News Roundup: To Blame

SounderBruce/Flickr

This is an open thread.

In Summary: The Long Range Plan

This is a guest post.

The Vision

The Vision

Seattle Subway’s Comments on the Sound Transit Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental EIS

This is the final post in a series we’ve been doing related to Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”). The comment period is over on Monday, so be sure to get your comments in to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org before the deadline comes. This post calls out conflicts between the goals of the LRP and its content.  If you want to skip the wonkiness but agree that we should push for the best quality rail system possible for future lines in the region, you can copy our comments and send them to Sound Transit in support.

Sound Transit uses its Long-Range Plan to identify and select corridors and technologies for future transit packages. We are currently in the comment period for the Long-Range Plan Update, which means there is an opportunity to give feedback to Sound Transit in regards to the big picture. Sound Transit last updated this document in 2005, four years prior to Central Link opening, and it shows. Sound Transit must review decisions that were made in its early days and are still affecting its direction now, as Seattle and the region have changed a lot in the 15 years since Sound Transit’s inception. We will frame our comments in the context of  Sound Transit’s DSEIS’s Goals and Objectives for their Long-Range Plan (page 1-5).

Section 1: “Provide a public high-capacity transportation system that helps ensure long-term mobility, connectivity, and convenience for residents of the central Puget Sound region for generations to come”

  • “Increase the percentage of people using transit for all trips”
  • “Provide effective and efficient alternatives to travel on congested roadways”

Grade separation provides the most efficient and effective way to move people. It eliminates interference from other traffic and maximizes transit’s speed. Grade separation is a true alternative to congested roadways. The higher speed and frequency that a grade separated system enables creates the greatest increase in ridership as well. This, combined with the fact that nearly all of the 55 miles of lines Sound Transit is currently building are grade separated, make the following section of the LRP DSEIS out of place:

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Better Eastside Rail

This is a guest post.

As the Puget Sound region continues to grow, excellent transit connections between Eastside communities will be crucial.  The quality of transit options available to those communities will shape the safety, convenience and environmental quality possible for their residents and workers. Our vision for rail service to Issaquah would create new connections from Issaquah through Bellevue to Kirkland, would improve trips bound for Downtown Seattle, and would dramatically improve access between the I-90 corridor and North Seattle.

Issaquah Rail Map [Read more...]

County Council Passes September Service Cuts

SounderBruce/Flickr

On Monday, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance enacting Metro bus service cuts for September 2014. There are press releases from Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee Chair Rod Dembowski, the four other Democrats on the county council, and King County Executive Dow Constantine:

“This agreement adheres to the principles I insisted on many weeks ago: Don’t rely on money we don’t have; don’t spend one-time money for on-going service; and use objective criteria to make decisions on saving or cutting service,” said Executive Constantine. “I want to thank members for arriving at legislation that balances Metro’s budget, and that is sustainable.” 

The TrEE Committee passed the ordinance unanimously last Tuesday. In a sign of continued tension, Councilmember Dave Upthegrove had some interesting things to say about the process:

“I want to thank the Executive and Chair Phillips for working on a proposal that I could at least hold my nose and vote for,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. “It took a little longer than everyone hoped, but I am pleased that the current ‘Majority Coalition’ decided to vote for the same proposal today that they rejected yesterday. I’m not sure what caused them to change their minds, but I am grateful that the Executive and Council Chair brought this proposal to us yesterday and that it is finally moving forward.”

The just-approved ordinance allows Metro to move forward with 161,000 hours of specified cuts in annual bus service hours in September. The council also approved, in principle, allowing Metro to cut another 188,000 annual hours in February of 2015. However, those cuts, including the specific routes, will need further council action.

The prior dispute involved several issues, including using one-time funding sources to temporarily shore up the operating budget and various deviations from Metro’s service guidelines. A main argument was whether to approve the February cuts now or wait for the next budget forecast. The compromise is that the Council agreed to the overall level of February cuts, but not the specific route adjustments, at this time.

Metro is still planning for another 200,000 hours of cuts in June and September of 2015, based on current revenue projections, but the Council will handle that in a later budget process.

Other than the 161,000 hours of cuts in September, these numbers do not take into account the impact if Seattle voters pass the proposal for a Seattle-only revenue package to avoid bus service cuts in Seattle.

Let’s Build Rail to West Seattle (Option A6)

This is a guest post.

Let’s get this on the table right up front: West Seattle should receive a light rail line in the next Sound Transit funding package (ST3). STB has covered this issue before with articles about possibilities, options presented, and even the hazards of regionalism. What might actually be included in the next regional package, and how does the study presentation impact the ST board’s decision? We think that a better presentation of the information contained within this study would serve the Sound Transit board and West Seattle well when it comes time to select corridors for ST3. As currently presented, the study makes the West Seattle line appear less cost effective than it should be. Seattle Subway has some suggestions to improve this.

As others have noted, this study is comprehensive to the point of being difficult to comprehend, and contains routes and options that cost more than $8 billion and are well beyond what the region will build in near future. We have two main requests to help make this information easier to understand and analyze.

1.  Option “A6”

Map by Oran.

Map by Oran.

[Read more...]

The Tolling Discussion is Impoverished

Dulles Toll Plaza (wikimedia)

The idea that tolling is some insidious stealth tax, or a fundamental violation of the inalienable right to drive anywhere, for free, with unlimited subsidy is a well-established cancer on the Puget Sound’s discourse. Nevertheless, I was astonished at the boundaries of the 520 tolling debate, as presented by Ellis Conklin in the Seattle Weekly last week and Alexa Vaughn in The Seattle Times ($) yesterday:

Had [they been notified], then perhaps there may have been a possibility of allowing motorists to drive for free across the 520 floating bridge – at least the idea would have been broached in a meeting of the seven commissioners.

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PCC Logistics, for example, relies on westbound truckers to deliver goods on time to its Port of Seattle facility. The company handles import, export, refrigerated and general cargo for customers.

Even though its trucks will be rerouting, Beth Sanchez, the company’s customer-service manager, says that the company is still warning customers that there could be long and unpredictable delivery delays….

Companies and workers will also have to deal with the costs of extra gas and, if using the westbound 520 bridge, the tolls. The state has no plans to waive or reduce tolls for crossing 520 and will be allowing intermittent openings for boats.

The decision to not reduce tolls for those traveling westbound has angered some daily bridge-crossers.

Why, if only there was some way to make sure 520 would be uncongested, so that freight and other businesses that depend on reliable travel could do so!

The debate as presented in these two reporters — and, to be fair, as framed by Washington State officials who are either unimaginative or muzzled – is basically that it would be great if we could grind 520 to a halt too by lifting the toll, but shucks, we still have to pay for the bridge.

This is absurd. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our highway capacity and “ease congestion” does massive damage to the environment and ends up inducing the same congestion. But in that debate, the establishment wrings its hands about the economy and the need to move freight around, because time is money. When maintenance dramatically reduces highway capacity, however, no one cares enough about businesses to do the one thing that might help.

I agree that freight operators, the handyman with his tools, and so on need uncongested highways. And because shorter trips on the highway feed directly into their bottom line, tolls are but a fraction of the cost of sitting in traffic because there’s no alternative. The answer, if policymakers really care about businesses like PCC Logistics, is not to suspend the toll but raise the toll to whatever level keeps 520 free-flowing this week.

As an added bonus, the really poor people — that would be the ones on the bus — also benefit from normal operating speeds. In fact, anyone interested in a fast and inexpensive option would naturally gravitate to the choices that consume the least scarce road space, which benefits everyone.

Debate Over the Future Kent-Des Moines Station Site

Federal Way Extension Page 1As part of the Federal Way Link extension, Sound Transit drafted four alternatives that would connect the Angle Lake Station, which is expected to open in 2016 on Pacific Highway (SR-99), to the currently unfunded Federal Way Transit Center. The Kent-Des Moines station, expected to open by 2023, is the first stop after Angle Lake. Voters approved S. 272nd Station in 2008, but there is not yet funding to get there. Funding to construct the all the way to Federal Way could come from grants or a future ballot measure. The alternatives follow I-5, stay on SR99, or switch between them with Kent/Des Moines as a transition station. ST is also considering additional stations on SR99 at S. 216th St. and S. 260th St.

ST has as many as eight potential locations for the Kent-Des Moines station. Project Team Manager Sandra Fann said that the details of these locations are not yet officially decided, but all of them are expected to be accessible to the Highline campus. Some of the options include having the station on the east side of campus; west east, or in the median of the Pacific Highway South (SR-99); west or east of 30th Ave South, or along Interstate 5. “These locations are based on a combination of ideas brought up by cities along the way and logic from an alignment perspective,” Fann said.

City officials from Kent, having already massively upzoned their share of the station area, prefers the station to align with SR-99 while the City of Des Moines would rather have the light rail go on I-5.

Kent City Councilmember Dennis Higgins said he prefers an alternative that serves the people and neighborhoods by the station. “Generally speaking I think a routing down the freeway median doesn’t meet that criteria,” Higgins said. “I know such routes are more disruptive during construction but in the long run they serve the public much better.” [Read more...]

East Link Mercer Island 60% Design Open House

This is a guest post.

Mercer Island 60 Percent

Last Thursday, Sound Transit held an open house to present the Mercer Island Station 60% design. In addition, there were several preliminary design options for integrating bus and rail at the station.

An animation of a Link train traveling from International District Station past Mercer Island was playing when I arrived. I didn’t hear many comments and questions as I moved around the room except for one notable exception: Several people expressed concerns about the loss of the express lanes. (For those who are unaware, SOV drivers are currently able to use the express lanes between the Mercer Island and Seattle.)

The station platform will be located between 80th Ave SE and 77th Ave SE where the current I-90 reversible express lanes are. The center platform will be accessible from both ends of the station and will be served by an up escalator, staircase, and elevator at each entrance. In addition, a Kiss & Ride area will be added at the 77th Ave SE entrance, and each entrance will provide seating, ticketing, and ORCA readers. There is even an area near the entrance marked “Future Vending”.

For those looking for bike parking, Mercer Island Park & Ride currently offers bike lockers that can be rented by the month and several well utilized bike racks. In addition to these existing spots, the station will include 8 new bike lockers, a secured bike cage for up to 50 bikes, and a bike rack area. I was told the bike rack area is designed to be convertible to another secured bike cage, should demand warrant it. In short, Mercer Island residents should have no shortage of places to stash a bike when Eastlink opens in 2023.

4 different options were presented for integrating bus and rail operations. These included various bus pick up and drop off locations, layover locations, and routing options. There were two Metro planners discussing these options. Interestingly, they were openly talking about potentially truncating all bus routes that currently travel across Mercer Island into Seattle. Not many people appeared to be paying attention to this information, even though, with increased frequencies, it could provide far better bus service throughout a large portion of the Eastside.

While there are still significant details to work out, especially with the Bus/Rail integration, the designs appeared to be a good example of multi-modal design, especially given the site constraints.
The Open House Boards, Staff Presentation, and details maps can be found here.