McGinn Says His Rail is Affordable

This morning, we posted on a Seattle PI report that had city experts hinting that an expensive light rail expansion couldn’t be funded with city sources alone. Mayor McGinn responded today at a press brown bag event, saying that he plans to build an affordable line.

Publicola has the word:

“We are going to try to minimize the amount of expensive infrastructure” associated with rail construction, McGinn said, mostly by building rail on the surface on existing city streets. That, obviously, would mean taking out lanes of traffic—a move that caused major political problems for the now-defunct monorail, whose concrete pylons would have taken out traffic lanes in West Seattle, Ballard, and downtown.

McGinn said he isn’t worried about the political implications of removing traffic lanes. And he declined to commit to a specific light-rail route, saying, “We’re not starting with lines on a map.” He noted, however, that 15th Avenue NW—where the monorail was supposed to run—would be “an obvious corridor” to get to Ballard.

No follow-up today on the comments from McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa, who told the PI that the mayor “hasn’t gotten to the point of studying how [light rail] might happen, and whether it would go to a vote, or what the funding source would be.” It seems to us on the outside that the city should begin studying possible routes now if a vote is on the table for next year, as McGinn promised during his campaign. We’ve sent a message to mayor’s office to clarify.

News Roundup: $19.5 Billion from the General Fund

"Coming up to the Station," by flickr user natfoot.

This is an open thread.

Lowrise Multifamily Code Update

Seattle Channel - PLUNC Committee

Seattle Channel - PLUNC Committee

Last weekend Sally Clark, chair of the Planning and Land Use Neighborhood Committee (PLUNC), held a meeting about the future of the Lowrise development codes (L1, L2, L3, L4) in the city of Seattle (see zoning map here). This is the second half of a  large code update, with Highrise and Midrise development codes already approved by the city council at the end of last year. In many ways those update were less controversial than the Lowrise codes, and in some way less important. Ten percent of Seattle is zoned as one of the Lowerise zones, and these areas are where a majority of population growth in the city will occur. Additionally, ugly and dysfunctional townhouses are often the rallying cries of NIMBY.

In general the thrust of the update is to move away from prescriptive codes that create cookie cutter builds to a more flexible code and administrative review procress that gets us what we want; attractive, context sensitive, affordable, and sustainable housing. The issues related to this are complex and I really don’t have the knowledge or time to fully dive into them, but the resources below will give you decent understanding of the issue.

High quality and affordable housing is critical to what this blog advocates for and this update certainly is a step in the right direction. There will be more meeting on this topic where you can give public comment on March 25th and April 2nd.

Viaduct, Other Debt Could Wrench McGinn’s Rail “Plan”

Legal constraints on city indebtness. Image from the PI.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn plans to bring a light rail measure to the ballot next year, but can the city afford it? According to the the city’s analysis, perhaps not. The PI reports that the city may be unable to create enough debt to finance an expensive light rail expansion:

The city has about $1 billion in unfunded capital needs outside the viaduct project. The city’s central staff analysts told the city council Monday that a large transit project such as light rail that costs between $1.5 and $2 billion would blow the debt limit, or at least wipe out room for anything else.


Noble said a Seattle light rail line possibly could be paid for through Sound Transit’s taxing authority or a Transportation Benefits District, under which the city could impose a sales tax increase or vehicle licensing fee. It would require voter approval and have to generate about $200 million per year, he said after Monday’s meeting.

Another potential problem is that the City Council is considering a Transportation Benefits District to help pay for viaduct-related costs.

Of course, if the light rail plan McGinn proposes is on the cheap (as McGinn hinted in the campaign, with allusions to Portland’s at-grade Max light rail) or if the city raises its relatively conservative debt limit, things could be different. It’s important to note that McGinn may need state legislation to help with this process, another risk toward passing a plan. But what kind of plan will McGinn be offering? From the report:

“He hasn’t gotten to the point of studying how that might happen, and whether it would go to a vote, or what the funding source would be,” McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said. “At this point, it’s just something to be discussed.”

Which, if true, is a discouraging sign. A rail plan being presented to voters in November 2011 should be in planning stages right now as to have the details by this time next year. We hope the Mayor’s office is playing coy here. For what it’s worth, the basic structure floating around town is Link-style light rail to West Seattle that connects at SoDo and a SLUT extension to Fremont and Ballard.

Bellevue City Council Sends Letter Supporting C9T

The Seattle PI reports on the outcome of last night’s meeting:

The council voted 7-0 to send a letter to Sound Transit in support of the “C9T” option, which would tunnel beneath 110th Avenue Northeast before emerging at Northeast Sixth Street and jutting east to cross I-405 to a station at Overlake Hospital.

It appears the city council has plans to cover some of the additional costs associated with the tunnel option, which is about $285 million more expensive than Sound Transit budgeted for its preferred alternative — an at-grade couplet along 108th Avenue Northeast and 110th Avenue Northeast. The excess costs must be covered by the city.

There is still a funding gap which the city hasn’t identified how to fill, but is probably hoping Sound Transit brings some clever ideas to the table. In an open letter last month, we asked Sound Transit to consider putting Eastside commuter rail funds unlikely to be utilized toward East Link. That money is currently earmarked for I-405 bus service expansion, but many would agree that serving downtown Bellevue should be ST’s primary concern on the Eastside.

Metro Considers Route 22 Revision

Metro is considering a slight revision of Route 22 in West Seattle, depicted above.

If you have an opinion, you can fill out an online survey, call 206-684-1146, or email  You have until this Friday.

Bellevue City Council Studies Downtown Alignment

The Bellevue City Council is meeting on downtown light rail now (6:00pm), and you can view a live stream right here. The City Council is considering a draft letter regarding its preference of the C9T alignment, though more controversy could come up during the meeting.

Metro Releases Sounders and Mariners Service Schedule


On the heels of newly announced special Sounder service to soccer and baseball games, Metro announced this year’s schedule of special buses from (and in some cases, to) Sounders and Mariners games:

  • to and from all weekend Sounder games from Northgate, South Kirkland, and Eastgate.
  • to and from all weekend Mariner games from Northgate, South Kirkland, South Bellevue, and Eastgate.
  • From all weeknight Mariner games to the same four locations.

In all cases the trip will cost $5 each way, a rise from $3 a couple of years ago.  This fare is cash only and will be waived only for children under 2.

Unlike the Sounder service, whatever costs are not recovered by fares will be covered by the teams, which might explain their draconian structure.  It would appear that Link and Sounder are now covering the old downtown postgame shuttle and trips to points South

In any case remember that we have Senator Patty Murray to thank for lifting the ridiculous Bush-era provision that banned this kind of arrangement.

Transportation Benefit Districts are Back From The Dead!

Marko Liias’ HB 2855 is back in the special session! It’s been modified, though, so it would offer King, Pierce or Snohomish the opportunity for up to a $50 vehicle license fee with a public vote. Martin’s noted in the past that $40 would be enough to patch up Metro’s budget hole, and it’s certainly a good start for Pierce or Community Transit.

This bill will likely be on the floor today, and this is probably your last chance to take action during the session. If you want Sunday service back in Snohomish County, there are two things you can do (as usual) – call your own legislator, especially your representative, and call Speaker Chopp’s office to ask for a vote. (Bryan’s pointed out the District Finder)

Remember, every time your legislator hears that you care about this, even if they’ve already heard once or twice before, they’re reminded that people care about transit. We’re going to remind them of that all year!

Sunday Open Thread: Buses vs. Rail

Literally, twice. No one was seriously injured.

February 2010 Link Ridership Numbers

from the Flickr Pool

February Link ridership numbers increased slightly over January’s average to 16,741 boardings each weekday, 13,744 on Saturdays, and 12,076 on Sundays. That actually beats out the record for weekdays, set in October, of 16,192.  The weekend records were set in the July opener and are unreachable for the foreseeable future.

Prediction and analysis on this subject are fraught with peril, but the major change in February was elimination of the 194 as part of a reorganization of Southwest King County service that also greatly improved bus access to TIB and Seatac stations.

These always turn into really long comment threads, but recall that we have a basically incomplete data set, Link’s most important promises won’t be realized for decades, and these numbers are neither so astoundingly high nor abominably low that anyone on the either side is likely to be convinced to change their opinion on the project as a whole.

For obsessives, the raw data is here.

SDOT: Two-Way Broadway for First Hill Streetcar

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway

Seattle’s Department of Transportation has recommended the Two-Way Broadway alignment for the First Hill Streetcar. The recommendation was given in a presentation to the interested parties Wednesday night, according to Richard Sheridan from the department. The recommendation was first reported by Central District News; an impressive scoop.

The park loop initially proposed, which would have had the streetcar route encircle Cal Anderson Park, was dropped because it “didn’t have a lot of advantages” and was “creating more concerns” than keeping the route on Broadway north of Union, according to Ethane Melone, who headed the recommendation process for SDOT.

The Two-Way Broadway alignment performed the best on most metrics the city measured; perhaps most importantly in this climate, it is expected to be the most frugal option. SDOT’s presentation also covered the cost of perhaps extending the Broadway line north from its planned terminus at John St north to Aloha: just $20 million, but some money would be needed to fund the design of the extension in the short term to make the exention “shovel-ready.”

“If that extension were funded by the early part of 2012,” Melone said, “it could be added to the construction contract, and completed at the same time or shortly thereafter.” He also noted that the quarter-mile extension could be completed “in a matter of months” regardless of when it’s funded. Mayor McGinn’s light rail package that will be sent to voters sometime next year could well include funding for an extension.

The exact configuration on Broadway is to-be-determined. The city will be looking at a proposal from the Capitol Hill Community Council for a two-way “cycle track” that is separated from traffic. A cycle-track would have little impact on parking, Melone said, but would require removing the center-turn lane from Broadway.

Some neighborhood groups are likely to be disappointed by the recommendation after heavy lobbying for a 12th Ave Couplet alignment, which this blog editorialized against. Melone told us that the stations being separated by distance and grade could have made the line “less intuitive” to ride and create “a perception of inconvenience.” First Hill hospitals hoping for alignments that pass closer to hospital entrances were probably expecting this decision after earlier analysis concluded their favored alignments were much more expensive than other alternatives.

SDOT made its recommendation to Mayor McGinn, who will in turn make a recommendation to the City Council, who has the final say. CHS reports that the mayor has said he’s leaning toward the Broadway alignment.

Once More, For Old Times’ Sake?

Last year, the Governor vetoed Transportation Benefit District authority for transit agencies. As she clearly really likes that line-item veto power, we’d like to ask her to do it again – to veto the “private provider” language in SB 6381, currently headed to her desk.

Wednesday morning, Rep. Marko Liias asked his colleagues to sign on to a letter to urge the governor to veto this provision. Essentially, it’s turning out that the provision would affect more grants than originally intended, would violate federal regulations, and could potentially apply to the downtown tunnel – in addition to other issues.

I think a lot of us have already called the Governor’s office (maybe more than once) to ask that she veto this portion of the bill. Thanks to Rep. Liias, there’s a new way we can help – call your Senators and Representatives in Olympia and ask them to sign on to Liias’ letter!

Additionally – Seattle legislators, I’m looking at you. Your constituents more than any others depend on transit facilities, and impacting those could be very damaging to those constituents’ ability to get to work.

PT Tomorrow Details Released

Photo by DWHonan

I wasn’t looking forward to breaking down Pierce Transit’s new system concept and route-by-route planning pages because I don’t know the system all that well.  Fortunately, Tacoma Tomorrow has wall-to-wall coverage of developments there.

Chris and Evan wrote up a summary of planned route changes, a roundup of public feedback, and an in-depth look at PT Route 4.

And while you’re at it, check out this writeup of Tacoma Link extension options.

A Peek at the Other Two East Link Stations

I-90/Rainier Avenue Link Station (from the Central District News)

In light of Bellevue routing and whatnot, East Link’s first two stations outbound from International District Station have been somewhat of an anomaly, at least up until now.  The Central District News has some new information about the I-90/Rainier Ave. Station, which is currently a freeway stop.  There will be platform entrances from 23rd Avenue on top of the Mt. Baker tunnel entrance, as well as an entry ramp to the Rainier Avenue bus stops below I-90. More below the jump.

[Read more...]

Swift/SR99 Ridership Bucks the Trend

"Swift BRT at Airport Rd", by Dave Honan

Lots of juicy tidbits in this CT ridership press release:

Following local employment trends, Community Transit ridership decreased 4.6 percent in 2009. Total ridership on the agency’s buses, vanpools and DART paratransit vehicles was 11.4 million last year, down from an agency record 11.9 million passenger boardings in 2008…

Swift has established itself as the agency’s highest ridership route and helped contribute to an 11 percent increase in overall transit ridership on the Highway 99 corridor… In December, Swift had an average of 1,699 weekday boardings; in January Swift had an average of 2,367 weekday boardings; and in February Swift had an average of 2,660 weekday boardings

Route 101, the local bus route that runs from south Everett to Aurora Village along Highway 99 as a companion to Swift, Route 101 ridership remains healthy and is second highest in Community Transit’s system, with an average of 2,218 weekday boardings in February….

Swift and Route 101 carried 4,878 passengers each weekday on February, compared to the 4,376 combined weekday boardings of Route 101 and Route 100 (which Swift replaced) in February 2009. That 11 percent increase on the Highway 99 corridor came as other transit ridership dropped 8 percent February 2009 to February 2010.

As ever, a couple of months of ridership numbers is too little to start drawing conclusions about the value of the project, but it does validate that improved bus service can increase ridership to some degree.  In particular, if Swift is able to reverse some of the atrocious land use in the corridor, it will have been a massive bargain.

News Roundup: Bike Edition

This was a very big news week for bikes. This is an open thread.

March 18th: International Bus Driver Appreciation Day

Stop stealing the spotlight, Oran. (By Atomic Taco)

Tomorrow is International Bus Driver Appreciation Day.  Whether you only commute by bus, or run all your everyday errands on transit, we encourage you to show your appreciation through any way you can (try to keep it in moderation; drivers are more inclined to accept sealed food containers than a cookie produced out of your pocket). Even though it may be “Bus” Driver Appreciation Day, it certainly doesn’t hurt to say a quick thanks to train or streetcar operators if you manage to catch of glimpse of them (as long as you’re not disrupting them in the cab).

Last February already saw a Bus Driver Appreciation Week, but we know it’s never enough for what many drivers put up with.  For someone who doesn’t witness enough riders thanking their drivers when exiting out the front, here’s a big thanks to all our driver readers and their coworkers.

Sound Transit: Looking at Changing Fare Structure

ST Express Proposed Changes

Proposed changes to ST Express bus fare.

We were just informed that the Sound Transit board will discuss a “fare simplification/coordination and rate change” proposal at this Thursday’s board meeting Operations and Administration Committe. The initial draft of the fare proposal can be found here. Information about the meeting can be found here.

From my cursory skimming of the proposal the biggest news is not the fare changes themselves; as ST’s fare have only increased once since 1999 compared to four times with CT, Metro and PT. Rather the big news is the structural changes underlying them. ST Express bus service would see the largest structural changes, shifting from a Sound Transit subarea basis to a county basis.

The image above outlines the proposed changes to fare structure as well as price. I’m under the impression that this structural change is an effort to bring ST’s fare structure more in line with the county operated transit operators. In coordination with county agencies this could possibly leading to a harmonized although not necessarily unified fare structure.

The other change is to increase Link’s base fare by $0.25 cents and eliminating the distance-based portion of the fare for youth and senior/disabled. This will cut the number of possible link fares in half from 12 to 6 and bring youth and senior fares in line with Metro’s bus fares next year.

The Seattle Times will have a story with interviews tomorrow and I’m sure Martin will contribute more analysis in the coming days, especially since he wrote about fares here just a few days ago.

I’ll just leave you with a few thoughts. To me there are three competing objectives when designing fare structures; equity, ease of use, and system efficiency. Depending on the historical precedence and context of the transit system these competing objectives lead to different fare structures. Flat fares are easy to use but create large winners and losers and don’t manage demand well. Zone based systems are harder to understand, make the system more fair and more efficient. Distance based fares are complex, more fair and more or less lead to efficient use of the transit supply. In Seattle’s context equity and ease of use will be the two competing objectives that will shape any fare structure change. Stay tuned for more details in the coming days.

Should Drivers have Plexiglas Barriers?

[UPDATE 8:00 am: This TV report provides some video of what the shields look like.  It's hardly an airtight seal.]

The Seattle PI reports that Metro will install Plexiglas barriers between drivers and passengers in a handful of buses as a trial run.

After a bus driver was beaten and knocked unconscious while behind the wheel, officials with King County Metro Transit are exploring whether to enclose drivers behind Plexiglas barriers.

As a pilot project, security partitions will be installed in a small number of buses, General Manager Kevin Desmond said. More details, including costs, will be announced in the next few weeks, he said.

I’m not so sure that Metro’s limited dollars should be going to Plexiglas barriers. As the article notes, a barrier could cement a notion that buses are unsafe. And if a passenger’s first source of aid is behind a barrier, wouldn’t that make one feel less protected? While bus drivers can go through dangerous parts of town, it stands to reason that if a bus is an unsafe place to be then passengers and not just drivers should be protected. That means things like security cameras and a random police presence could be more effective for overall safety than Plexiglas barriers for drivers.