The State of Sound Transit

After diligently ignoring the good news only the day before, the Times at least acknowledged the positive in the much more significant annual report of the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel (pdf).

Find out more about the panel itself here.

The report is an outstanding, concise, independent summary of the state of the agency.  Here are a few tidbits that jumped out at me:

Transit Commuter Types

The Seattle Sketcher is a blog by Gabi Campanario where he showcases his sketches of daily things. The site is great, and I particularly love the sketches of bus commutes, they really seem to capture the experience of commuting by bus. Here’s a couple of examples.
bustypes012709m

businside062607

Looking through these, I start to come of with different bus rider types. The “playing with cellphone guy”, the “reading paperback guy” and the “talk to friend lady”. So, what are the different sorts of bus riders? And what type are you?

Parking Near Stations in Sodo

Update: This morning the DJC reports that Sound Transit real estate people have toured the facility and are considering buying it. The six-storey garage is at 2460 Fourth Ave. S and has 970 stalls. The garage is likely to cost more than $20 million.

Original post published Jan 29 at 9:35pm is below:

Starheadboy, 10Tacles, and 337

Post Office Parking Lot, Sodo, by Slightlynorth

The DJC ran a piece about parking around Light Rail station, and the rules changes that the city is looking into. It’s easy to figure out what to do in Southeast Seattle: residential permits and only short stays for those without permits. But what can be done with Sodo? Here’s the gist:

Few people live in that neighborhood [Sodo], but there are numerous small businesses, many of them industrial. The Manufacturing Industrial Council estimates that between 40,000 and 60,000 people work in Sodo.

One problem is that commuters are already parking in Sodo and taking the bus, according to SDOT planner Dante Taylor, who has been going door-to-door in the neighborhood collecting feedback on parking proposals since December.

Most of the local businesses don’t have parking lots, and rely on street parking.

Almost 1,300 parking spaces around the sports stadiums will be lost during Alaskan Way Viaduct construction, … Another 50 spaces will be lost to construction on state Route 519,  … another 200 spaces will go away temporarily while First Avenue South is paved and Spokane Street viaduct construction … The city estimates there are 4,500 parking spots in Sodo now.

Some employers in Sodo want SDOT to issue parking permits for their employees.

With more commuters likely to be parking in Sodo once the train starts running, some people are wondering why SDOT doesn’t buy the post office parking lot, which is very close to the Sodo train station and is up for sale.

To support a “pedestrian and transit-friendly environment,” the city has a policy that discourages parking lots, Shepard said.

“Parking lots attract cars but they are not always good neighbors,” Shepard said.

You can learn more about the City’s light rail parking designs here. I’m going to look into which parking lot is the post office lot mentioned in the DJC article, but you can see the station here, and notice there’s a Post Office facility directly to the west of it. I kind of torn. On the one hand, I think a park-and-ride in the Sodo area, especially one very near to the Spokane Street Viaduct, is a great idea if the number of spots is sufficiently large to attract riders. On the other hand, that lot could be a great candidate for some TOD office space.

So what do you think about permit parking for workers? How about a park-and-ride at Sodo station?

News Round Up: Changes

grass tram 2

  • These guys at Capitol Hill Seattle are surprised there’s no express trains on link. These guys obviously haven’t been paying attention for the last 13 years or so…
  • The City is removing car parking and installing bike parking in a few places throughout the city:
    • Mid block of Broadway E between E Harrison Street and E Republican Street (by Broadway Market)
    • At the corner of 12th Avenue and E Spring Street (by Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Café Presse)
    • At the corner of Woodlawn Avenue NE and NE 70th Street (by the Greenlake Condominium)

    As Ben S said, the best way to prevent bike theft is to have a lot of bikes. The cyclists watch out for each other. I’d add that the best way to make cycling safe is to have a lot of cyclists.

  • Chi-Doh Li does not like BRT. It’s nice that the BRT vs LRT argument is over, and Mr Li is celebrating LRT’s victory.
  • Transit ridership is up, but agencies revenues are down. The stimulus package includes money to close state budget gaps, but not similar cash for transit agencies.
  • These grass-covered tram tracks are beautiful.

Sound Transit Management, Good and Bad

State Auditor Brian Sonntag (secstate.wa.gov)

Of course, virtually all of our major news outlets think it’s major scandal, need to know information, when a Sound Transit error causes costs less than 0.01 percent of their budget.

Yet curiously, their interest in the details of agency management falls away when yet another state audit reveals the agency is fully compliant with state law, and has adequate internal controls (pdf):

The Transit Authority complied with state laws and regulations and its own policies and procedures in the areas we examined. Internal controls were adequate to safeguard public assets.

In response to a whistleblower report, the Auditor also checked out $164,000 in other possibly improper payments to local nonprofits.  The auditor found that $8,050 of that was actually improper, of which $3,200 was spent after ST received a warning from the auditor.

Guess the headline in the Times today?  I know that this is the way the media works, and I’m glad the whistleblower filed his complaint and forced an end to illegal expenditures.  At the same time, when public perception is skewed by this kind of selective reporting, it doesn’t help voters make intelligent decisions about the agency.

While we’re on the subject of governance, four ST projects received local engineering awards.  They don’t sound like a big deal, but they’re better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

520 Tolls

Stuck on 520 Floating Bridge

Traffic On 520 by flickr user Tom Harpel

A report issued by the “Tolling Implementation Committee” recommends tolling only the 520 bridge, and not the approaches closer to I-405 or I-5. The committee decided that too many motorists would live 520 and drive on surface streets to avoid the tolls, worsening traffic in neighborhoods before the bridge and resulting in overall lower toll revenues. The decision is now in the hands of the state legislature.

In related news, the feds say it’s okay to toll I-90 to help pay for the new 520 bridge. The majority of people who do not live in Bellevue, Newcastle or Mercer Island support tolling both bridges.

Tearing Down The Embarcadero


Via StreetFilms.

News Roundup: New Bus Schedules

Image by Oran in the STB Flickr Pool

Quick items from around the transitsphere:

  • Metro service changes are now online.  No big changes, although there are a couple of extra trips for some routes and they’re redoing the bay assignments at the Overlake Transit Center.
  • Community Transit and Pierce Transit (pdf) changes are also posted.  We discussed Sound Transit changes previously.
  • Tacoma debates whether to elevate their Sounder extension with a berm or post-and-beam construction.
  • The pedestrian walkway for the Seatac light rail station will be put in place (pdf) Friday morning.  There are road closures that will snarl airport traffic, but it also ought to be a nice opportunity for our platoon of photography buffs.

HB 1490 Testimony

If you’re an insomniac and interested in the HB 1490 committee testimony Josh Feit reports about here, TVW is showing it on tape delay at 11:30 pm – 1:30 am Wednesday tonight (that’s tonight), and again at 5:30-7:30 am on Thursday.

Or, try the link online here.

Added bonus: you’ll see the statement of yours truly a couple of minutes before the end.  (Skip ahead to about 2:10).

Bonus 2: After the 1:29 mark, committee Chair Geoff Simpson (D-Covington) smacks down richly deserving bill opponent John Fox and leaves longtime light rail opponent Emory Bundy at a loss for words (1:35:30) .

Update: As everyone in the world has now pointed out to me, it’s HB 1490, not 1690 as originally stated in the post.

Here’s the embedded video:

Stimulus Passes House

The US House of Representatives has passed a $819 billion stimulus package. The Nadler Amendment tacked $3 billion in transit onto the House bill, for a grand total of $12 billion, and fully $5 billion in capital project funding. The Amendment passed with a “voice vote” meaning we don’t know how anyone specifically voted, but it seemed to be nearly unanimous.

This comes as the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our nation’s infrastructure a “D” grade, and notes the cost of repairing the infrastructure has risen to $2.2 trillion from $1.7 trillion in 2005. Stimulus funding can’t come soon enough.

To my eyes, this much, much improved version of the bill than the one we saw originally, not only because of the transit. The final bill had $607 billion in spending, slightly more than the first draft we saw last week, and $212 billion in tax cuts, which is about $63 billion less than the original draft. Just before passing the bill, the House rejected a Republican-sponsored version of the bill that would have focused mainly on tax cuts.

The next step is for the Senate to pass their version of the bill, which will probably come to a vote sometime next week.

News Round Up: Action Needed!


The Chamber Group Simple Measures, performing on the Streetcar, via the PI big blog.

  • The Nedler amendment that would tack on another $3 billion in transit funding to the Stimulus package has passed the House Rules Committee and is heading to the House floor. Email your congressional delegation and urge them to vote yes on the amendment.
  • The DeFazio Amendment failed, however.
  • Our world’s climate is a complete catastrophe, and urgent action is needed, according to planners with the Munich Re Group, the world’s largest reinsurers. They note that financial losses due to climate change already number in hundreds of billions and are rising.
  • This bill, SB 5377, is running through the state Senate, and is the perfect partner in sustainability to HB 1490, the bill that requires dense development around transit stations. SB 5377 would let the state provide grants and loans to governments and non-profits that developed housing or the infrastructure for supporting increased housing near stations. Special consideration will be given to projects that build low or moderate income housing. I hope to hear more about this bill, particularly news of it moving forward.
  • There are a ton of open houses on the Sound Transit calendar this week. Take a look below the fold and see if there’s one in your area.

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Reminder: Metro Fares Increase on Feb 1st

Just a quick reminder that Metro bus fares are set to increase by a quarter starting next Sunday, February 1st. Peak one-zone trips will now run an even $2.00, while two-zone trips will cost $2.50. Off-peak fare will be $1.75. You can find more information in a flyer that Metro has put together (pdf). This fare increase will be followed by another 25-cent increase in January of next year, in an effort to shore up recent budgetary problems.

Metro’s last fare increase came in March of last year. Prior to that, Metro had not had an increase in fares since 2001.

I also want to mention that even though Metro had a rough December, and had some particularly bad communication issues, I think we’re already beginning to see some improvements. The flyers warning customers about the reduced service on MLK Jr. Day were clear and easy-to-follow, had a cheery reminder to “spread the word,” and even mentioned future holidays to give customers time to prepare. Kudos Metro.

Phoenix Light Rail

Phoenix at dusk (HDR)

Phoenix at Dawn, by flickr user robotography

I’ve been following the Phoenix Light Rail opening to try to predict what sort of reaction our own light rail system is going to have when it opens this summer. Arizona’s light rail is a bit different to Link – it’s entirely at-grade, for starters – but I think many of the lessons that Phoenix is learning we’re going to have to learn as well, for better or for worse. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a series of posts on Phoenix’s Metro Light Rail, and what we can expect from the first few months of Link, and the period after that. In this first post, I’m just going to talk about Phoenix and the Metro Light Rail.

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News Round Up

Lining up for the north bus

Bellevue Transit Center, by Oran via the STB flickr pool.

  • The Obama administartion is looking at creating an infrastructure bank based on the European Investment Bank. Through this mechanism, states or transportation programs could borrow money through the feds at a very low rate. H/T to Zach.
  • An anti-viaduct initiative is moving foward. The initiative would prohibit any use of City property to be used during construction. The initiative filers have until July to come up with 18,000 signatures.
  • I recently found this interesting blog, the National Journal’s expert blog. The blog features short posts by transportation experts like BSNF CEO Matt Rose, Gov. Tom Kaine of Virginia, and Robert Puentes of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative. In a recent post entitled “How Would You Improve The Stimulus Bill?”, Pete K. Rahn, the director of Missouri DOT has this to say:

    The $30 billion highway and bridge amount does not live up to the rhetoric preceding the release of the overall package. $30 billion is not going to “repair America’s crumbling roads and bridges” and it does not represent “the greatest investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower.” At under 70% of a normal annual highway appropriation, the program lacks critical mass. The transportation portion should be doubled. A change I would make to the proposal is to allow the use—on a one-time emergency basis—of transit funds for system operations due to the severe decline in other ordinary revenues. I don’t believe any other areas of the stimulus proposal have to be reduced to increase the transportation-funding portion

    Amen, brother!

  • On the other hand, President Obama has pushed through rules allowing states to set more strigent fuel economy standards than the feds do, something Former President Bush wouldn’t allow. So much for Republicans being the states’ rights party…
  • State House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) has an op-ed in the Times about the future of Washington State Ferries. Basically, she outlays the budget troubles facing the Ferries service: a $3.5 billion budget shortfall over the next 22 years if current service is to be maintained. Ouch.
  • Josh Feit over at Publicola has more details on the Futurewise and TCC v Seattle Displacement Coalition fight over the Transit Oriented Development Bill going through Olympia.
  • The Times had a piece over the weekend on how the Viaduct replacement decision was made. In short, business leaders and the Port were dead against the surface options.

Sound Transit Service Changes

Photo by majinandoru in the STB Flickr Pool

Photo by majinandoru in the STB Flickr Pool

It’s that time again: a new set of schedules go into effect February 7.  As usual, Sound Transit is the first to announce their changes.   They’re reallocating the bays at the Overlake Transit Center, so pay attention.

The other big change is the new route 593, which runs from South Tacoma station to Downtown Seattle.

Service Change Highlights

ST Express

Route 513: Revised routing to serve new terminal in Everett
Route 532: Stops added in downtown Everett
Route 545: Bay reassignment at the Overlake Transit Center
Route 564/565: Bay reassignment at the Overlake Transit Center
Route 590: Minor schedule adjustments
Route 592: Minor schedule adjustments
Route 593: New route added to operate between new South Tacoma Station, Tacoma Dome Station and Seattle

Sounder

South line: Minor schedule adjustments
North line: No changes

Tacoma Link

No changes

Another Look at the Stimulus

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what’s wrong with the stimulus package and it’s really easy to critisize a bill that tries really hard to please everyone. But looking at the stimulus from a different perspective, in 2007, the Federal Government spent $2,730 billion (more was spent in 2008), of which $8.875 billion when to the FTA and was spent on transit. So about 1/3 of one percent of the total budget went to transit. With this stimulus package, $825 billion (or $550 billion if you think tax credits aren’t spending) will be spent in total, and $9 billion will go to transit. That’s nearly 1.1%. So compared to most government spending, this stimulus is very transit heavy. And $2.1 billion for New Starts is about 50% more than a typical year’s worth of spending.
 
Still, even conservatives agree that tax cuts are crappy stimulus and the stimulus will not keep cities from cutting service or raising fares. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has authored an amendment to the bill to authorize more funding for transit, so it’s not too late to email your congressional delegation and tell them you want to see more transit in the final draft of the stimulus bill. Especially Patty Murray, who’s in the Senate commitee looking at the bill right now.

A couple of videos below the fold.
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Amtrak Cascades News

cascades-ridership
774,421 trips were taken on Cascades in 2008,  up more than 14% last year compared to 2007, and 2007 itself was a record year . This is by far the biggest year-over-year increase for Cascades, and is all the more remarkable when considering that no new runs were added last year.
casecadesridership2
The second graph shows the quarterly data for 2008, and you can see that the third quarter was when ridership was up the most over 2007. This seems to correspond to the rise-up in gasoline prices, but the return to levels similar to 2007 in the fourth quarter may not be explanable solely by the late year slide in gas prices. In December, we had snowpacolypse, and there was another snow day in November, both storms shut down service for some period. In a way, it’s impressive that ridership was up at all in Q4, when you consider that service was out for nearly two weeks.

 Apparently in an attempt to boost ridership further, WSDOT – which funds most Cascades service – is applying for some of the Amtrak money that Congress approved last summer.  You can see the list of projects here . If you look at the projects in the list, most of the money would go toward adding third main lines in typically congested places along the route, in an attempt to ease competition between freight and Amtrak. Noticeably absent from the list is the Pt. Defiance bypass.

Here are the WSDOT reports the two graphs came from:

Week in Review

Seattle Traffic

Seattle Traffic, from Oran via the STB flickr pool.

Last week, we welcomed a new president, but there was a fair bit of transportation news as well.

Transport for London Safety Videos

I reckon you have seen this one:

I’m not sure whether you’ve seen this:

I’ve seen a couple of pretty close between Link trains and both cars and pedestrians during testing the last few months, and I wonder if Sound Transit shouldn’t try a similar campaign for Link in the areas where the train has at-grade crossings. Maybe not with moonwalking bears on Youtube, but “It’s easy to miss what you aren’t looking for…” with a picture of train. What do you think?

Transit Oriented Development Bill

Density

Density, from flickr user C1ssou

Andrew Austin at the TCC blog has the update on the Transit Oriented Development Bill, mentioned here and here, that is working its way through the state legistlature. It’s currently set for a committee hearing next week. It’s House Bill 1490, and you can read the full text here.