Earlier this week, Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace presented a motion to appoint Aaron Laing to the city’s Planning Commission. This is a typical Wallace move, trying to advance an agenda against East Link without proper debate.
Laing was a Kemper/Wallace-backed city council candidate who lost to pro-East Link councilmember John Stokes. While the appointment was delayed a week, the B7 supporters on the council still have a majority and can stack the Planning Commission with members who aren’t friendly to transit-oriented development. The Seattle Times reports:
The dispute ended with the council deciding to wait a week before voting on Councilmember Kevin Wallace’s motion to appoint Aaron Laing, who lost to Stokes by 51 votes in a hand recount.
No one challenged the qualifications of Laing, a land-use attorney, who received campaign contributions from Wallace, his father, Bob Wallace, and Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman.
But Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who asked for the delay, said it appeared Wallace had circumvented standard appointment procedures in order to install a “hand-picked” candidate.
The city’s seven planning commissioners advise the City Council on land-use and development policy.
Council liaisons’ recommendations for appointments to boards and commissions are typically noncontroversial actions and accepted by the full council without debate. (The mayor, by law, makes the appointments, but by tradition the council is first asked to concur.)
On Tuesday, Balducci said Wallace departed from the usual procedure by closing the door to new applications before the announced Jan. 6 deadline, interviewing candidates in one-on-one phone conversations instead of inviting other evaluators to face-to-face interviews, and not providing the council with all candidates’ applications.
Balducci said Laing was “an excellent candidate.” But, she said, “It starts to look like maybe we waited for our preferred applicant to apply and then shut off the process, made a few phone calls and decided whom to appoint. That’s the appearance and that’s my concern.”
Stokes said he, too, was concerned about how planning commissioners are appointed. “They’re either to be appointed by the liaison with just a rubber stamp or we should have a process,” he said.
Wallace said Thursday he shortened and streamlined the evaluation process because city staff “were urging me to get it done. … As far as I knew, everything was according to Hoyle.”
Concerns expressed by council members Balducci, Stokes and John Chelminiak represented “circus-act ambush attacks,” Wallace said. Balducci’s motion to delay the appointment for a week passed 5-2, with Wallace and Jennifer Robertson voting no.
[UPDATE from Martin: Apparently we're going to have to restore lost comments manually. It'll take a while, but eventually most of your comments should reappear here, although timestamps and threading may be lost.]
Apparently Disqus isn’t quite ready for prime time on our blog, and was causing many people’s browsers to lock up. We’ve reverted back to WordPress comments.
We have switched our comments system over to Disqus, a third-party comments host that supports logging in with Facebook, Twitter, and other services. Users can still post “anonymously” with the name of their choosing.
Disqus brings some unique features to the table. For example, commenters can now have avatars to show their faces. My favorite feature is that commenters can “like” comments and commenters with a Disqus account will now be able to edit their comments after posting.
One change we’re making is that instead of comments nesting deeply, they will only be able to nest one level deep, like comments on your Facebook wall. The goal is to make it so conversations are easier to follow and we hope that the commenting culture changes slightly to create new threads rather than having a deep reply chain. We hope to simplify things without hurting the ability to have the hardcore, nerdy conversations that make our comments work so well.
With change, there will always be kinks to work out. Please give our new comments system a chance and let us know what you think in this thread.
Update: We made it so the default sort order ignores “likes.”
The council took a vote at 7:30 pm, more than four hours later than planned.
After a dramatic delay of many hours, the King County Council approved a $20 Congestion Reduction Charge and the rest of a compromise deal that announced was last Friday.
The 7-2 vote delays a deep bus service cut for two years, gives ride free bus tickets to residents in exchange for the $20 vehicle license fee, and ends the Downtown Seattle’s Ride Free Area in October of next year (more on the RFA).
The fee required a 6-vote supermajority to pass and will not go before voters. Republicans Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voted against the proposal. Before the vote, rumors were swirling that Republicans Kathy Lambert and Jane Hague had turned their back on the deal, and the council was in recess for more than four hours and it seemed at times like other the Republican members had convinced Lambert and Hague to walk away.
The transit community pushed hard for the CRC, and seemed to be heard. “Your public testimony made a difference,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who was on the fence earlier in the year.
Update 7 pm: Republican Jane Hague announces that she supports the deal, seeming to indicate that the deal will pass after all. Republican Kathy Lambert seems on-board, too.
The deal that was announced last Friday to save Metro from 17% bus cuts while ending the Ride Free Area may be at risk, according to reports on PubliCola and Slog. Slog, in particular, has live updates that don’t sound too encouraging. Apparently, the council has been in recess for many hours while some council Republicans have tried to pressure other Republicans to walk away from the deal. (Transportation Choices Coalition is also live-tweeting the council meeting.)
Overall, the deal is a good one for progressives as well as those concerned with seeing government services operate more efficiently (nominally conservatives), but politics may trump policy.
“We tested this at several locations in downtown, including Third Avenue and it didn’t really create a serious problem,” Jim Jacobson, Deputy General Manager of Metro, said in an interview. “There are times when it creates problems, but that usually goes away after one signal cycle.” There will certainly be an increase in dwell times, Jacobson said, but there wasn’t much reason for alarm. “Two-thirds of people in the Ride Free Area have already paid a fare or have a pass,” so most riders won’t pay fare when entering the bus but will have to get used to boarding through the front.
Jacobson confirmed that “the tunnel will not be free” and he said that Metro has “simulated how this would work with increased dwell times.” One conclusion was that Metro could better stage buses before they enter the tunnel, to ensure that buses that stop in front of others enter the tunnel first. Another was that buses that are only dropping people off could pull as far forward as possible in the tunnel.
Another idea was that Sound Transit could improve its signaling system in the tunnel so that trains and buses could operate better in a shared environment. Metro and Sound Transit have clashed in the past over the shared operations in the tunnel, each agency saying the other is responsible for delays.
Metro plans to expand the enter through the front, exit through the back concept system-wide, with driver and consumer education campaigns to ensure a smooth flow. Most cities operate with systems like this, but for years different Metro drivers have had their own policies for the back door. It’s very encouraging that this change is planned.
There’s also good news on the revenue front. Based on surveys and other data, “the net effect of eliminating the RFA is on the order of $1.8 million a year,” Jacobson said. While none of that revenue is currently budgeted, “any dollar we have can be used to keep more service on the street longer than we could otherwise.”
Jacobson hopes that in the future, a day-pass will be offered by ORCA but said “we’re a long way from that.” A shame, that is, because a day-pass program would be perfect for casual riders and tourists, and the thing preventing its implementation is agency balkanization.
Correction: Readers have pointed out that Metro no longer sells day passes on the weekends. The story above has been edited.
Hundreds of people testified in support of the CRC over the last few months.
The morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine held a press conference announcing that the County Council will adopt the $20 Congestion Relief Charge to prevent a 17% cut in bus services, PubliCola reports. The fee, which applies to annual vehicle registration, will not be sent to voters and will expire in two years because of limitations set by the state legislature. The adoption of this fee is undoubtedly a win for transit advocates, who fought hard to preserve service.
Two Republicans, Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert, will join five Democrats to approve the fee outright—their change of heart comes after negotiations to implement other Metro reforms.
The biggest change is the elimination of the Seattle’s Ride Free Area, slated for October 2012. As we’ve written before, this change may be good for the system but there must be mitigation to ensure that buses can still move through downtown. The Ride Free Area is supported by most social justice advocates, but the RFA has non-trivial costs: the pay-as-you-leave system on some routes but not others can confuse riders and Metro loses some revenue by not charging fares. The County estimates that it costs $2.8 million in lost fares to provide free service through downtown but that it only receives $400,000 from the city, or just 18% of the cost.
The Ride Free Area was first introduced in 1973 as the "Magic Carpet Zone." At the time, the city paid for the full value of all lost fare revenue.
Eliminating the RFA has the potential to reduce fare evasion and disputes, and buses that leave downtown will now allow passengers to exit through all doors instead of forcing customers to exit through the front—which can be cumbersome in a congested bus. If the transition is handled well, it could represent a large improvement in system clarity.
There is reason to be concerned, however: if fares are charged in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, as the plan indicates, buses would further delay Link light rail. Buses along Third Avenue downtown could also face delays during rush hour unless there is a way to buy bus tickets before boarding or ORCA is heavily adopted. Disappointingly, there doesn’t seem to be any funding to provide systems to purchase bus fares before boarding, nor any incentives to increase ORCA usage.
This blog hosted a meetup Tuesday night and it was great to see some of our readers come out to say hello. Our guest speaker for the evening was Michael Taylor-Judd, perhaps the only person running for city council who is a regular reader and commenter!
People gather to enter the King County Courthouse. Photo by Oran.
Hundreds of people volunteered their time last night to sign in or testify to the King County Council in Seattle, most of them in support of the Congestion Reduction Charge (CRC). The CRC is a two-year, $20 annual fee on car tab renewal and would prevent a 17% reduction in bus service that would fully cut many routes.
The Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee hearing may have had the attention of Seattle residents, but two committee members, Pete von Reichbauer and Jane Hague, were notably absent from last night’s meeting.
Inside the council chambers.
The line to testify took over a full block of downtown and looped around the King County Courthouse. County officials said that this was probably the biggest public comment in King County history. Nearly everyone spoke in favor of approving keeping current bus service, but a non-trivial contingent argued that instead of charging car owners a flat fee with the CRC, we should tax the rich and businesses. Ultimately, King County has no revenue authority from the state beyond the car tab fee to fund bus service, despite incorrect claims made by some who gave testimony.
I gave my own testimony around 9:45 pm after joining the line of people near 6 pm. I argued that a CRC measure sent to voters would enter a crowded ballot, cost progressive groups hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign for, and needlessly put Metro’s future at risk. I urged the council to adopt the CRC by a 6-vote supermajority.
If you weren’t able to make it last night, please consider attending the next meeting in Burien or writing to the council. On July 25th, the council plans to ultimately decide whether to adopt the CRC by a supermajority, send the CRC to voters with 5 council votes, or cut bus service.
Federal Way’s city council has passed a resolution urging Sound Transit to build light rail all the way to the city rather than curtailing the line due to budgetary constraints brought on by the recession. Federal Way representatives will be at a Sound Transit board meeting later today to discuss the resolution.
Portion of the resolution passed by Federal Way.
Light rail to Federal Way was part of the Sound Transit 2 plan, which was approved by voters in 2008 before the full impacts of the recession on tax receipts was known. According to Sound Transit’s interim CEO, the agency cannot afford to build light rail to Federal Way unless all other South King County projects are canceled and, even then, rail will be come more than a decade behind the schedule outlined in ST2.
Federal Way’s resolution says the city is “reviewing legal options,” and suggests the agency could curtail costs by changing the alignment or borrowing money from Pierce County, both unlikely to change the fundamentals. It also asks Sound Transit to consider entirely eliminating sub-area equity which ensures that money raised in a particular community (i.e. South King County) says in that community. Since South King has been particularly hard hit by the recession, it is facing the deepest cuts of any sub-area. Repealing the policy is a remote possibility that would likely be opposed by cities like Seattle and Bellevue who would only stand to lose money now and in the future to less urban cities.
My personal thoughts on this resolution and the rhetoric are complex. Federal Way is fighting hard for light rail and in a way the resolution brought a smile to my face. This moment may turn people against ST on the margins (claims of “broken promises”), but it to me shows that cities may be lobbying the state for ST3 funding authority sooner than later. I wonder if my read is too optimistic.
We’ll see how far the rhetoric against ST from Federal Way goes. In my view, the city has a right to be disappointed and upset, but their remedies aren’t realistic and a lawsuit would not be helpful nor would it prevail. Right now, this is looks like posturing and political pressure that’s perhaps healthy.
According to the Evertt Herald, State Rep. Marko Liias will introduce a bill soon called the Local Transit Act. The bill is expected to open new transit funding options for agencies. A group called Transportation for Washington will be holding a press conference today to roll out the package but the expected form is a series of revenue raisers that would have to go to the local ballot before taking effect. Revenue options have already been announced and include: a “progressive” vehicle excise tax based on the value of the car, a car tab fee based on annual mileage, a tax based on a car’s fuel efficiency, and — most interesting — allowing local sales taxes to be applied to gasoline.
The Local Transit Act is unlikely to advance, and Josh Fiet of PubliCola theorizes that this group is attempting to get in front of a “‘roads & transit’ package that may come from Sen. transportation chair Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen.” If transit advocates have an alternative bill to support, they may be less willing to agree to roads funding especially without elements from that alternative incorporated into a roads package.
Marko Liias, a strong transit ally in the Washington State House of Representatives, has put forward a bill that would allow counties to collect a “congestion reduction charge” of up to $30 per vehicle to help fund transit. PubliCola reports that Judy Clibborn, the powerful chair of the House Transportation Committee, is one of many co-sponsors. So is Joe Fitzgibbon, the new pro-transit representative from West Seattle.
The governor vetoed a similar provision in May, 2009, but Metro’s deep budget problems may have changed the political landscape.
If passed, Liias’ bill would enter into effect August 1 of this year. The King County Council will then have to approve the vehicle license fee to the annual vehicle license fee, and actual collections could begin no earlier than six months after that. The bill terminates itself on June 30, 2014. So, optimistically, this bill represents an additional funding source for Metro between February, 2012 and July, 2014. Is this the sort of long-term fix Metro needs? No, but it may buy some time and it’s unlikely that any revenue source decided upon in the current political climate will be able to address Metro’s future budget concerns.
The bill would face stiff odds in the State Senate, where some members there – backed by Senator Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen – are proposing to only allow communities to increase revenue for transit as part of a larger package that would also help fill the state’s highway coffers.
A map showing the demand for internal trips that aren't from home to work. 83% of internal trips aren't commutes.
Representatives from the Seattle Department of Transportation briefed the city council yesterday on early findings from work on city’s new Transit Master Plan. This is the first update to the plan in more than five years, and will likely in the end contain a recommendation for a major capital project such as an extension of light rail or the city’s streetcar network.
In the presentation, SDOT said it has asked reached out to citizens for information on their travel patterns and reviewed “the state of transit in Seattle.”
One strong conclusion is that 83% of transit trips internal to Seattle are not “work trips,” and are significantly less likely to head downtown. The city notes that urban-village-to-urban-village service is in general much weaker than urban village-to-downtown service. The image on the right represents demand for these trips. The city hopes to use the results from the Transit Master Plan to help Metro re-align city bus service.
- Queen Anne and Capitol Hill residents were the most likely in the city to use transit, with between 4,000 and 5,000 transit trips between those neighborhoods and downtown every day.
- Transit tended to be least reliable downtown (where buses are subject to frequent traffic jams) and in far-flung neighborhoods like White Center, South Park, and Bitter Lake (where service tends to be less frequent).
- The report also notes that Seattle’s transit system is oriented toward moving people to and from downtown at rush hour—”a fraction” of all trips in Seattle. Reorienting the system to serve more people outside downtown might be more efficient, the report suggests.
Capitol Hill Seattle blog has its own report with, of course, a neighborhood-focused perspective.
[Update @ 12am: train service all the way to the airport is restored.]
It’s snowing at a decently fast clip in Seattle, and all King County Metro and Pierce Transit buses are running on snow routes as of 9:30 pm. We haven’t heard terrible things about bus service around the area, so let’s hope everything passes smoothly.
A car on light rail tracks near Tukwila. Photo from KOMO's Twitter feed.
[UPDATE: as of 11:11 pm, Sound Transit's Twitter reports: "#STLink back to full service between downtown and airport."]
Last week, the Seattle Times featured an Op-Ed by our own Sherwin Lee, which strongly supported moving forward with East Link and attacked Bellevue’s city council for wasting money. In response, another one of Bill Hirt’s letters appeared in the newspaper. Two things are remarkable about this:1) Hirt’s letter contains a major factual inaccuracy in every paragraph, 2) Hirt has a history of somehow getting letters published that contain major factual inaccuracies in every paragraph.
In the first paragraph of his letter, Hirt implies Sherwin works for Sound Transit by calling us the “Sound Transit (ST) blog.” Hirt has commented on this blog before and should know we aren’t a government agency. In the second paragraph, Hirt claims that members of Sound Transit board are unelected. All members, save for one, are elected officials. Hirt’s point may be that these officials are not directly elected to the ST board, which is true (and good), but his use of imprecise language seems like no accident.
Photo by Oran.
Hirt asks indignantly, What gave the ST Board “the authority to ignore the council in selecting the light-rail route through Bellevue?” The answer is in the Op-Ed he’s responding to: a “1999 ruling in a state growth-management case” which cited RCW 36.70A and decided that light rail is an “essential public facility.”
In Hirt’s third paragraph, he claims that while the Eastside provides “40 percent of ST funding,” “only a small part” “will ever be spent there.” Every dollar raised in the Eastside will be spent there under a rule called subarea equity and the Eastside is projected to provide 26% of Sound Transit revenue in the coming decades — much less than Hirt’s claim.
In the final paragraph of his letter, Hirt says that Sound Transit has not spent “one dime evaluating two-way bus only lanes” across I-90 instead of light rail. That has been studied, and a busway would provide a slower ride to the 10,000 fewer people who would ride it daily.
Many rely on the Seattle Times and other newspapers to give them the facts and encourage debate where appropriate. Publishing letters that get basic facts wrong doesn’t encourage debate but rather stifles it under the weight of ignorance, cynicism, and even malice. Though the average citizen is expected to make some mistakes regarding public policy, we should expect the media to provide some barrier between us and outright falsehoods.
It’s easy to think that Mr. Hirt lacks real intellectual rigor and has no sense of responsibility for what he inks, but what does that say about the Times’ staffers who choose to give him space in their paper?
If we had to choose between a new viaduct or a deep-bore tunnel, which should we choose? First, I think the reality is that a deep-bore tunnel will be constructed since “important” people are interested in it succeeding. If I’m wrong and the tunnel project does collapse, the ensuing political chaos would result in an environment where surface/transit/I-5 has just as much of a possibility as being built as a viaduct.
However, for this first part, let’s assume we could choose just between a new viaduct and the tunnel. Martin has gone to great lengths to show that the city would save hundreds of millions of dollars if a viaduct were built instead of the deep-bore tunnel. It’s true, but money saved isn’t necessarily spent and it’s not obvious that Seattle would tax itself to invest in transit and bike projects just because it would have taxed itself for a deep-bore tunnel. Major transit investments like the Central Streetcar are dead-on-arrival — there isn’t local political support — and we wouldn’t see money from the state for transit: improvements beyond basic mitigation are certainly considered optional by the state. The state has already ignored the transit funding it agreed to with the deep-bore tunnel agreement.
Photo by Oran.
These things are important, because in any scenario where a viaduct is being rebuilt is over the very strong objections of the Seattle mayor and city council members: if the state is already overruling us, why would they sweeten the pot? Heck, why not build a bigger viaduct or one with more off-ramps? And if the city is upset with the state, would it partner on strategic transit improvements?
After all, the transit elements of the rebuild plan were included in the same stakeholder process that was completely ignored when state and local officials agreed to build a deep-bore tunnel. I think Martin’s comparing a fully politiked deep-bore tunnel to a conceptual viaduct. It could be the case that a rebuild would result in tremendous local spending on transit, but even more transit spending is possible with surface/transit/I-5 where transit is moved near the forefront of the plan.
All Metro buses are on snow reroutes this morning. Metro says that some routes may be canceled due to the weather, and to check their site for updates.
Some Sound Transit Express buses are planning on skipping some stops, but the planning here doesn’t seem to be as rigorous as Metro’s.
Link light rail was unaffected by the snow Monday and that will probably remain unchanged today. The trains were ran overnight to prevent ice from building on the overhead wires that deliver power to the cars.
My impressions are that Metro did a good job today of communicating snow routes and various changes as the day went on. The agency came off as organized, prepared, and all on the same page. Moving every route to a snow route set the appropriate expectations for riders and helped minimize confusion. Drivers were jovial and professional.
Improved communication will not wipe away severely inclement weather and our collective inability to commute through it. While Monday gave us a chance to all sigh about how our bus came at a random time in the morning or how the afternoon was a complete mess, the only response to those complaints we love to share is that there is no fix. Snow will hurt transportation in Seattle. More rail would help, but rail has also its own problems. The way to avoid getting snared in gridlock when it snows: don’t commute.
@myballard: Wow, Seattle Police just told @KIRO7Seattle that 200 Metro buses are stuck in the snow.
That doesn’t necessarily mean light-rail riders never have to worry about inclement weather. Patrick says freezing rain presents a particular danger due to the overhead electrical system used by the trains. If ice forms on the wires, that could cause a breakdown.
But Patrick says there is a solution: Sound Transit can run the trains all night long, rather than stopping them between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. as usual. That should keep the ice from building up.
Four hours after he boarded the No. 22 downtown, he was reading through a circular and wondering if the Mariners were in fact seriously interested in trading for the Diamondbacks’ outfielder Justin Upton. We all just hoped we’d reach West Seattle by the time any deal might be consummated.
University of Washington: The UW Seattle and Tacoma campuses have suspended operations and canceled classes for Tuesday.