if everyone had to board through the front door and pay a fare upon entry. I also was responsible for determining how long we should hold buses based on the number of boardings.
These simulations were run on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues, a few spot locations, and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. 2nd & 4th Avenues worked okay with the added delay. 3rd Avenue was borderline okay, workable with a few minor improvements. The tunnel, however, got completely gridlocked during the simulation and needed a series of significant improvements and a reduction in the volume of buses scheduled during the PM peak before Pay on Entry could be implemented.
When the Downtown Seattle Bus Tunnel was scheduled to be closed for a 2-year period, there was a big concern among the downtown interests that the surface bus stops would become overcrowded. To address this issue, it was decided that a pedestrian congestion study would be conducted before, during, and after the tunnel closure. This project was placed in my lap without much direction as to how one would go about measuring "pedestrian congestion." So I started by boning up on the national research on theses issues, then I worked with my co-workers and a consultant to devise a method for measuring pedestrian level-of-service for walkways and for queuing and waiting areas. With this, we sent out an army of data collectors (UW students) to the busiest downtown bus stops to count the number of people waiting at each stop in 5-minute intervals, and the number of people walking on the sidewalk through the bus stop area.
After the initial data came in and we ran some calculations, one thing became apparent: Seattleites like their space and will adjust themselves to achieve their preferred berth. The national pedestrian level-of service criteria seemed to be based on east coast standards, and the pedestrian density that we measured in downtown Seattle (measured in peds/ft2) barely even tipped the scales of the A through F level-of-service criteria. So, we had to come up with our own pedestrian congestion criteria in order to make any meaningful comparisons.
The pedestrian congestion study results went into a larger Tunnel Conversion Performance Report, which was issued periodically during the tunnel closure project.
: Traffic Engineering for Transit Operations; Improving Speed & Reliability
: University of Washington; Seattle, WA
: [PowerPoint PPSX file] | [PDF File]
For several years, Professor Scott Rutherford has asked me to be a guest speaker for his Transit Planning class, CEE 589. The presentation I have created for this class covers several topics including various traffic engineering tools to improve Transit Speed & Reliability, Transit Signal Priority, Bus Stop Consolidation, and other current events. This presentation has evolved over the years, and the latest version is available for download via the above links. It is also lengthy, designed to fill a 90-minute class. This is a good piece to skim through in order to get a good feel for the kind of work that I do.
: Third Avenue Skip-Stop Operations; Now a Rainbow of Frequent, Efficient Service
: American Public Transit Association Intermodal Operations Workshop; Seattle, WA
: [PowerPoint PPSX file] | [PDF File]
This presentation is a discussion of bus stop capacity analysis and scenario development in preparation for the February 2011 Service Change, when many routes were moved from First to Third Avenue in Downtown Seattle. A new skip-stop color pattern was developed in order to accommodate the additional bus volumes on 3rd Avenue.
: The Downtown Seattle Bus Monitoring System; Collecting and Analysing Transit Travel Time Data
: ITS Annual Meeting, Bellevue, WA
: [PowerPoint PPSX file] | [PDF File]
This presentation is a discussion of a travel time monitoring system that was developed to track bus speed & reliability over the course of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. The presentation covers the hardware installation, methods of data processing and reporting, and shows some examples of the system in action.
: The Downtown Seattle Bus Monitoring System; A New Way of Collecting and Analyzing Transit Travel Time Data
: American Public Transit Association Intermodal Operations Workshop; New York, NY
This presentation was an earlier version of the presentation featured above. The later version is a better summary of the same topic, so I don't have it posted it here for download.
: Bus Stop & Bus Lane Capacity; Planning Bus Routes in Downtown Seattle
: American Public Transit Association Intermodal Operations Workshop; San Francisco, CA
: [PowerPoint PPS file] | [PDF File]
This presentation describes a method for calculating bus stop and bus lane capacity based on methods presented in the Transit Cooperative Research Program's Transit Capacity & Quality of Service Manual. The presentation describes how we developed a user-friendly spreadsheet for implementing the calculations and used it to decide how many buses to schedule onto 3rd Avenue in Downtown Seattle in 2007 when the transit tunnel reopened after a 2-year closure. The desire was to put as many buses as possible on 3rd Avenue to take advantage of the transit priority treatments that were in place on that street, but not too many buses that would overload the bus stops.
: Transit Signal Priority on the Cheap; A solution to reduce bus delay at a Park & Ride in Bellevue, WA
: Institute of Transportation Engineers, Transit Council, call for papers
: [PDF File]
If you ever take the Sound Transit route 550 from Bellevue to Downtown Seattle, your bus will pass through the South Bellevue P&R. This park and ride used to be a major source of delay to the 550, and a few other routes, because of the heavy volume of traffic on Bellevue Way and the traffic signal at the P&R exit. The paper discusses a unique transit signal priority (TSP) system that significantly reduced the delay to southbound buses as they enter and exit the Park & Ride. The transit priority system is unique because it uses a couple of strategically-placed loop detectors to detect buses. There are also three bright blue LED indicator lights that illuminate when a bus is detected, in order to provide positive feedback to bus drivers.
This is an Excel worksheet that I developed to answer those questions. It's based on methods and formulas that are published in the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, developed by the Transit Cooperative Research Program. I took these formulas and designed a set of worksheets that are easy to use and take input data that are readily available to transit planners. The first worksheet calculates the capacity of an individual bus stop, in buses/hour. The second worksheet takes the output from a set of individual bus stop capacity worksheets, and calculates the capacity of a bus lane or roadway that those bus stops are on. The bus lane worksheet can account for skip-stops (where buses are grouped into alternating stops and do not stop at each one).
I have used this worksheet on numerous occasions to plan bus route changes in Downtown Seattle for when the bus tunnel reopened in September 2007. Metro management wanted to put as many bus routes on 3rd Avenue as possible, to maximize the effectiveness of the peak-hour traffic restrictions and "transit way" classification, but we didn't want to go to far and overload the bus stops. This worksheet let us do a lot of "what-if" scenarios and distribute the buse routes among the downtown streets and among the skip-stops for the most efficient operation. As a result, there are more buses running down 3rd Avenue today than there were during the tunnel closure, and a similar level of reliability has been maintained.
Download the worksheet: Bus_zone_capacity_worksheet_v1.1_(Blank).xls (Contains Macros; don't worry, they won't hurt you)
This isn't a project, but rather a tool that I have developed that has proven to be useful on many occasions. This Excel worksheet takes the vehicle delay output from standard traffic engineering methods or software, such as Synchro, and given inputs for vehicle occupancy and transit ridership, calculates person-delay and compares between two alternatives. The worksheet further calculates the potential dollar savings or impact resulting from an alternative traffic control strategy, taking into account both transit operations cost and people's value of time. Other features include formulas to automatically indicate the standard A-F signalized intersection LOS designation based on the inputted vehicle delay, and also a happy-face/sad-face icon that provides unquestionable guidance about whether the proposed alternative is a good idea or not.
Most traffic modeling software and traffic analysis methods use average vehicle delay to assess level of service and develop optimum timings for traffic signals. That method works great if you think cars are more important than people. This worksheet makes it easy to take the analysis one step further and convert vehicle-delay to person-delay. In my line of work, I often need to justify special treatment for buses, using the argument that person-delay should be optimized rather than vehicle-delay, and this is how I do it.
Download the worksheet: Transit-Person_Intersection_Delay.xls
Effects of Bus Stop Consolidation on Transit Speed and Reliability: A Test Case
Like many transit agencies in the U.S., Metro has too many bus stops on most of its routes, which slows transit service and is an inefficient use of resources. This work discusses a bus stop consolidation project that I managed on the King County Metro route 48, and provides an analysis of the results. This was my master's thesis completed in March 2004. Watch out, it's 55 pages long.
Economics of Truck and Rail Freight Transportation: A look at public and external costs and the truck-rail modal split.
This was my final paper for class CEE 591, Freight Transportation. This paper compared the costs associated with rail and truck shipping, focusing on the costs that are not directly imposed on the user, such as highway maintenance and the impacts of pollution. Some recommendations were made for controlling these so-called external costs, in order to minimize the costs to society resulting from freight transportation. Economic elasticities were used to predict the impacts that would result from internalizing these external costs.
Psychological Pollution: Thinking beyond emissions.
This was my final paper for URBDP 498B, Transportation and the Environment. This paper is a unique look at some of the social impacts of automobile dependence. It delves into such topics as American car culture, day-to-day driver interactions, effects on land use, privatization of society, and corporate interests. Some may not agree with the ideas or conclusions presented in this paper, admittedly it is fairly subjective, but I think it deserves at least a look.
Biodiversity in a Suburban Environment.
This paper looks at some of the environmental impacts of urban sprawl on local biodiveristy, with special emphasis on water quality and hydrological effects. This was my final paper for CEE 350, Environmental Engineering.
Before I worked at Metro, I worked for Gibson Traffic Consultants, a small traffic engineering consulting firm located in Everett, WA. My most notable project there was measuring new clearance intervals for every single traffic signal in the City of Everett. Clearance intervals include the Yellow Time, All-Red Time, and Flashing Don't Walk (FDW) Time that are programmed into the signal controller. The clearance intervals are based on the intersection geometrics, observed vehicle speeds and pedestrian walking speed, and were calculated to the tenth of a second using formulas recommended by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.