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.
With 2012 set to expire and a new year on tap, it’s always good to relive the blog’s top posts of the year, for whatever they’re worth. Below are the STB posts with the most reads and most comments of 2012.
Most read posts of 2012
Bolt Bus Coming to the Northwest – by Andrew (5/1): Big news was big news when one of the Northeast’s premier intercity bus services announced plans for the Pacific Northwest.
Earlier this month, the many jurisdictions in King County banded together to present a unified transportation proposal (.pdf) to be considered before the State Legislature. The proposal, signed off by the county, the City of Seattle, and the Sound Cities Association (all the other suburban cities in the county), is a direct ask for local funding options primarily through leveraging a sizable gas tax increase that would mostly benefit the State.
There are three specific elements to the proposal:
An 8-cent statewide gax tax increase, with a 65/35 split between state and local needs, respectively.
An increase of councilmanic authority to directly impose a vehicle license fee (VLF) from $20 to $40 in Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD). Anything remaining out of $100 could be brought before the voters.
A 1.5% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) that could be passed councilmanically or by popular vote. According to Fred Jarrett, 60% of the MVET would go to Metro, while the remaining would be divvied up among the county and cities for roads.
Gas tax proposal (and allaccompanyingopinions) aside, the asks are fairly significant. Doubling the councilmanic VLF authority to $40 could arguably ease pressure off any remaining VLF increase that would go before a public vote. And as Martin mentioned earlier this year, a 1% MVET alone would be sufficient to plug Metro’s annual deficit of $60 million. An additional 0.5% on top of that could presumably go toward a substantial service increase*.
The proposal is among many that the Legislature will have to juggle for the upcoming session, so the chances that King County will get everything it wants is extremely slim. Any funding authority will also have to clear both the Senate and the House, which will be no mean feat of its own.
*We can assume an effective 0.9% MVET for Metro assuming it gets a 60% share of the proposed 1.5% rate. A 1% MVET is estimated to generate up to $100 million annually, so some back-of-the-napkin math gives us $90 million a year for Metro, more than enough to cover the deficit.
In yesterday’s post on Gregoire’s transportation package proposal, Ben alluded to a GOP coup in the State Senate, which I’ll expound upon a bit. The coup is being officially referred to as a “majority coalition caucus“– the result of two conservative Democrats*, Rodney Tom (48th) and Tim Sheldon (35th), partnering with Senate Republicans to create an effective majority. It’s a direct challenge to the majority that the Democrats thought they had won following the election, and only possible because Tim Probst fell 74 votes shy of winning Don Benton’s seat to represent the 17th (Vancouver).
Back in late November, the Senate Democratic Caucus rolled out its own plans for committee leadership– Ed Murray would have been Senate majority leader and Tracey Eide Transportation Committee chair, among others. Eide’s promotion was something we foresaw had the election results worked in favor of a Mary Margaret Haugen defeat, which is exactly how things panned out. Thanks to this new coalition, however, all of the Democrats appointments are now in question– what it means for transportation, and transit, specifically, remains to be seen.
Transportation Choices Coalition, one of our biggest allies in Olympia, will be hosting their Friday Forum today on the upcoming 2013 Legislative session. With fresh leadership and a new makeup in the Legislature, there are a lot of questions swirling around what we can expect for transit coming out of Olympia next year. As I correctly predicted last month, former Senator Mary Margaret Haugen’s defeat in the 10th indirectly led to the promotion of Senator Tracey Eide to Senate Transportation Chair.
However, political junkies who have closely followed the election aftermath will also know that the Senate Democratic majority might not be as safe as once thought. Tim Probst’s challenge of Republican Senator Don Benton’s seat failed by just 74 votes, which could turn the tables on the Democrats by giving the Republicans an effective 26-23 majority. How that affects the Legislature’s ability to push through transit-friendly legislation will be a topic of conversation at today’s forum, along with a number of other issues:
So what does this mean for the 2013 Legislative Session and our priorities. Will there be a transportation revenue package? Will the Legislature step up to save transit across the state from further cuts? What bills will TCC be working on next session?
Get the answers to all these questions and more. Join our Policy Director Carrie Dolwick for a sneak peak at our 2013 legislative agenda and what’s next for Olympia.
For those that are free around lunchtime, this preview of the crucial 2013 Legislative session will be immensely informative. The forum will be held in Room 121 of the King County Chinook Building from 12pm to 1:30pm.
The Everett Herald put out a story yesterday detailing the City’s evolving plans to make the Everett Station area more palatable for development and future growth. In addition to luring private TOD investment, part of the City’s wishlist also calls for the construction of a 500-space parking garage, a massive increase over current capacity. On a higher policy level, there’s actually lot to like about Everett’s plans, which amount to a needed step forward toward assuming greater municipal control of station area planning.
From The Herald:
Separate from the parking study, city planners are exploring possible ways to encourage multifamily housing and shops near Everett Station. They invited neighboring property owners and others to an informational meeting Wednesday. The current thinking is to rezone the 10-acre Everett Station site to allow the multifamily housing. As part of the proposal, height limits would rise to 80 feet, from 65 feet now.
While it doesn’t appear that Everett is pursuing an extensive master planning process, revisions to the City’s zoning code may be warranted, given existing land use restrictions. Currently, the station area is zoned as C-2ES (.pdf)– Heavy Commercial/Light Industrial– and actually prohibits multi-family housing uses, let alone TOD. There are a few pleasant surprises in the zoning code, however, like the inclusion of pedestrian-oriented design guidelines and planning principles.
The other piece to ongoing station area planning efforts is the possible addition of a parking garage, which might come with a price tag of $15 to $18 million, by the city’s preliminary numbers. With a minimum of 500 additional spaces, the cost estimates amount to as much as $36,000 per stall or more, a hefty public investment given the fact that parking demand at Everett Station is still currently well within available capacity.
While the land use and parking components are separate planning efforts, any public money spent on Everett’s dime can easily siphon funds away from other critical infrastructure projects in the city. Instead of building the garage on its own, I’d like to see the City open up opportunities for private actors to determine best uses within the station area, which could include private pay parking, if need be.
Next Thursday, Bellevue will host an open house and scoping meeting on its newly-launched Downtown Livability initiative (.pdf), which is expected to address a range of topics, from building height limits to street-level pedestrian amenities. While the City is still in the early stages of pre-scoping, there’s a fairly comprehensive list of analysis areas online (including street food, wahoo!). The impetus behind the initiative is largely moving downtown Bellevue away from its current character as a monolithic office-oriented district to a more vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.
Design and planning wonks will appreciate what the open house will have to offer. From the news release:
The open house will engage a wide range of stakeholders including property owners, design professionals, residents and the Downtown workforce. Participants can visit four display stations that will highlight enjoying downtown, downtown design features, mobility and a 3-D modeling of downtown.
Maps and visuals will examine many facets of downtown living which include public spaces, parks, building form and height, design guidelines, sign criteria, maintenance standards, the pedestrian corridor, and more. Staff will be available to take public input on the scope of the Downtown Livability Initiative. The public comment scoping period runs through December 31, 2012 and early public comment is encouraged.
While the initiative is separate from the Downtown Transportation Plan Update, both projects will be advanced in conjunction with one another, borrowing elements and work where appropriate. Building mid-block crossings and through-block pedestrian connections, for example, will go hand in hand with the Livability Initiative’s design and wayfinding elements. The project will also be complementary with ongoing Transit Master Plan work and East Link implementation.
The project reflects one of Bellevue’s most serious downtown planning efforts to-date, so ped/bike/transit and density supporters would do well to have a say in the process. The open house and scoping meeting will be held at Bellevue City Hall Room 1E-108 next Thursday, November 29th, from 5 to 7pm. Comments will also be accepted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[RSS readers:A previous version of this post was prematurely posted. See below for the most updated version.]
One bit of good news to come out of the election was a strong showing from pro-transit legislative candidates, particularly those we endorsed. The more surprising of these, which was actually more of an anti-endorsement than anything, was the defeat of Senator Mary Margaret Haugen by her Republican opponent, Barbara Bailey. As we outlined in our endorsement, the promotion of a new Senate Transportation Committee chair from a Haugen defeat gave us more to cheer about than anything in Bailey’s transportation platform.
Many commenters rightfully expressed the concern that losing Haugen in the Senate could eradicate a Democratic majority, a risk we were willing to take given the previous majority’s lukewarm attitude towards transit. At any rate, those fears were allayed after Democratic control was maintained by commanding victories from other Senate candidates, including pro-transit standouts like Jessyn Farrell, Marko Liias, Jake Fey, among others.
Haugen’s defeat means that the current vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Tracey Eide, will most likely be elevated to chair, a position that can make the difference between transit legislation passing and failing. While Senator Eide doesn’t share the same pro-transit credentials as some of peers, her track-record for legislation friendly to transit advocates has been solid. Most recently, she’s made tangible commitments to light rail expansion southward, even as her fellow South King County legislators cried foul.
While Senator Eide has her work cut out for her, she’s proven to be a reliable vote for transit, and an even more valuable one now given a likely promotion to Transportation Committee chair. We have reason to be optimistic moving forward– but it will take commitment on all sides of the State government to get Olympia back into the picture.
Starting this week, Metro will add four new C Line trips in the evening peak, two of which start today, the other two starting next Monday. Three of the added trips won’t be through-routed with the D Line, which will help avoid reliability issues coming through Lower Queen Anne into downtown. According to Metro, the trip adds, which are funded by a contingency reserve, are meant to help alleviate evening service gaps caused by such poor inbound D Line reliability:
Traffic in downtown Seattle poses a daily challenge for bus schedules on the best of days. Metro schedules its RapidRide buses for 10-minute service during the peak commutes – even higher at 8-9 minutes during the highest ridership times about 7- 8:30 a.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m. But traffic, events and other factors can cause buses to be delayed. Buses might bunch up and arrive together when riders are expecting more frequent service.
Analysis of recent transit travel times shows intervals longer than 10 minutes between buses during the evening commute. Inserting additional bus trips is expected to help fill those gaps in arrival times, [Metro GM Kevin] Desmond said.
C Line ridership may very well be Metro’s most pleasant post-service change surprise and a good indication that the the West Seattle restructure is working well. Operationally, however, route performance continues to suffer thanks to things like on-board payment and downtown congestion, to which fixes would unfortunately be illegal recipients of Metro’s contingency of service hours.
One of the features of redeveloping the Bel-Red corridor will be the addition of a new street grid in place of what is now a broken network of backroads and lightly used collectors. The City of Bellevue is planning to establish a new central thoroughfare, which by current grid orientation, is tentatively designated NE 15th/16th Street. Renaming of the arterial, plus parallel streets to the north and south, is currently under consideration.
Given the pressure to completely overhaul the Bel-Red corridor’s identity, the City might be more inclined to give NE 15th/16th a unique place-based name for the purposes of neighborhood branding. On the other hand, NE 14th and NE 18th, by my inclination, would be better off as numbered streets to maintain the grid’s function as a reference for orientation.
Input and suggestions for the street names are currently being solicited online with a November 30th deadline.
Martin surreptitiously dropped in a link to last week’s roundup detailing the results of a survey (PDF) that Bellevue administered as part of its Transit Master Plan update. The findings are worth digging into, because they reveal quite a bit about the current state of transit in the city from a riders perspective, and what strides need to be taken to get to the next level. As a respondent myself, I can attest to the level of comprehensiveness in the survey, which broke down questions for current riders, former riders, and non-riders.
The entire report is nearly 200 pages long, so the Executive Summary is the most convenient read if you want to avoid getting into the thick of the weeds. Highlights from the summary can be broken down threefold: 1) Existing Transit Market Profile, 2) Perception of Existing Service, and 3) Transit Service Priorities. Some of the analysis of the Executive Summary below the jump.
As we’ve alluded to plenty of times already, private money is playing a big role in ensuring the continual operation of the South Lake Union Streetcar. A variety of neighborhood employers have now agreed to pitch in $204,000 to extend three-car operation (leaving a fourth as a spare) through mid-2014, which maintains peak headways at 10 minutes:
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—$20,000
UW Medicine $10,000
On top of the funding for streetcar operations, Amazon is also paying for a sizable public benefits package that includes extending the extra service for 10 years, along with a number of other improvements to compensate for alleyway vacation as part of the Denny redevelopment.
According to the Mayor’s office, streetcar ridership has also exceeded projections, with over 2,900 average weekday boardings in September, 40% higher than the original forecast.
Before Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna square off for their gubernatorial debate tonight, Transportation for Washington (T4WA) will deliver thousands of petitions in favor of walking, bicycling, and transit, all signed by people like you. The campaign is hoping to inject some more discussion about transportation choices into the race. Although both candidates have weighed in on a potential statewide transportation package, their specifics have been mundane and largely unexciting to die-hard transit, bike, and ped advocates.
All people deserve an opportunity to prosperity, and that starts with the ability to get to a job safely affordably. Unfortunately, thus far in the campaign, walking, biking, and transit issues have been mostly left out of the gubernatorial race. We hope the moderators and candidates will take these issues on during Thursday’s debate.
More and more Washingtonians are choosing to live in cities, drive less, and walk, bike and ride transit more. It’s time for gubernatorial leadership to champion balanced state transportation packages and budgets and to find state and local solutions to the financial struggles of transit agencies.
As Martin correctly pointed out on Saturday, one week is indeed too early to be jumping to conclusions about Metro’s Fall service change, especially since everything happened as we thought it would. One week, however, was enough to convince Metro to make some tweaks to address the most serious overcrowding post-shakeup.
On top of the extra C Line trips that Martin already alluded to, Metro has also elected to remove the Eastgate Freeway Station as an afternoon eastbound stop for the 218 (Issaquah Highlands express), a change that will occur starting next Monday, the 15th. The service change was originally meant to reduce passenger loads on the route by moving its companion, the 212 (Eastgate), to the surface. Ironically, overcrowding worsened after many Eastgate riders remained rooted in the tunnel even as 218 trips were reduced:
This action by King County Metro Transit is an interim step to help ease overcrowding and provide more space for riders traveling beyond Eastgate to the Issaquah Highlands. In response to customer concerns, Metro recently reduced the number of Route 218 trips, added trips to Eastgate-bound Route 212 and moved that route out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to 2nd Avenue, locating it with other, similar Eastgate-bound service.
Despite the September 29 service revision, many passengers heading to Eastgate have continued to ride Route 218, forcing some riders to be passed by full buses, and further frustrating those riders heading beyond Eastgate to the Issaquah Highlands.
While the move is only interim as Metro researches other options, Issaquah Highlands riders will be glad to see their buses rid of leeching Eastgate folk. Service adds, of course, are relatively easy to implement, which is why they’ve been the quickest fixes made since the shakeup. But beyond minute tweaks, there remain looming issues, of which only time will tell how lasting their impacts might be.
Friday’s news that Amazon is purchasing its main campus from Vulcan is one of many recent harbingers of fortune for South Lake Union and plenty proof that early investment in the neighborhood is now paying dividends. The purchase comes to the tune of $1.16 billion, nearly half a billion more than the $700 million that it cost Vulcan to develop the complex. The sizable return means investment for still more development in SLU, particularly now that private money is helping fund public infrastructure projects.
I’m a believer that the boon makes a fairly strong local case for rail investment– while we’ve heard about billions of dollars worth of development spurred on by rail in cities like Phoenix and Portland, South Lake Union presents us our own shining example of strong private returns on public investment. As a result, Amazon is now chipping in to purchase a new streetcar for more frequent operations, while Denny Park is re-earning its reputation as a vibrant urban space.
The SLU case has given rail proponents a lot of leverage moving forward– the Amazon sale alone translates into millions in local taxes, solidifying a stronger tax base overall on top of the billions in private development. Much of the credit should go where it is due: to the former mayorship of Greg Nickels, who championed the early visioning of the neighborhood’s future. While Nickels took a lot of heat for his investment of political capital, it’s clear now that his efforts have paid off and paid off well.
Tuesday night, the Transportation Choices Coalition hosted its annual event, right in the midst of APTA’s yearly powwow and also the biggest local servicechange of modern times. With national transit professionals descending upon the city in droves, TCC managed to snag a very high-ranking transit VIP for their keynote speaker– Federal Transit Administrator Pete Rogoff. Flanked by Metro GM Kevin Desmond and Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Rogoff spoke about transit happenings at the federal level and their local implications.
Rogoff focused a large portion of his speech on the passage of MAP-21, the federal transportation bill that will be in effect for two years. He praised the bill’s authorization, a process that began with a battle over whether or not transit could be even funded at the federal level. According to Rogoff, MAP-21′s passage changed the discussion from “stripping” transit out of trust fund dollars to a consensus in favor of preserving funding for both roads and transit.