The Theater of Last Tuesday’s Public Hearing

Last Tuesday's hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.

Last Tuesday’s hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.

Anyone who attended last Tuesday’s public hearing witnessed hundreds rallying to save Metro from imminent, draconian cuts.  It reminded me of a similar hearing two years ago, when a few swing votes on the King County Council were persuaded to approve the $20 Congestion Relief Charge, staving off the cuts that we again have to face.  But despite a much more difficult path this time around, many of the efforts to save Metro again amount to mere theater, acts that could easily be falling on deaf ears.

Unlike the successful 2011 effort, King County’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee and County Council are nothing more than the middlemen this time around.  Neither body will be able to do squat.  Like many other local jurisdictions in the Puget Sound area, they’ve openly lobbied for local transit funding options to no avail during the regular State legislative session.

But regardless of what’s happening in Olympia, a show of enormous local support from multiple sides might provide some semblance of comfort to the thousands who rely on Metro.  It has certainly been sold that way– large pro-transit signs were prevalent at the hearing, as if county lawmakers were the ones who had the power to save Metro.

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Upcoming East Link Final Design Open Houses

Now that Sound Transit has cleared the hurdle of finalizing the entire East Link alignment, the next step is chugging through final design of the project.  There will be an open house for the downtown Bellevue segment this Thursday, May 16th from 5 to 7pm at Bellevue City Hall, and another for South Bellevue on May 30th at the Bellevue Hilton.  The Bel-Red open house was held in early April prior to adoption of the final alignment, since none of the cost savings options applied to the Bel-Red segment.

The final design process allows Sound Transit to advance specific design elements for the alignment– we’ll likely get glimpses of some architectural renderings as well as site plans of the stations.  Station naming will also be finalized, in line with public input and other Board-endorsed guidelines.

A New Sounder Station Outside Downtown Puyallup?

A Shaw Road station between Puyallup and Sumner

A Shaw Road station between Puyallup and Sumner

One of the stranger proposals that came out of last month’s joint meetings between Sound Transit and Puyallup was the idea of a new “transit station” on Shaw Road, just less than two miles east of downtown.  Although I’m still trying to figure out what “transit station” actually means, it sounds like Puyallup officials are referring to a brand new Sounder station– which would mean new platforms and presumably new parking.

So far, the Puyallup City Council hasn’t bought into proposals for more parking at the existing station or anything that would put more pressure on the downtown core.  According to the Puyallup Patch, many on the council have warmed up to the idea of a new station, an idea which Sound Transit has balked at:

Most on the Puyallup City Council agreed with the idea that adding more pressure on the historic downtown core is not a feasible option and that a Sound Transit center on Shaw Road could help ease traffic, for both Puyallup and Sumner.

During a joint planning meeting on April 30, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said that a full service station at Shaw Road isn’t possible and is “a much more expensive scenario” than Sound Transit can commit to.

While I’m no railroad expert, I’d suspect that BNSF and the FRA wouldn’t be too pleased with a new mainline station, especially given the already short distance between Puyallup and Sumner.  I’m also wary of the bad precedent this could set– a new Shaw Road station planned solely for park-and-ride customers would be the first not to serve a downtown core or activity center.  That’s hardly the kind of regional planning investment we want to be making.

Public Hearing Tomorrow on E, F Lines, I-90, and More

Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.

Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.

Tomorrow afternoon, the King County Transportation, Environment and Economy Committee (TEEC) will host a fairly important public hearing on a whole bunch of proposed Metro service changes for Fall of this year and a few upcoming ones next year.  While this isn’t going to be the palooza that preceded the massive Fall 2012 shakeup, there are some fairly significant countywide service proposals on the docket, including implementation of the E and F Lines, I-90 revisions, and the Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery project– Bruce has covered just about all of these.

Here’s the rough breakdown of routes that the TEEC will take public comment on:

Fall 2013

  • South King revisions:
    • Convert the 155 to DART service
    • Revise the routing of the 909 DART to better serve Renton Technical College and Renton Housing Authority
    • Extend the 140 to serve the Landing, presumably to build up the market for the F Line
  • Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery:
    • Convert the 209 into a peak-only route
    • Implement a new 208 between North Bend and Issaquah
    • Shorten the 224 to operate only between Duvall and Redmond
    • Implement a new Snoqualmie Intra-Valley shuttle
    • Shorten the 311 to operate only between Seattle and Woodinville
  • I-90 corridor improvements:
    • Reroute the 210 to serve Eastgate P&R
    • Delete the 211′s South Bellevue P&R deviation (wahoo!)
    • Delete the 215′s Issaquah TC deviation
    • Revise the 216 routing to serve Issaquah Highlands instead of North Issaquah

Spring 2014

  • Implement the E Line
    • Delete the 358

Summer 2014

  • Implement the F Line
    • Delete the 140
    • Delete the 110

The public hearing will be held tomorrow, April 30th from 4pm to 5pm at the King County Council Chambers.  There will also be an open house preceding the hearing at 3:30pm, where you can get a detailed description of each proposed change.  The TEEC will pass on its recommendations to the full county council, which is expected to vote on the changes in May.

Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements

Photo by DWHonan

Over the last couple of weeks, the Puyallup City Council has been in talks with Sound Transit over potential access improvements to Puyallup Station.  Like many of its South Line counterparts, the station is heavily auto-oriented despite being situated in a fairly quaint and walkable downtown. As a result, growth in Sounder ridership has greatly increased the pressure on nearby commuter lots, all of which are already at-capacity on the weekdays.

At the same time, the November failure of Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 and the recent curtailing of local transit service have continued to dwindle multimodal access options.  Many commuters are now relying on the Red Lot, a secondary lot on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which is served by PT Sounder feeder routes 400 and 495.

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Bellevue Makes its Cost Savings Picks

The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.

The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.

Last night, the Bellevue city council slogged through what may be its last big East Link planning decision ever, and ended at a unanimous endorsement of its preferred cost savings options.  Before I get to exactly which specific picks the council made, it’s worth mentioning that this is effectively only a recommendation and isn’t a binding action.  The final alignment decision still rests in the hands of the Sound Transit Board, which is expected to vote on the matter this coming Thursday.

Ultimately, the council approved three major alignment segments:

  • Retained cut alignment side-running along Bellevue Way with no savings.  A cheaper alternative would have brought the alignment to at-grade, added a new HOV lane, and pushed the entire roadway west.  This was ultimately canned after residents balked.
  • Road-over-rail crossing of 112th Ave SE and an at-grade crossing of SE 4th limited to emergency vehicle access only.  The SE 4th crossing saves in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 million.
  • Open downtown station at NE 6th, producing $19 to $33 million in savings.  We’ve opposed this option since its conception and our stance hasn’t changed.  Although I’ll give ST and Bellevue staff credit for doing their best to improve the design, the station remains hugely inferior to its 110th Ave counterpart, for all the reasons Martin alluded to last week.  As a concession to picking the NE 6th station, the council did approve an amendment which would authorize spending $5 million of the savings to improve the walkway between the station and the transit center.

In total, the cost savings don’t even end up anywhere close to the $60 million target the City was hoping to reach, which leaves anywhere from $23 to $39 million unaccounted for.  The remaining difference will ultimately have to be paid out in cash in order for Bellevue to fund its share of the downtown tunnel.

The next best thing for transit advocates to do is to make your opinion known at the Sound Transit Board meeting this coming Thursday, at which point the Board will likely seal East Link’s fate before launching the project into final design.  The meeting will be held from 1:30-4pm in the Ruth Fisher Board Room at Union Station.  Public comments are solicited near the beginning so it’s important to show up on time if you plan on testifying.

Decision on East Link Cost Savings Nears

New concept sketch for the NE 6th downtown station

New concept sketch for the NE 6th downtown station

By the end of April, an important milestone in the East Link saga will be complete.  If all goes to plan, the Sound Transit Board will adopt its preferred cost savings options in Bellevue, and effectively finalize the alignment.  The cost savings work, which hopes to find savings to fund a downtown tunnel, will be one of the last major steps in the project prior to final design.  At this point, many see the cost savings ideas more as give-and-take concessions rather than the intense tug-of-wars over the alignment that took place in 2011 and prior.

Last week, Sound Transit hosted an open house with an update on the work, which included new cost estimates, concept sketches (.pdf), and environmental findings that were adopted as part of a SEPA addendum to the Final EIS.  According to ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick, there haven’t been any ground-breaking developments since the last update, although sentiment from various groups has solidified either for or against certain cost savings options.

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Sound Transit Kicks Off East Link Final Design

120th Station area

120th Station area

Last Thursday evening, over a hundred community members showed up to attend Sound Transit’s kick-off open house for East Link final design, beginning with the Bel-Red corridor segment.  The project is nearing the 60% design mark, at which point specific design elements for stations, trackways, etc. will be refined and new cost estimates modeled.  Thursday’s open house zeroed in on Bel-Red and East Link’s integration into the City of Bellevue’s vision for the neighborhood.

The Bel-Red corridor redevelopment has been a major planning initiative in Bellevue for quite some time now.  The area is expected to add 5,000 new housing units and 10,000 new employees over the next two decades.  In response, the City is upgrading the infrastructure, with a network of rebuilt streets and a new grid with East Link at the centerpiece.  Let’s take a look at the designs of the two stations, which have already progressed quite a bit.

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Mid-Line Operator Reliefs

Photo by zargoman

The other day, I was taking a 554 back to the Eastside when I discovered that I was onboard one of those pesky early afternoon trips with a mid-line operator relief at Mercer Island.  Judging from my past experiences with that trip, I wasn’t too bothered– for the most part, East Base operators are pretty good at switching in and out while the bus is still service.  This time around, however, the relief operator was nowhere in sight, ruffling more than a few passengers’ feathers.

While the relief operator did end up arriving about 5 minutes later, my experience exposed a rather significant disadvantage with having drivers relieve each other mid-line.  Though I don’t think instances of missing operators are too common, mid-line reliefs can be wildly unpredictable.  Sometimes, drivers will exchange keys and go.  Other times, they might strike up some chit-chat first.  And there are those occasional instances when a relief operator is nowhere to be found, keeping the driver on the clock and passengers on the bus longer than expected.

When operator work is scheduled and runcutted, relief points are worked in for maximum efficiency from a labor standpoint.  That, of course, can sometimes conflict with the system efficiency of in-service routes.  A poorly scheduled PM peak road relief on 3rd & Pike, for example, could easily logjam the Third Ave corridor, impacting buses going to and from places all over the region.  Of course, the best places and times to sneak in operator reliefs are those with little or no impact on revenue service, i.e., route terminals or during pulses at major transit centers.

Although I certainly don’t dispute that maximizing labor and wage efficiencies are vital scheduling considerations, I think keeping our transit vehicles operating free and undistracted should be priority number one, even if it means eliminating mid-line operator reliefs entirely.

Sunday Open Thread: Streetcar Construction

Via the Seattle Streetcar Facebook page.

Appreciate Your Bus Drivers Monday, and Everyday

Photo by Oran

Before we let this fine weekend fade to black, I want to remind everyone that Monday is Bus Driver Appreciation Day.  We’ve mentioned this holiday– yes, I’m calling it a holiday– quite a few times in previous years.  But it’s a day that’s very easy to overlook, especially since bus drivers can often be seen as just mechanical extensions of the bus itself.  The reality, of course, is that our transit drivers are human, and as much as we complain about operator wages, slow drivers, mean drivers, etc., these folks are just other people trying to make a living.

It is true that no two transit operators are the same.  They all have varying degrees of personality and operating prowess, so it’s very possible to find an operator who seems like the nicest person on the planet, but also  just about the slowest driver ever.  Conversely, there are drivers with little interest in customer service, but lots of interest in getting to their layover as quickly as possible.  While yes, it is very important to maintain and enforce operating standards, it’s very easy to take our frustrations out on drivers when those standards aren’t met, despite the grueling responsibilities they have daily.

Instead of dwelling on negative feedback, the best thing we can do as riders is to focus on positive feedback and augment it when we see great things happening, while still remaining appreciative of each and every drivers’ work.  For example, operators are often complimented more for their customer skills than they are for their ability to run on time.  So when you encounter an operator doing the right thing, particularly displaying an uncanny ability to stay on schedule, submit a commendation!  You’ll only be creating a positive feedback loop that will help even more drivers do the right thing.

So on Monday, and everyday, for that matter, appreciate your drivers.  And for those that go the extra distance, be sure to let them know.

Bellevue Adds Focus Group for Downtown Employees

After a number of you took issue with the exclusivity of Bellevue’s focus groups for its Downtown Livability Initiative, the City responded by adding a new session geared at downtown employees.  While the addition doesn’t make the target audience entirely exhaustive of everyone who will be affected by the plan, it is a big step toward including many who spend a lot of time in downtown Bellevue but don’t necessarily live there.

The new focus group will be held from 4pm to 6pm next Tuesday, March 19th, at Bellevue City Hall.  There’s only one other focus group (for residents) left for tomorrow evening, so if you’re interested in attending, be sure to RSVP at DowntownLivability@bellevuewa.gov.  Again, the City is more concerned with taking your input than it is which group you end up attending, so if you don’t fit in either remaining category (resident or employee), it’s really not a big deal.

When it Comes to Polls, Framing is Everything

Photo by KDavidClark

With each passing day, the proposed transportation package from the House Democrats is looking more and more like the Roads & Transit measure that failed in 2007.  Both may go down in history as unique proposals that united both pro-transit and pro-road forces in opposition.  Anti-tax forces haven’t been giving the package any love either– Monday’s Elway Poll made it clear that the general public isn’t interested in paying higher gas tax and car-tab fees.

While any opposition to such a highway-centric package sounds good, it’s important to not take away too much from the poll.  It’s a no-brainer that no one actually likes paying more taxes.  But if you associate a benefit to the cost of tax increases, people tend to have a stronger willingness to yield.  Of course, that depends on what those benefits actually are and how you frame the question.

Let’s take a look at the Elway’s poll question (.pdf).  The wording leads by outlining the package’s potential benefits, and asks the respondent to prioritize accordingly:

The legislature is looking at some potential transportation improvements. Of course, transportation projects are expensive and take a long time to complete. So the question is where to spend taxpayer dollars. I am going to read a list of projects that could be included in this package. As you think about the state transportation system over the next 10 years, tell me whether you think each project should be a Top priority for state government, a High priority, Low or a Not a priority for state government:

  • Expand major highways around the state to reduce commuter congestion and increase freight mobility
  • Provide money to the state ferry system to upgrade and maintain the system and keep fares down
  • Repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges
  • Provide money to local mass transit systems

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Bellevue: What Makes for a Livable Downtown?

Photo courtesy Patricksmercy

With big plans in the works for its downtown, Bellevue is recruiting intensely into the public realm for those interested in having a say on the City’s Downtown Livability Initiative.  First, a few words about the project.  With the exception of the downtown subarea plan, Bellevue has never really had a concerted downtown planning effort on this scale.  That’s why this project is significant– it would run the gamut of all downtown planning issues, from rezoning to street food.

Here’s where people like you come in.  To solicit input, the City is hosting seven different focus groups (see .pdf), each one targeted at a specific stakeholder group (see below).  Don’t panic if you don’t fit into any of the categories– if you’re truly passionate about the future of downtown Bellevue, then you probably belong in the “visionaries” category:

The meetings will include a brief presentation on the Downtown Livability Initiative, followed by small group, facilitated discussion. Discussion topics will include design, amenities and transportation issues. Feedback from these focus groups will help shape potential changes to the Land Use Code for downtown Bellevue.

Participants are encouraged to attend the meeting that best fits their stakeholder group, but are welcome to attend any meeting that is convenient. Meetings will be in room 1E-108.

·  Architects and planners, Tuesday, March 5, 2-4 p.m.
·  Property owners and developers, Wednesday, March 6, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
·  Brokers, Wednesday, March 6, 4-6 p.m.
·  Large companies and retailers, Thursday, March 7, 2-4 p.m.
·  Former Downtown Plan Advisory Body members, Friday, March 8, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
·  Institutions and visionaries, Monday, March 11, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
·  Residents, Tuesday, March 12, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

To make an RSVP, shoot an email to DowntownLivability@bellevuewa.gov.  If you’re unable to attend but still want to pitch in two cents, thoughts can still be emailed in.  The City will also report on its progress at an open house later this year.  More on the project, including existing plans, maps, and data, can be found here.

Bellevue & Sound Transit Come to Terms on Light Rail Overlay

Joni Earl at Monday's Bellevue city council meeting (click for video)

Joni Earl at Monday’s Bellevue city council meeting (click for video)

In one of its rare 7-0 votes, the Bellevue city council unanimously adopted a light rail overlay into its land use code last night.  If you’re confused about what was actually adopted versus what was proposed, you’re not alone.  The land use code amendments went through multiple iterations in the past week, some of which occurred the night before the council meeting.  The bottom line, however, is good news: the overlay, as adopted, would no longer add significant delay to East Link.

If we rewind to last week’s council meeting, you might recall that those batch of amendments could have stuck 12-24 months of delay on the schedule, simply because of restrictions on Sound Transit’s ability to apply for permits.  The restrictions were worrying enough for ST to prompt both parties to go back to the drawing board– negotiations in the ensuing days churned out so many revisions that City staff had to color-code the amendment alternatives for Monday’s meeting.

The end result is a kind of give-and-take agreement.  Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl gave the council her commitment, in person, to ask for board authorization of property acquisition no more than 60 days after adoption of the final alignment.  The City, on the other hand, agreed to an amendment which would allow ST to apply for permits after initiating the property appraisals process (Alternative 1 on slide 5 - .pdf), whereas last week’s draft would have required waiting until after initiating condemnation.  Ultimately, the net outcome keeps East Link on schedule.

The adoption of the overlay is one step in fulfilling the Memorandum of Understanding (.pdf) that was signed between Bellevue and Sound Transit in 2011.  ST is expected to wrap up environmental work on the cost-savings work next month, paving the way for a hopeful April date in approving the final alignment.

Transit Report Card: Seoul (II)

This is the second and final part of a two-part Transit Report Card series covering Seoul, the capital of South Korea.  In Part 2, I’ll explore transit in Seoul from a rider’s perspective and conclude with an overall assessment of the transit system in relation to the city’s urban culture.  You can find Part 1 here.

jongno3ga

Three stations in one: 16 exits. And you thought Westlake was complex?

System Design cont.: Wayfinding & Signage
As I alluded to in Part 1, Seoul’s transit system is an overlapping network of frequent services, many of which interconnect at points across the entire metropolitan area.  With millions of riders transferring between transit vehicles daily, infrastructure to accommodate these connections is crucial.  Given the enormous spatial complexity of its many stations, the city has does an excellent job in wayfinding and signage provision throughout its transit system.

Each subway line is numbered, color-coded, and designated by its terminal stations on wayfinding signs.  Connecting stations can be as far as a quarter-mile apart from each other, necessitating a complex labyrinth of connecting underground walkways, many of which act as secondary shopping corridors.  I was pleased to find vendors and merchants from street to platform, selling goods ranging from scarves to delimanjoo.

Many subway stations closer-in to Seoul are tortuously complex– station footprints are dotted with multiple points of access and egress.  Jongno 3-ga, for example, has 16 different exit and entryways, thanks largely to the interface of three separate lines.  As a result, multiple exits/entrances are numbered, each classified with nearby landmarks and destinations on wayfinding signs.

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Transit Report Card: Seoul (I)

hanyang univ. at ansan

Hanyang University at Ansan, Line 4

I’m continuing STB’s longstanding tradition of the Transit Report Card series, where a writer will review the transit and land use picture of another city after a visit.  I’m pleased to be kicking off the return of the series by thoroughly reviewing Seoul, South Korea.  Instead of assigning letter grades, I’ve opted to focus on in-depth observation and qualitative analysis.  You’ll also notice that I’ve deviated from the original subheadings in favor of new ones, which more appropriately classify the bits and pieces of my review.

Because the transit system is so vast, I’ll take the liberty of breaking up this report card into two parts, the first of which will cover the city’s planning background, and a general overview of the system development and design.  Part 2 will focus more on the rider perspective and cover things like fares, passenger amenities, local transit etiquette, etc.

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Sunday Open Thread: The Next Generation


This is an open thread. [Sorry WordPress ate the video all day today.- MHD]

TCC Hosting Panel Discussion on Fall Book Club Selection

Last year, Transportation Choices Coalition formed Books on the Bus, a book club that allows local transit riders to collectively read and discuss a quarterly book selection.  The fall 2012 selection, The Hustle, will be the topic of a panel discussion next Monday evening that will include the book’s author, Doug Merlino, among others:

The Hustle is a memoir by Seattle native Doug Merlino about a 1980s middle school basketball team intentionally formed across race and class lines. Merlino was a member of the team, who, 20 years after its dissolution, decided to locate all of his former teammates. The story is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which race, money, and opportunity shape our lives.

Most Books on the Bus selections will be written by local authors or have subjects relevant to local issues and contexts.  For those who joined in on the fall reading period or are simply interested in doing a future Books on the Bus reading, the panel discussion will run from 7pm to 9pm next Monday at Elliott Bay Book Company.

Transitfanning in the Far East

Seoul Metro, photo by Flickr user happyfiles

Being accustomed to sub-par transit and an auto-centric North American lifestyle can give way to extreme geekery when visiting other developed nations with old, dense, transit-rich cities.  I’ll have that opportunity over the next three weeks when I pay a visit to South Korea and Taiwan (the place of my family origin).  Once developing countries, both nations have become known for advancements in industry and technology on top of centuries-old cultures.

Many STB writers and readers who have experienced urban life in East Asia have pointed to these places as the sources of their love for cities and transit.  For those who have visited South Korea and Taiwan, in particular, any transit or planning-related sightseeing tips will be valuable in helping make this trip decidedly “academic.”  To be more specific, the bulk of my time will be spent in the Seoul and Taipei metropolitan areas, home to old urban cores and extensive rapid transit networks.

Going off our Transit Report Card series, I’ll debrief my observations and findings upon returning back to the States at the end of the month.