Murray Suggests Regional Funding of Second DSTT

At December’s Sound Transit Board Meeting*, Mayor Murray offered an interesting amendment to the “building blocks” section of the long range plan (79:30):

T18. In addition, as part of implementing a regional transit system, Sound Transit can explore policy and funding alternatives to address significant regional facilities, such as tunneling for future core system capacity through downtown Seattle; operations, maintenance and storage facilities; and transit vehicles.

The introduction began a bizarre sequence where Mr. Murray immediately left for another event, leaving Mike O’Brien to defend the measure; a series of board members stating that a second tunnel was an ST 4 or 5 discussion and therefore premature; and it finally going to defeat 6-8 (O’Brien, Constantine, Balducci, Phillips, Peterson, and Strickland voted yes).

This would have been the first (small) step to suspending subarea equity when funding a second downtown tunnel. This train of thought goes way back to the Mayoral campaign, where candidate Murray critiqued Mayor McGinn’s potentially city-only rail plans by saying that Seattle couldn’t afford light rail alone, and that tweaking subarea equity was the only way to build it. And in fact, if you define the minimum Seattle light rail increment as serving Ballard and West Seattle, that may be an accurate statement given the agreed revenue limits of the next package.**

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Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol

This is a guest post.

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

The Sound Transit Board received a presentation from Martin Young, Sounder Commuter Rail Operations Manager of the new protocol to cancel Sounder North service.  Deputy CEO Mike Harbor explains that a small slide that blocked a Sounder North train inspired the briefing. Video is 78:35 into this link.  Below are the slides for you to browse through.

After going through the slides, Sound Transit’s spokeswoman Kimberly M. Reason explained the three USGS predictive tools are “rainfall, rainfall intensity and soil saturation” (see here), but also that “Sound Transit uses weather forecast data and information on field conditions to inform service decisions.”  Although Sound Transit attempts to make a decision “the afternoon before the day of service”, there is no firm deadline to make a decision before — or during — a Sounder North run.

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WSF Reaches the Fare Tipping Point

This is a guest post.


At the December 10, 2014 meeting of the Washington State Transportation Commission, Chair Anne Haley questioned whether ferry fares might be in danger of rising above the tipping point, where a small increase in fares causes households to make major life changes to dramatically reduce their ferry expenditures. Survey responses, Census data, and changing ridership and fare revenue patterns indicate that has already occurred for some ferry users:

  • Ferry ridership dropped over 15% from its 1999 peak, while regional population grew. “An expanding pool of customers ride the system less frequently
  • Fare revenue from multi-ride fare media declined more than $5M between 2006 and 2010, from $48.5M to $43.1M.
  • According to the 2014 FROG summer survey, which targeted regular riders, including commuters, “The percentage of riders saying WSF is a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value in the summer period has decreased significantly compared to 2012 (68% vs. 80%).” But 91% of respondents to the 2014 summer on-board recreational survey (target: out of state riders) felt WSF was a good or very good value.
  • In Kitsap County, where more than half of all ferry trips start or end, Census data shows “[t]he share of households with children dropped 17.7% between 2000 and 2010, while the share with persons 65 and over jumped 25.5%.” King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties had much smaller shifts in household composition.

Which customers have reached the tipping point? Research points to high volume households – those that purchase multi-ride tickets, especially commuters. While single trip passengers and drivers (including seniors) are buying more tickets than they did in 2002, multi-ride ticket sales fell dramatically.

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How to Get a Bad Democratic Bill Through a Republican Committee

Sen. Curtis King

Sen. Curtis King

Sen. Bob Hasegawa

Sen. Bob Hasegawa

In contrast to the awesome Senate Bill 5128, on which Senator Marko Liias (D – Mukilteo) collected the signatures of 19 Democratic colleagues to support granting Sound Transit authority to take a new package to the voters (commonly referred to as “ST3″), Senator Bob Hasegawa (D – Beacon Hill) found a way to get a hearing for his Senate Bill 5343: Go ask the committee chair who decides which bills get hearings in that committee.

Indeed, Sen. Curtis King (R – Yakima, and Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee) is signatory #2 on SB 5343. Smart move.

This bill is textually identical to last year’s SB 6489, which STB covered extensively.

The bill would make Sound Transit pay for the cost of residents’ parking permits in Restricted Parking Zones, which are created by cities, at the request of area residents, within the general area (undefined) of Sound Transit facilities and construction sites. Residents would be privatizing the public asphalt in front of their houses, making Sound Transit pay the City for this privatization, and not having to pay a dime for storing their cars on the public right-of-way, while denying non-residents the ability to park in the neighborhood.

Seattle has a low-income rate for parking permits of $10 per vehicle (for two years), answering objections that RPZ fees hurt low-income residents. The legislation is incompatible with the City’s program that sabotages the feasibility of this bill because there is no limit on the number of vehicles for which a resident can get a permit.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit is taking a much larger step to improve affordability for residents living around light-rail stations by introducing a $1.50 low-income fare on Link Light Rail, starting March 1.

SB 5343 merely subsidizes car ownership in these neighborhoods, and does nothing for the poor. It is being heard in committee Tuesday afternoon (January 27) at 3:30.

We continue to reach out to Sen. Hasegawa’s office for comment on the issue, but all requests have been ignored for nearly a year. For the record, I am a constituent of Sen. Hasegawa’s, I donated to his first State House campaign, and I have voted for him every time his name has been on my ballot.

Sound Transit 3 Bill in the Legislature

Most observers believe that additional Sound Transit taxing authority is inevitably attached to the larger state transportation package. However, some intrepid legislators have sponsored a standalone bill that provide enough capacity, given voter approval, to fund a substantial amount of new light rail. Were this bill were to somehow avoid the shoals of the process, it would separate the region’s self-funded transit needs from the ongoing debate about statewide taxes and highway spending.

The Senate Bill is SB 5128, and its counterpart is HB 1180. The Republican-controlled Senate is generally perceived to be the main obstacle to passage, obviously. In the Senate there are currently 20 sponsors, leaving it five short of a majority, which are all among the 24 Democrats.

These sponsors include every Democratic senator that represents part of the Sound Transit District, save Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah/North Bend), who told me via email that “Nobody asked me to sign the legislation but I do support it.”

The three other Democrats are outside of the ST District: James Hargrove (D-Port Angeles), Brian Hatfield (D-Aberdeen), and Tim Sheldon (D-Shelton)*. I have not yet asked them about their position.

The Democratic votes are not only insufficient on the floor, but by exercising next to no leverage on Transportation Chair Curtis King (Yakima), they cannot bring such a bill to a vote. That is not true of the Republican members who represent part of the ST District. I emailed Sens. Andy Hill (R-Kirkland/Duvall/Sammamish), Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island/Newcastle/Bellevue), Joe Fain (R-Covington/Auburn), Pam Roach (R-Sumner/Enumclaw), Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way), Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup/Fife), and Steve O’Ban (R-University Place/Ft.Lewis) to ask their position. Not one bothered to reply over the span of a week.

These seven senators — a few of whom are likely to have Light Rail or other major transit projects actually in their district in ST3 — are the center of gravity for such a bill. If you are a resident of any of these districts (check here), a handful of constituent emails and/or phone calls could make a big difference. If you are not, a note of thanks to your Senator (and a reminder to your House members to support HB 1180) is a gesture of often underestimated importance.

Furthermore, for the Olympia-inclined the House Transportation Committee will take up 1180 on January 28th at 3:30pm.

* Sen. Sheldon caucuses with the Republicans.

Everyone Loves Sound Transit

puget sound optimism

EMC Research conducted a poll in December on Sound Transit and the region’s appetite for more mass transit. The results are overwhelmingly positive for transit supporters. Some highlights:

  • Overall optimism in Puget Sound is higher than it’s been in years
  • Sound Transit has a 66% approval rating, higher than the legislature or WSDOT
  • Traffic and mass transit are the #1 and #2 concerns on voters’ minds, displacing the economy (the environment jumped from 2% to 9%) as the employment picture improves
  • 82% support expanding light rail
  • 68% want new taxing authority and that number goes up to 70% when voters hear the $15B price tag and the cost to them

Put another way:

Hopefully these numbers will boost efforts to secure funding authority this transportation session.  PubliCola has more coverage from the ST board meeting.

News Roundup: Council Races

Google Maps

8th Avenue North and Thomas Street (Google Maps)

This is an open thread.

Transit Talks: Transportation and the 2015 Legislative Session – Notes

Friday, Jan 9th, TCC hosted a brown bag preview of the 2015 legislation session as it relates to transit. While the session has already kicked off, the main points of the discussion are relevant going forward.

Most importantly, the two legislative champions on the panel, Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, were pretty upbeat about transportation package passage. Senator Liias said he was much more optimistic now than he was even a few months ago. Ironically, Governors Inslee’s strong support for a VMT/carbon tax has forced Republican’s to come out strongly in support for a “large” gas tax increase instead, something they have not done historically.

Senator Liias spent a lot of time explaining what it meant being in the minority. He went so far as to say that the initial bill he will likely vote out of the Senate will only be 70% acceptable. It will be up to the House to get it to something palatable. He made this point a couple times a couple different ways. This actually makes me pretty optimistic as I picked up a definite ‘Please don’t crucify me for my vote’  vibe, which he wouldn’t be worried about if he didn’t think a vote would happen.

On the House side, Representative Farrell assured the crowd that no package will make it out that doesn’t get the Puget Sound what it needs (more transit). She said she would not vote for a package that doesn’t help her district, where pedestrian safety in particular is a high-priority issue. Representative Farrell also stressed that she would like WSDOT to continue to evolve its practices, including a reexamination of traffic forecasting. She also believe that the State has a clear interest in transit, including capital and operating funds, especially along corridors like I-5 where transit improvements improve the efficiency of state facilities.

Overall, the sentiment seemed to be that a package will get done, it will have funding authority for Sound Transit and Community Transit, but it will not be the package that changes the trajectory of the state’s transportation spending.

Yet Another East Link Lawsuit

south bellevue station renderings

South Bellevue Station renderings, from Sound Transit

The Seattle Times reports ($) that the people who have tried to stop rail to the Eastside at all costs have found yet another pretext to sue:

Indeed, the petition that Bidwell, [Kemper] Freeman’s company, former Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson and the Building a Better Bellevue organization filed last month with the Shorelines Hearings Board to vacate the permits could tie the permits up until at least May. After the board issues a decision, the case could be appealed in court.

But to Bidwell, the petition isn’t about attacking light rail. It’s about preventing environmental damage to the Mercer Slough Nature Park, which he’s fought to protect for at least 30 years. Bidwell also co-founded the committee that fought to establish the park in the 1980s.

I can’t speak to the legal merits of this case, although I presume the long list of (failed) previous legal actions the article enumerates were more promising. And I certainly won’t guess what a judge will decide. However, I also presume the relevant environmental laws were intended to protect the environment. And in the big picture any environmental law that discourages alternatives to driving is perverse.

Moreover, for the specific welfare of Mercer Slough it’s clear that the thousands of cars passing by on the freeway and arterial every day, pouring the gunk and litter into the water there, are vastly more impactful than trains. Any serious attempt to protect the Slough would close the I-90 highway spans, not obstruct light rail. But of course environmental concerns are only used to obstruct environmentally sound projects, not to mess with anything important like the right to drive anywhere, alone, for free, at high speed.


A Note on Driverless Cars

I was happy to be included with some fine company in the Seattle Times’ profile of “newcomers” changing the face of the city. After 15 years here, I’d quibble with the term “newcomer,” but hey. Speaking of quibbles, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks here:

And he keeps spinning visions for an even better future Seattle. “I can see a day coming when we can ban car ownership in the city, make everybody hail a driverless car to get around. They did a study on this in Singapore . . . they could have a 250,000-car fleet and the maximum wait for anyone would be 30 minutes.”

For the record I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that I want to ban cars in the city. If memory serves, I was riffing on this study from MIT, which had just come out at the time and got a lot of attention. I do think there’s a good chance that services like it will eventually have a place in lower-density areas. For major urban areas, of course, simple geometry will necessitate some kind of high-capacity transit service that doesn’t require encasing each commuter in 2,000 pounds of glass and aluminum every morning.

Anyway, the article itself was written by the delightful Fred Moody. If you haven’t read Seattle and the Demons of Ambition, do yourself a favor and get it. It’s a great way to understand this city’s psyche.

First Hill Streetcar Delayed Again

Occidental streetcar stop

Capitol Hill Seattle:

It may be time to add the First Hill Streetcar to the list of Seattle transit projects facing serious setbacks. After the Seattle Department of Transportation pushed back the launch date from fall 2014 to “early” 2015, CHS has learned that the SDOT now expects the Capitol Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar won’t be in service until at least August.

Inekon is apparently paying $25K $1K for every day of delay. At this rate, if the streetcar is delayed another 10 years or so, they’ll be picking up the tab for the whole line. Much more at the CHS link.

2015 Readership Survey

Wow. Almost eight years since our first post. A lot has changed since then. Seattle’s gone from a sleepy backwoods village to the fastest growing ‘big city’ in the nation. From a bus only system to adding Swift, Rapid Ride, and Link; a system with BRT and true mass transit.

Just as the region and transportation system has grown, so has this blog. Since those early days we’ve not only grown into the platform for transit activism in the state, but we are probably the first organization out there to be recognized as Government News Reporting of the Year by mainstream civic organization the Municipal League and Blog of the Year by the alternative press Seattle Weekly.

As we move forward, we’ed like to know what you want from Seattle Transit Blog. In order to do that we’re conducting our second (semi)annual reader survey.  We want to know what you want and how you want to receive it and interact with it.

The survey takes just a minute to complete – it’s only 10 questions! So if you wouldn’t mind, click the link and fill it out? Thanks!

Improvements Coming to Rainier and Dearborn

Image via SDOT

Image via SDOT

Southbound Rainier Avenue between Jackson and Dearborn can be quite a little bottleneck, and hurt reliability for buses headed into the Rainier Valley. Additionally, the pedestrian crossing headed to and from Goodwill is not nearly as safe as it could be.

SDOT is reworking the intersection this spring in an effort to improve the situation for pedestrians and riders. We’ll see new curb ramps and a wider sidewalk, among other pedestrian improvements. For buses, SDOT is planning a unique 24/7 bus-only lane in the center of the roadway. The bus stop itself will move north towards King street to make this possible. Left turns onto Dearborn will be banned, which doesn’t really matter since Dearborn isn’t an arterial East of Rainier and SDOT doesn’t want through traffic going that way anyway.

Expect northbound lane closures on Rainier Avenue between Charles Street and King Street. Construction begins in March.

Final Whistle to Blow on Seahawks Home Season Sunday

Starved for real transit

Starved for real transit

Tomorrow, the Seahawks will be playing for their second consecutive conference championship, in their final home game of the season, against the Green Bay Packers. Kickoff is set for 12:05 at Century Link Field.

For fans flying in, your ride from the airport is Link Light Rail, which comes every 10 minutes or better, all day. Be sure to buy a train ticket at the station. The best deal is to buy a day pass between Seatac Airport Station and Westlake Station — the full length of the line — for $5.50.

The game will also be served by Sounder trains. Two Sounder trains will take off from Lakewood Station at 8:50 and 9:30, arriving at Century Link Field at 9:57 and 10:43. A third train will take off from Sumner Station at 9:37, arriving at the CLink at 10:19. North Sounder Service, weather permitting, will take off from Everett Station at 9:15 and 9:30, arriving at 10:14 and 10:29. The full schedule is available here. In a departure from past practice, the final return train each direction will depart 75 minutes after the game is over, to allow the crowd to linger for the potential post-game awards ceremony and celebration.

As usual, there will be $4 cash-only shuttle buses from Northgate Transit Center, Eastgate Park & Ride, and South Kirkland Park & Ride.

This is in addition to the usual plethora of weekend bus and ferry service.

Feds Award Loan, Restore ST2 Possibilities

Federal Way Extension Page 1

Yesterday Sound Transit announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded it a $1.3 billion below-market-rate “TIFIA” (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan:

This is the largest single TIFIA loan to a transit agency in the country and the second largest TIFIA loan overall, and at the lowest rate – 2.38 percent – in the 25-year history of the program.

The low-interest loan, which offers more favorable terms than traditional bonds, will increase Sound Transit’s financial capacity by an estimated $200 – $300 million. Over the coming years the capacity will enable the Sound Transit Board of Directors to potentially restore some voter-approved Sound Transit 2 projects that were suspended as a result of the recession and help reduce risks of scope reductions or delays.

By knocking over 3 points off the interest rate ST would usually pay, the loan both allows ST to bring projects forward and also afford more project in absolute terms. The loan size is based on the overall East Link project budget, but spokeswoman Kimberly Reason says “our impetus for applying for the loan was to address the recession’s significant impact on the 29% loss in projected revenues for ST2.”

Given the intended purpose of the application and the miserable optics of making up new stuff while voter-approved projects are unfunded, restoring ST2 losses seems inevitable. Within those constraints, the Sound Transit Board will decide what to do with the staff’s harvest.  It is not bound by subarea equity, although the funds to repay the loan will presumably come from whomever benefits. The press release helpfully lists some candidate projects:

Bringing forward new bus hours, as opposed to capital projects, actually increases program cost instead of merely shifting it. However, 50,000 bus hours amounts to only about $7m per year, small in terms of the absolute savings due to lower interest rates.

MLK Day Service Levels

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leading a march during the Montgomery bus boycott

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leading a march during the Montgomery bus boycott

Next Monday, January 19, is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday for many in the white-collar world, and another work day for most in the transportation industry.

King County Metro will be running a “Reduced Weekday & No UW” schedule (which really means reduced runs on certain UW routes, in addition to several routes and runs being cancelled throughout the county).

Sound Transit will be running regular weekday schedules on ST Express and Sounder. However, Central Link will be running the Saturday schedule, and Tacoma Link will be running the Sunday schedule.

Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit, Everett Transit, Washington State Ferries, and the South Lake Union Streetcar will be running on their regular weekday schedules.

Community Transit will run regular weekday levels on local service, but will only be running commuter routes 402, 413, 421, and 855.

Kitsap Transit will be running most services on a weekday schedule, except that certain buses serving the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard will not be operating.

The Seattle Monorail will be open 8:30 am – 9:00 pm.

The West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxis will not be in service.

A Review of the New Trip Planner App

King County’s media relations launched a full-court press to publicize the launch of their new Trip Planner app last week. Many people found it a surprising misallocation of resources given the underlying data problems. But how good is the app?

To this user of OneBusAway for his real-time data and Google Maps for his trip planning, the interface is (for the most part) pretty good, not noticeably better or worse than the alternatives. It adds some functions that don’t have a good mobile alternative. But the application is still hamstrung by a back end with deep technical flaws.

The Trip Planner App integrates four different functions: a trip planner (obviously), route schedules, real-time bus arrival, and Metro alerts. I’ll take them each in turn.

1) Trip Planner. Google Maps starts with a map, and there are a few additional taps to bring out transit the correct interfaces and call up any time rather than right now. Trip Planner takes you right to the appropriate screen with Start, End, and time inputs. However — and this is crucial — it is much worse than Google at taking a random place name (e.g., “Facebook”) and turning it into a usable location. And only some of the screens replace internal route numbers (Link is the “599”) with their commonly known names.

Screenshot_2015-01-15-10-31-57What about the algorithm? The regional trip planning algorithm has longstanding, well-documented problems with nonsensical results, and my spot checking suggests that hasn’t changed. To get a taste of it, I asked Trip Planner to plan my evening commute from Lower Queen Anne to just west of the Columbia City Link station. Any sentient human would take any of a series of buses downtown and transfer to Link the rest of the way. Google Maps actually passed this little mini-Turing Test.

Trip Planner’s result encouraged me to say on the 33/27 and switch to the 8. This is because the path that involved Link is slower, and shown at right.

Getting off Link and switching to the 50 is crazy, but after checking the default Trip Planner settings, my home is actually more than the default 0.40 mile maximum walk from the Station. The settings force me to transfer to a bus anyway, so these results are at least understandable.

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News Roundup: Parking Down South

Auburn Station (Sound Transit photo)

Auburn Station (Sound Transit photo)