Sen. Scott White Passes at 41

Senator White

Yesterday we learned that Senator Scott White (D-46, North Seattle), passed away in his hotel room while attending a leadership conference in Kittitas County.  The loss for the transit activist community is great– Senator White was one of a number of other State legislators to sponsor funding bills that would have expanded taxing authority for transit agencies.  We’re enormously saddened by the news and offer our deepest condolences to his family.

ST’s 2012 Service Implementation Plan

Lakewood Station - finally seeing Sounder in 2012! Photo by Andrew Smith

Two weeks ago Sound Transit released its 2012 Draft Service Implementation Plan.  (Executive Summary, or Full Document)  Given the current funding crises faced by all agencies, there is very little expansion in the plan except where new efficiencies allow for increased service.  As Sounder service to South Tacoma and Lakewood opens late in 2012, the most dramatic service revisions will occur in Pierce County.

Sound Transit will host a public hearing on November 3rd at Union Station from 1-1:30pm.  If you find the time or limited duration of the hearing inconvenient, you may comment anytime at fastride@soundtransit.org.

A route-by-route breakdown of proposed changes after the jump… [Read more...]

2011 General Election Endorsements (I)

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for the November 8th general election. As always, our endorsements are meant to focus entirely on their transit and land use positions. Readers can apply other criteria as they wish.

Our editorial board consists of Martin H. Duke, Adam Parast, and Sherwin Lee, with valued input from the rest of the staff. We relied extensively on both an STB questionnaire and one from the Transit Riders’ Union. You can also consult the King County voters’ guide.

This post covers ballot measures, King County, City of Seattle, and City of Bellevue councils. We’ll follow up with other races in a few days.

BALLOT MEASURES

Seattle Proposition 1: YES. A $60 vehicle license fee doesn’t cover all of the city’s transportation needs, but it makes a sizeable dent. It will help to reduce the road maintenance backlog, improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and spend about 50% of the revenue on transit, making it faster, more reliable, easier to access, and less dependent on petroleum. It also takes small steps towards higher capacity streetcars on Seattle’s busiest corridors. Moreover, the VLF benefits the city’s poorest who can’t afford a car in the first place.

Initiative 1125: NO. There is nothing to like about I-1125. The initiative prevents variable tolling, doesn’t allow tolls to be used to fund transit, and blocks East Link over I-90. Adding further litigation and funding uncertainty to state mega-projects is counterproductive. It should go without saying that East Link is one of our largest priorities, and this initiative would kill it. Congestion-based tolling is the only way to tackle congestion in the long term. I-1125 sends us back to the 1950s in both respects. Tell Tim Eyman and Kemper Freeman that they’re out of touch with Washingtonians’ priorities by voting No on I-1125.

CANDIDATES

Richard Mitchell

King County Council, Position 6. Richard Mitchell is running against incumbent Jane Hague and holds a number of positions that we like, including support for long-term sustainable transit funding and emphasis on productivity; he’s also shown a firm grasp on the importance of land use in the transportation discussion. We are, however, very skeptical of his ideas on transit agency consolidation. To her credit, Ms. Hague did help broker the deal to pass the $20 CRC and eliminate the ride-free area.  Although she did the right thing in the end, she was still willing to accept draconian cuts unless her second-order concerns were addressed. That’s just not good enough with a strong transit advocate like Richard Mitchell in the race.

Joe McDermott

King County Council, Position 8. Joe McDermott has had a short but impressive term on the Council since he replaced Dow Constantine. His positions are similar to Mr. Constantine’s — solid support for preserving and reforming Metro service while proceeding with Sound Transit’s buildout. Mr. McDermott’s opponent doesn’t appear to have a transportation emphasis.

Bobby Forch

Seattle City Council, Position 1. Bobby Forch has experience managing capital projects for SDOT, is a strong supporter of the VLF, and has several interesting ideas for transportation improvements, like making 3rd Avenue transit-only all-day. The incumbent, Jean Godden, championed the least aggressive, most road-oriented version of what became Proposition 1.

Brad Meacham

Seattle City Council, Position 3. The incumbent, Bruce Harrell, has basically sound views on transit that are “centrist” by Seattle standards. Transportation has not been one of his areas of focus on the Council. That’d be enough for a pass in many cases, but Brad Meacham absolutely hits it out of the park. He’s been aggressive in advocating for more funding for transit, and his ideas make it obvious that he’s used transit for a long time and been thoughtful about his experiences.

Tom Rasmussen

Seattle City Council, Position 5. Tom Rasmussen is also basically a transit centrist by Seattle standards: eager to grow the transit pie, a little squishy on density, pro-tunnel, and so on. As Chair of the Transportation Committee, he’s the architect of the $60 VLF as much as anyone (for better or worse), and has had a positive impact on the recent Metro dramas. We yearn for more progressive voices on the Council, but opponent Dale Pusey is not it. Pusey opposes the VLF, demand-based parking fees, and is broadly anti-streetcar.

Tim Burgess

Seattle City Council, Position 7. Tim Burgess is a solid contributor on the City Council. He’s been a leader on upzoning, market-based street parking, and is supportive of Prop. 1. We’d like it if he were sometimes a bit more aggressive on our issues, but the fact remains that policy-wise he’s the second strongest Councilmember behind Mike O’Brien. Opponent David Schraer says a lot of wonderful things about density, but he seems very dismissive of the environmental concerns that led many people to oppose the DBT. Tim Burgess is an effective advocate for good policy and deserves another term.

Sally Clark

Seattle City Council, Position 9. Sally Clark won our primary endorsement as a positive force to improve Seattle’s zoning codes, although as chair of the land use committee, we think she could be much more forceful in that area. Her opponent, Dian Ferguson, opposes our values in almost every dimension: railing against density increases around light rail stations; emphasizing more government-mandated parking everywhere; opposing transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements; and so on.

John Stokes

Bellevue City Council, Position 1. John Stokes is running for Grant Degginger’s open seat, Bellevue’s most hotly contested position.  His attitude towards transit are consistent with our views: strong support for East Link, development in the Bel-Red Corridor, and more sustainable taxing authority for transit funding.  His opponent, Aaron Laing, is affiliated with Building a Better Bellevue, a neighborhood organization which has been hostile towards Sound Transit and East Link.

John Chelminiak

Bellevue City Council, Position 3. John Chelminiak has been a staunch proponent of East Link over his tenure on the city council, even authoring a guest piece for us this past May debunking a common talking point among B7 supporters.  His general positions on transit are fairly solid, including support for transit signal priority and minimization of cash-fare payment.  Opponent Michelle Hilhorst is being backed by developer Kemper Freeman and has not expressed convincing support for any positions that would be considered pro-transit.

Claudia Balducci

Bellevue City Council, Position 5. Claudia Balducci is Bellevue’s purest transit advocate and deserves another term on the council.  Her strong support for East Link and transit are supplemented by her impressive transportation resume, which not only includes a seat on the Sound Transit Board, but one on the PSRC Transportation Policy Board as well.  Her opponent, Patti Mann, has expressed opposition to ST’s preferred East Link alignment, has no public office experience and is endorsed by a slew of transit opponents.

Northwest Governments Should Go Big on Rail

Rail Capacity Constraints – 2006

In 2014, the Panama Canal will double its capacity, adding a third shipping lane and dredging its channels to 60′.  The primary effect of this will be to make East Coast ports significantly more attractive to Asian shipping interests, most of whom currently call at prominent West Coast ports (Long Beach, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, etc…) for intermodal transfer to the midwest and east by rail.  Despite our highly successful shift toward services and technology, a robust industrial base remains key to a healthy Cascadian economy, and a significant drop in freight rail traffic would cause significant harm.

To remain competitive, our regional governments (the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, the legislatures of Oregon and Washington, and to a lesser extent, the Idaho legislature) should recognize the urgent need to partner on major rail investments in the next legislative cycle.  Washington has the most urgent needs, and the proposed investments are expensive.

Back in 2006, the Washington State Transportation Commission released the Washington State Rail Investment Plan, identifying major chokepoints and necessary improvements (see image above).  It is worth noting that the mainline between Seattle and Portland is significantly less congested than the cross-Cascades routes:  Seattle-Portland was just over 50% capacity, Portland-Spokane (BNSF) and Portland-Boise (UP) were both at 90-100% capacity, while Everett-Wenatchee (through the Cascade tunnel) was 22% over practical capacity.    The report laid out two alternatives (reproduced below): Alternative A would have added capacity for 24 additional trains per day and cost $350 million, primarily by crown-cutting the Stampede Pass tunnel to allow for double-stacked trains.  Alternative B would have added capacity for 75 additional trains per day for approximately $2.0 billion, constructing a new Stampede tunnel, allowing 20-minute headways between Auburn and Ellensburg, and allowing two trains in the Cascade Tunnel at the same time, among many other improvements.

2006 WSTC Rail Investment Plan

Despite continuing austerity at the state level, it is very likely that a major transportation package will be forthcoming in the next session, and I sincerely hope that we can simultaneously identify a new and sustainable source for transit funding while securing the investments necessary to sustain our industrial base.

Of course, such investments would bring welcome new opportunities for passenger service as well.  For instance, a daytime round-trip train between Seattle and Spokane would take 6.5 hours on a Talgo, be immune to seasonal disruptions in the Midwest, and do much to bridge the cultural Cascade Curtain.  New cross-Cascades passenger service could piggyback on freight investment for very little additional cost, especially considering the fact that we will have surplus trainsets until after the Point Defiance Bypass is complete in 2017.  Considering that air service between Seattle and Spokane is being reduced in January, now may be the time to look at additional rail.

 

News Roundup: Puff Piece

Photo by Slack Action

This is an open thread. I hope to see some of you at tonight’s fundraiser.

Yes on Prop 1 Neighborhood Doorbelling This Weekend

With ballots out, the Prop 1 campaign is going into overdrive and they need your help!

Ballots have dropped. Now it’s time to vote yes on Prop 1!

There’s 380,000 registered voters in Seattle — and the best way to convince them to vote yes is with face-to-face conversations. That’s why I’m excited that you’ll be coming to our Big Neighborhood Canvass this Sunday!

Proposition 1 is a down payment on becoming a 21st Century great American city. Designed by a citizen panel, Prop 1 will connect our neighborhoods with fast, reliable transit service, double our annual investment in sidewalks, nearly double the number of neighborhood repaving projects we do every year, and expand family-friendly bicycle infrastructure. Prop 1 is thousands of smart, simple improvements that will make our transportation system work better for everyone.

But our opponents are working to defeat us with a deceptive campaign that has mis-stated facts and mis-represented who their supporters are. In fact, our opponents are supported by the president of the Seattle Republican Party and their main funder is an anti-transit land barron.

With ballots in everyone’s mailboxes, we’ve got to double-down and talk face-to-face with thousands of Seattle voters this weekend. And we absolutely need you Max this Sunday to make it happen.

Details:
Day: Sunday, October 23rd
Meet: 11 a.m. at the Sierra Club Office, 180 Nickerson St.
End: 3-4 p.m.

We’ll meet at 11:00 a.m. at the Sierra Club at 180 Nickerson Street. We’ll have coffee and donuts, and we’ll get you a clipboard, list of households, a map, fliers, and a reusable bag to put all the materials in. Mayor Mike McGinn will fire us up with a rally speech, then we’ll get a quick training to set us up for success.

You’ll then drive (or bike) out to your assigned neighborhood where you’ll talk to folks face-to-face. Make sure you have water and snacks to keep you energized all day. After you’ve knocked on your houses, you’ll come back to the Sierra Club to drop off the materials and your results. You should be done around 3 p.m.

If you have a car, please drive it. There’s ample parking at the Sierra Club and getting people to the neighborhoods will be a ton easier. Also, make sure you bring a rain jacket and wear good walking shoes.

Afterwards, I encourage you to join us at the Nickerson Street Saloon to celebrate. Families welcome.

We really need your help, so thank you so much for coming this Sunday.

Sincerely,

Brock Howell
Field Director
Streets For All Seattle

P.S. Join us on Facebook.

We Should Pay: Free Ride Advocates Miss the Point

The We Won’t Pay people—the group that is urging people not to pay their fares when they ride Metro—have created a clever version of the Orca cards with the word “Nope” written on them. These were being distributed at the Occupy Westlake gathering over the last weekend. While some people might disagree, I have no problem with free transit anymore than I’d have a problem with free coffee or free pony rides. The problem with “free” is that it is an elusive concept. If we really want to reduce the price of transit, at the fare box or anywhere else, big changes are needed in the way we do land use and plan for growth. These solutions involve using the market to our advantage, something I doubt the We Won’t Pay movement has reached consensus on.

I’ve pointed out before that if we consider simple supply and demand, the problem with transit pricing is that the demand is diffuse which drives up costs to supply that demand. It’s the same reason that pizza delivery restaurants often have a service delivery area. I might want a pizza from that cool pizza place in Seward Park, but for them to drive it to me in Capitol Hill is cost prohibitive to them. The same is true of transit, when demand is spread all over the county then it’s going to get more and more expensive to operate the system.

But unlike a private pizza business, the community and political system has decided we do need to support the transit system even with all the costs. As part of the social contract we invest in things that we may not use or that wouldn’t make a profit. That’s why we use tax dollars to keep transit going. More after the jump.

[Read more...]

Streetsblog: Dispatches from Rail~Volution

Streetsblog DC has had great coverage of the Rail~Volution conferencing going on this week in DC, with two posts that really jumped out at me (maybe I just love bulleted lists). The first post highlights some lessons learned by WMATA with regard to Metro station area design, and the second looks at nation-wide demographic and attitudinal changes that all favor transit.

… At Rail~Volution on Monday, Harriet Tregoning, director of DC’s Office of Planning, and Christopher Zimmerman, chairman of the Arlington County Board, explained some notable mistakes their cities made along the way.

Here are some of the top lessons learned:

  • Don’t build above ground: “In the short term, under-grounding can be very expensive, but in the long term it saves a lot of money,” Zimmerman said. The development that occurs above the station easily pays for the tunnel, and there’s significant savings on maintenance when rails are protected from the elements. But perhaps more important, there’s little difference between a transit line and an Interstate when it comes to fracturing the fabric of the urban environment. “A railroad takes up a lot of space and creates a barrier — something you can’t get across, like a highway,” he said.
  • Don’t do transit without housing: The lifeblood of any TOD includes not just retail and office space, but housing, too. One of the most heavily utilized Metro stations in the DC system is Gallery Place, a downtown stop that just 10 years ago was a ghost town. Bringing it back to life wasn’t just about breathing new business into the area. It was about creating an environment that boosted downtown from 1,000 residents to more than 10,000. “Retail doesn’t survive on the 9 to 5 and it creates a safety issue,” Tregoning said. “It doesn’t work to not mix the jobs and housing.”

More after the jump. [Read more...]

Summary: Transit Spending in Proposition 1

Photo by Magnolia Voice

Over the past month or so we’ve gone into extraordinary detail about the various funding buckets attached to the $60 vehicle license fee on the ballots that are coming to you in the mail, at least if you live in Seattle. This post is your cheat sheet for what Prop. 1 will buy you, transit-wise.

The ordinance that sent the VLF ballot has a provisional budget detailing spending of the $200m the VLF will bring in over 10 years, of which about $100m will go to transit. We haven’t talked much about the road, bicycle, and pedestrian safety programs, but the $100m for transit is broken out as follows:

  • $40m for speed and reliability improvements on the 12 priority bus corridors, including Seattle’s three RapidRide corridors. This is a bit more than a fifth of what is needed to build out all the Transit Master Plan’s recommendations.
  • $18m for High Capacity Transit corridor engineering, grant applying, and matching funds. The first priorities are the downtown streetcar connector ($74m estimated total capital cost) and extending the First Hill Streetcar from John St. to Aloha St ($30m total capital cost). The other four corridors are further back in the queue.
  • $20m for trolleybus expansion, probably Route 48 and streamlining travel on James and Yesler.
  • $10m for transit access projects.
  • $12m for “neighborhood transit connections“, to get people outside walking distance to transit corridors to those corridors. I don’t believe this is properly written up in the TMP. However, at best this replaces inefficient Metro routes with alternative service delivery methods; at worst, it’s more “neighborhood circulator” routes, which people support at meetings, but then don’t ride because the only way to serve low-density neighborhoods is to take a circuitous route that no one with a choice would ever take.

Finally, a word on whether we should “trust” the City Council to dispense the money this way or not. Personally, I’ve always been a bigger fan of republics than direct democracy, so I think we’ll generally do better by handing it to the council than by voting on every little thing. In other words, I’m glad there’s flexibility; if big federal or private funds materialize for a particular project, it would make sense to shift funds to leverage that.

Like many no campaigns, the anti-VLF rhetoric sows uncertainty, suggesting that the proposed budget is some sort of Trojan Horse for whatever kind of spending you hate. Conversely, I probably wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a pro-VLF argument somewhere that insinuates you’ll actually get whatever you want.

In fact, I think there’s good reason to believe that the breakout above is pretty close to what we’ll get. The City Council has its various factions and the plan is obviously a carefully crafted compromise. There’s little reason to believe the policy balance is going to shift radically, particularly in the first few years, and if it does it’ll be because voters are electing new council members.

Seattle Wins $900K for Streetcar Planning

Siemens Rapid Streetcar Vehicle, Budapest

Seattle is the winner of an FTA grant to study “downtown circulator” portions of the Seattle Streetcar network:

The Federal Transit Administration announced the City of Seattle has won a $900,000 grant to study a high capacity transit project, such as a rapid streetcar, through the heart of downtown Seattle. The project would connect existing and proposed high-density neighborhoods to one another and the regional transit system.

I asked McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus if this referred to the “CC1″ (1st Avenue) or “CC2″ (4th/5th) corridors. He replied that “It’s an alternatives analysis that will help identify the route as well as the mode. Everything’s still on the table.”

USDOT dished out a total of $900m in grants on Monday. Elsewhere in the $49m awarded to Washington, ST got $3m for bus and nonmotorized access to S. 200th St. Station (and $5.4m to buy buses), CT got $894,578 for the Swamp Creek P&R, and Metro got $5m for a new roof at North Base. Most of the rest is for buying buses around the state.

Call for Endorsements

In a matter of days we’ll be releasing STB’s endorsements. We’ve got the major initiatives and the councils of King County, Seattle, and Bellevue all set.

However, if there’s an outstanding candidate in a smaller city, or in a neighboring county, that we should know about, please let us know in the comments.

First of Five TMP Open Houses Tonight

TMP Poster

 

Location details below jump. [Read more...]

Prop. 1 Fundraiser on Thursday

If you’d like to do your part to support the passage of Proposition 1 – a vehicle license fee that will fund a host of transit, road, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements — it’s not too late to sign up for Thursday’s fundraiser:

Event Details:
Date – October 20, 2011
Time – 5:30 – 7pm
Location – Watermark Tower, 6th Floor
1107 1st Avenue, Seattle

Suggested Donation $60

Let us know you will be joining us! RSVP to Jesseca@wcvoters.org or call 206.321.7723.

Access to Transit in the TMP

Click to Enlarge

One of the more mysterious parts of the transportation budget associated with the $60 vehicle license fee is a total of $10m intended for “transit access” projects. The Transit Master Plan (about which the first open house occurs tonight, October 18th) devotes Chapter 5 to the kind of projects that this money could fund.

It’s not as meticulously engineered and costed as the bus priority corridor work in Chapter 3, but it should give readers a better understanding of what this money could accomplish.

The first part of the document is a set of policies in principles that basically read as mom-and-apple-pie to the STB set. But then, there’s a 20-year plan for some key transit facilities across the city, as indicated in the map above and spelled out below the jump:

[Read more...]

Why Current Queen Anne-Madrona Service is Inefficient

King County Metro 3 in East Queen Anne

King County Metro 3 in East Queen Anne

A month and a half ago, when I wrote about a possible restructure of trolleybus service on the Queen Anne-Belltown-Downtown-First Hill-Madrona corridor, I promised “within a week” to explain why the restructure could deliver so much more service with roughly the same amount of money. Obviously, I’m several weeks late in doing this, but I hope you’ll forgive me.

To tackle this subject, I have to introduce a some planner jargon:

  • Clock-face schedule. A schedule that attempts to place a bus at a stop at consistent times past the hour (e.g. :07, :27, :47 for a 20-minute headway service). For routes operating at headways longer than 10 minutes, these schedules are the most comprehensible to riders; at shorter headways, riders tend not to worry about schedules.
  • Cycle time. This is the amount of time a bus takes to run a complete round trip and be ready to start out on the next trip. This includes driving time, required layover break time, and schedule padding, but does not include the deadhead time from the base to the starting point.

Let’s take a simple example. Suppose we have a route that takes 27 minutes to drive each way. Metro’s union rules require a five-minute break at the end of each cycle, and let’s suppose five minutes of padding per cycle are required to make the bus keep time reliably. The cycle time of this route is 27 + 27 + 5 + 5 = 64 minutes. Knowing this, we can work out that a pattern that maintains a clock-face schedule with 30-minute frequency would require three buses in service at once; 15-minute frequency would require five buses; and 10-minute frequency would require seven buses. [Read more...]

Group Health Overlake Master Plan Public Hearing Tomorrow

Transit in Overlake Village, Group Health site outlined in black

In addition to Bellevue’s open house on Tuesday evening, the Redmond City Council is holding a public hearing tomorrow, October 18, at 7:30 pm at Redmond City Hall on the Master Plan to redevelop Group Health Cooperative’s 28-acre site in the Overlake Village area. The area is planned to become a new transit oriented urban village served by the RapidRide B Line and Link light rail.

The Master Plan envisions a phased redevelopment of the property that would ultimately result in about 1,400 residences, 1.2 million square feet of office and retail uses, and a hotel and conference center.

It is going to be an interesting string of transit oriented development along East Link between downtown Bellevue and Overlake. Once the whole area redevelops, the B Line jog over to 152nd Ave NE makes a lot of sense.

Eastgate Open House Tomorrow

City of Bellevue

The Eastgate/I-90 corridor through Bellevue is, for the most part, a land use disaster: endless surface parking lots, essentially no high-density housing, an incomplete street grid, and above all a wide interstate with expansive interchanges.

To its credit, Bellevue is hoping to remake this corridor, which is on the shortlist for light rail in Sound Transit 3,  into something a bit more environmentally responsible.

The city government and a citizen advisory committee have been at work for over a year, and now have a draft transportation and land use plan. Tomorrow is your opportunity to learn about and comment on this plan (which I don’t believe is online anywhere) before the final recommendation goes to the city council:

The open house will be at the Robinswood House Cabana, 2430 148th Ave. SE, 4 to 6 p.m., with a presentation at 4:30 p.m.

I believe this plan could contain one of my personal hobby horses, fixing the roads to improve service between Bellevue College and Eastgate.

Sunday Open Thread: South Bronx Rising

Agencies Buy One More Year of OneBusAway

SDOT

Here’s to agency cooperation:

Puget Sound area transit agencies have reached an agreement with the University of Washington to keep the popular transit scheduling software application One Bus Away up and running now that the original developer – a UW graduate student – has moved on to the private sector.

Sound Transit, King County Metro, Pierce Transit and the UW through its Washington State Transportation Center and Department of Computer Science and Engineering will fund up to $150,000 to further develop and maintain the application for 13 months.

One of the tasks in this contract will be to improve interfaces and documentation to expand the practical range of agency options next year.

It’s always nice when overlapping agencies seize responsibility, especially in a time of austerity. This is a very small expense for a very large service quality improvement.

U-Link Tunneling in Action

Photo by Josh Trujillo, Seattle P-I

The Seattle P-I has a fantastic gallery showing U-Link boring in action between the University and Capitol Hill stations.

(H/T: Richard Van Dijk)