News Roundup: Ballot Drop

  • SDOT has released a video of daytime First Hill streetcar tests. Still no estimate of a service start date.
  • Ballots have dropped for this year’s unprecedented City Council shakeup. Please vote, and look for our endorsements in the middle of next week.
  • A woman walking on the BNSF tracks (pro tip: never do that!) was killed by a Sounder train on Tuesday afternoon’s commute near Golden Gardens.
  • The $16.1B transportation package is now law, signed by Inslee on Wednesday. Gas prices will go up by 7 cents/gallon in August.
  • Seattle Tunnel Partners has given WSDOT a new repair and construction schedule ($), with digging set to begin again in late November. The new best-case scenario for tunnel opening? 2018. Will North Link beat Bertha?
  • The Downtown Seattle Association’s mid-year Development Guide has been released, and boomtown continues: 106 active construction sites and 3,500 apartments to be delivered this year (full report here).
  • Alan Durning of Sightline had a great piece this week on single-family housing that was equal parts wonky analysis and a meditation on privilege.
  •  The Angle Lake extension now has a complete guideway from SeaTac Airport to South 200th. Also, the project is ahead of schedule and could open as early as May 2016 ($), though September is still the official date.
  • Seattle Bike Blog eulogizes Andy Hulslander, a person who was killed by a drunk driver while bicycling in Ravenna in June. The driver is free on bail awaiting trial for vehicular homicide, and is amazingly allowed to drive in the interim.
  • Ferry woes: with the Elwha out of service for 4 months, a major and unpleasant shuffle is in order. The San Juans will lose 20 cars worth of capacity, the Evergreen  State will be recalled from retirement, and the tiny Hiyu will be reactivated to provide ad hoc service between Fauntleroy and Southworth, which will go back to 2-boat service.
  • Lynnwood Link now has FTA approval, with the Record of Decision on the Final EIS being issued Wednesday.
  • Sound Transit’s Pamela is now at Roosevelt, breaking through earlier this week. North Link tunneling is on schedule to be complete by mid-2016.

This is an open thread.

CT Sales Tax Increase on the November Ballot

This is a guest post.

An out-of-service Swift bus headed towards Everett Station

Funding for Swift II operations is on the line with the November ballot measure

The signing of the statewide transportation package yesterday by Governor Jay Inslee granted permission to Community Transit to exceed the maximum 0.9% sales tax rate set for public transportation benefit areas (as allowed for in Section 312 of Senate Bill 5987, specifically for counties with a population of at least 700,000 that contains a city of at least 75,000 with its own transit system). The CT Board voted unanimously today to place a measure on the November 3, 2015 ballot that would increase sales taxes by 0.3% (3 cents on $10 taxable purchases) and generate an estimated $25 million in additional annual revenue for the agency.

In their press release, Community Transit outlined where the new revenue would be spent, beginning as early as March 2016:

  • Swift II, whose capital costs are already covered by state and federal grants, will use $7 to 8 million per year in op. It is scheduled to open as early as 2018. (See my open house report from last month for more details)
  • Improved frequency on local routes with more trips added throughout the day and expanded service spans.
  • Additional commuter runs to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington.
  • Increased east-west connections within the county.
  • More service to job, housing and educational centers throughout the county, including communities such as Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood.
  • New routes, including service on State Route 9 from Marysville to McCollum Park via Lake Stevens, Snohomish and Silver Firs, last proposed during the failed annexation of Cathcart, Clearview and Maltby in 2008.
  • Reconfigured local bus service to connect with Sound Transit Link Light Rail when it reaches Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood in 2023, and eventually to Everett.
  • More vanpools and expanded DART paratransit service.

Diversity in the Single Family Zones

image1

When the mayor first announced the HALA commission, I was skeptical that would achieve the same tangible output as previous commissions on the minimum wage and taxi regulation.  And yes, while the commission did gnash its teeth for a while developing a mission statement, sure enough it produced an specific plan (pdf) that the Mayor will turn into proposed legislation.  So while we’re a far cry from the victory lap, credit where due: the commission strategy seems to have worked yet again.

Like many others, I’m specifically glad to read this bit:

Increase Access, Affordability, Diversity and Inclusion within Single Family Areas: The exclusivity of Single Family zones limits the type of housing available, limits the presence of smaller format housing and limits access for those with lower incomes. The City will allow more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional Single Family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity. The broader mix of housing will include small lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, rowhouses, duplexes, triplexes and stacked flats. Although a broader variety of housing would be permitted, the total amount of building area on a single lot will remain the same (excluding ADUs and DADUs) and it does not eliminate the option of single family housing.

As I’ve argued previously, smaller format housing like duplexes would be a nice win for the single family zones.  Triplexes and rowhouses are even better, and ought to be more palatable to neighborhoods since the total building area will not be larger than a currently-allowed single-family home.

While we’re discussing the fate of Seattle’s single-family zones, with their history of redlining and exclusion, it’s worth recalling what a strange beast they are.  Seattle’s close-in single family neighborhoods are something of a historical accident. Prior to the invention of the electric streetcar, urban residents in most cities were tightly clustered around the downtown core, their mobility limited by their own two feet. With the streetcar came what you might call suburban sprawl 1.0, as developers bought up tracts of land, built houses and ran streetcars to them.

The electric streetcar happened to show up in the 1880s, just as Seattle’s city’s population was swelling from 3,000 people to over 47,000. That meant the streetcar suburbs were built immediately adjacent to downtown. In older cities, like, say, Boston, those streetcar suburbs still got built, they were just built farther out from the downtown core (read more in this paper, which Andrew wrote up several years ago).

Had the Alaska gold rush happened a decade earlier, or had the electric streetcar been developed a decade later, Seattle would look very different today.

Linkage Fee Evolves, Debate Continues

“Seattle – Mirabella pano 01″ by Joe Mabel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Since Frank last summarized the arguments, Owen Pickford has fired a couple of more shots in the linkage fee debate. It’s very interesting:

Both Bertolet and Roger Valdez (the director of Smart Growth Seattle) seem to agree with me that the cost of linkage fees would be passed to landowners. But we clearly disagree about whether reduced land values affect the supply of land. Cutting to the heart of the matter, Bertolet is making a claim about the economic nature of land. Do high prices mean there’s more land for sale? Do low prices mean there’s less?

Unlike the principals, I have no literature survey to bring to this debate. But I did wonder about the theoretical limits of a linkage fee policy. Intuitively, an arbitrarily large linkage fee would affect development. Indeed, if the fee is large enough to capture or exceed all potential profits from development, and Pickford’s model is correct, then the value of land should approach the value implied by the existing use. So it’s clear that in principle linkage fees can deter development. I also suspect that the real estate market isn’t quite so frictionless that all the impact will pass on to land values, although I can accept it as the primary result.

Mike O’Brien’s original legislation, of course, tries to allow profit on construction. So the argument for that linkage fee (as opposed to linkage fees in general) amounts to the assertion that, in areas where it is proposed, landowners are receiving a large windfall relative to the size of the fee. That ought to be answerable with local data.

Bertolet and Pickford also scuffle over whether bureaucrats can be trusted to properly set rates to mitigate disincentives to development. I’m not nearly as worried about the bureaucrats as the politicians. If market conditions demand a cut in the fee, voting against existing funds for affordable housing is tough. More importantly, last month’s events show that several Councilmembers aren’t particularly interested in making sure we maximize unit construction. Linkage fees could be another weapon to slow growth while wrapped in the flag of affordable housing.

On the other hand, even if Bertolet is right that the fee will reduce market-rate construction, the fee exists to construct low-income housing! Since we ought to be most concerned with the raw number of units rather than the details of those units, I’d like to see his accounting as to whether the low-income units built exceeds the numbers lost to the fee’s deterrent effect.

Today, a linkage fee seems more likely than ever, though its scope is very much in doubt. The Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee proposed a linkage fee only on commercial projects, which in theory should discourage space for jobs and encourage space for housing. In the aftermath, Mike O’Brien withdrew his legislation, keeping it in reserve should developers renege on the compromise. Market-rate-development skeptics Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, and Council candidate Jon Grant proposed a HALA alternative with, among other things, a more “robust” linkage fee at a higher rate even than O’Brien’s bill.

So where does all this leave us? I’m now inclined to believe that even the O’Brien linkage fee isn’t a big deal: the net impact on overall housing supply is likely to be small, although there is the potential for trouble down the road. As before, I wish we had a broader revenue source for affordable housing than one that potentially worsened the other end of the problem. But if the HALA compromise essentially puts a little drag on market-rate development to fund low-income housing, and enables a sweeping upzone that makes a real step towards addressing the housing shortage, that’s a deal worth making.

A Transportation Solution for Today and Tomorrow

This is a guest post.

by SEATTLE SUBWAY

What we could have if we decide we want it.

What we could have if we decide we want it.

Last week, the State Legislature finally approved funding authority for Sound Transit to move forward with their next phase of expansion. This was a hard-won fight, fraught with unpleasant and ill-conceived tradeoffs forced by our state’s political geography, but those compromises have been made. Now is the time to make sure they were worth it.

Sound Transit planners have been pitching a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot proposal for high capacity transit funded by as much as $15 billion in taxes over 15 years. While this would build many badly needed projects, it would be only an incremental addition to a patchwork system that is not growing fast enough to meet the needs of our booming cities.

We propose a single 2016 ballot measure that includes the Sound Transit 3 funding and authorizes the continued collection of Sound Move (the 1996 vote) and Sound Transit 2 (the 2008 vote) taxes past their current end date. This would be enough funding to plan, design and build a complete regional system. Planning for a system and not just a series of lines is how Washington D.C. planned and built their Metro system, and how Phoenix is looking to plan and build theirs. In early planning, Sound Transit has chosen to only collect construction money over a set period of time, but that is a choice. We could choose a different path forward.

It sounds like a dream, but it’s very real.

Taxes would be held in line with what is being planned for ST3 by spreading the cost to the electorate over a longer time period and continuing to collect Sound Move and ST2 taxes until the larger system is complete. Instead of just ST3’s likely projects the voters can authorize ST3 and ST4. After a November, 2016 ballot measure passes, Sound Transit could continue to expand the system as bonding capacity becomes available without raising tax rates in the future or going back to the polls. Sound Transit’s legal staff is already looking into how to write a ballot measure to achieve this if we can convince the Board to pursue this long-term, visionary path.

The effect of pursuing the bigger package would be transformational: Experienced planning staff could move seamlessly from one project to the next, capital equipment like tunneling machines could be reused, and contractors could bid for multiple sequential projects in order to lower costs. Sound Transit could break the cycle of authorizing the few projects that can be built in the next 15 years and then devoting substantial energy to prepare for another vote in 8-12 years.

The details of our vision map are debatable, but not our message: The region needs to plan, decide, and vote on a complete transportation solution in 2016.

[Read more…]

Bolt Bus in the PNW Update

Photo from http://www.travelportland.com/

Photo from http://www.travelportland.com/

A little over 3 years ago Bolt Bus started operating in the Pacific Northwest with runs to Vancouver and Portland from Seattle. A year later service was expanded to Eugene.

I reached out to Bolt Bus GM David Hall for an update and he had some good news to share. First on June 25th Bolt Bus added 30 new trips a week:

We added a schedule from Seattle to Vancouver at 1145am via Bellingham and it returns with a schedule from Vancouver to Seattle via Bellingham at 5pm
Five days a week, doesn’t run on Tues / Weds

From Seattle to Portland
A new schedule at 12:15pm runs every day but Saturday and Monday
Another new schedule at 430pm runs every day but Tues / Weds

From Portland to Seattle
A new schedule at 1130am runs every day but Tues / Weds
Lastly a new schedule at 5pm runs every day but Sat / Mon

These schedules fill in some gaps we had in the previous schedule. Most of these will be popular on day one and should do great.

Mr. Hall also let me know that this fall the Seattle to Eugene trips which are currently only a couple trips a week will move to daily runs. I asked about Spokane service and he said that they continue to look it at but they currently don’t have the fleet to do it.

Elliott Bus Lane Followup

Photo by the Author

Photo by the Author

In April I asked SDOT if the Expedia move would strengthen the case for full-time bus lanes on Elliott. At the time, they didn’t have a timetable. Now they do. Rick Sheridan:

SDOT’s Transit division has an ongoing program of C and D Line enhancements. The current focus is on restriping 15th NW between NW 49th and Market to install a northbound BAT lane and, at NW 52nd, a new signalized crosswalk to connect transit riders and others to two growing parts of central Ballard. This project is working toward final approval and is expected to be installed by the end of the year.

Even as that project moves forward, a number of other D Line enhancements are in design, including expanded no parking hours and BAT lane striping north of NW 65th. The addition of off-peak direction BAT lanes on Elliott will follow these other projects, with design/outreach starting in early 2016.

Our work to enhance transit along this corridor will occur well ahead of Expedia’s relocation there in 2018.

Good news! Whatever forces prevented full-time bus lanes in the past are likely still present, so please remain ready to submit positive comments next year.

Videographer Needed

STB will be conducting endorsement interviews over the next week and a half, and we’re considering the idea of videotaping them. If there are any modestly skilled videographers (with equipment) out there willing to donate about 6 hours of time in the next week and a half, please send us an email.

News Roundup: Spite Votes

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

This is an open thread.

Bike Sharing is Likely Coming to the Eastside

This is a guest post.

Near the top of the “Tier 1″ transit projects funded by the state’s new Transportation budget is a curious item:

Project Title Agency Leg District Funding (Dollars in thousands)
Bike Share Expansion – Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah King County Metro 48 $5,500

That’s a $5.5 million allocation to expand bike sharing to 4 Eastside cities.  You may be wondering (as I was), what would Bike Sharing look like if it expanded to those cities? And how did this make its way into the budget?

To find out, you need to go back a few years and read the King County Bike Share Business Plan. It maps out the plan for what a region-wide bike sharing system would look like. It is a few years old now, funding might levy new requirements, and lessons from operations means that the real life system might look a bit different.

The original plan was to launch with 50 stations in Downtown Seattle and near the UW, and then add a total of 110 more stations in those areas and adjacent ones. Finally, Pronto would add 50 stations in a few relatively dense Eastside cities. The program got off the ground with 50 stations last year, and Seattle has a grant pending to expand bike sharing to most of the rest of the city with an additional 250 stations.

Does the state funding mean that Pronto would be heading to the Eastside too, or would it be separate? The answer is likely that Pronto will expand. Pronto is actually an independent non-profit, not an arm of the City of Seattle. Its board is a cross section of transportation staff from various agencies (including King County Metro, the recipient of the state funding) and some community members. It gets grants from the cities and county (who in turn get grants from the state and federal government) and hires a vendor to administer the system.  The vendor is Motivate, formerly known as Alta Cycle Share. They run similar programs in other cities like DC and Boston.

What would a small bike share deployment look like on the Eastside? I took the original business plan’s goal of spacing stations out by 1300 feet and placing 10 in Bellevue, and plotted them out in downtown. These are not the actual locations, just some ideas on where they could go. You could cover all of the downtown core easily, and add a few stations at Overlake, Bellevue High School and at the Hotels on 112th. You could easily apply the same logic to Kirkland and Redmond, especially if Microsoft wants to get involved.

[Read more…]

This is a guest post.

Tranportation Bills Passed in State Legislature This Year

gridlock

A flurry of transportation-related bills passed the state legislature last week, with most of these bills signed by the governor on Monday.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1219 lists 130 specific state-owned bridges the legislature deems to be structurally deficient, creates exemptions from the State Environmental Protection Act for reconstruction on these bridges, disallows bridge reconstruction under these exemptions to be used to add lanes, and allows emergency contracting procedures. The governor has signed this bill.

ESHB 1842 creates a transit grant coordination program within WSDOT for King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, with a requirement for two or more agencies to apply jointly for a grant. Signed by the governor.

SHB 2012 gives WSDOT some flexibility to deviate from the standard design manual in pursuit of practical project design. Signed.

ESSB 5820 removes requirements for WSDOT to advertise surplus property auctions in local newspapers, and institutes stricter processes for land exchanges. Signed.

2ndESSB 5987 contains the authority for the ST3 vote and the $16.1 billion long-term highway capital expenditure plan. STB reported and editorialized on the bill last week. THE BILL AWAITS ACTION BY THE GOVERNOR, WHICH IS NOT EXPECTED THIS WEEK.
Signed on July 15.

2ESSB 5992 adds new requirements to Washington State Ferries’ vessel construction contracting process, including design-build, and fixed-price, with allowances for change orders. Signed.

2ESB 5993 raises the trigger amount for requiring that 15% of a WSDOT project’s labor hours must be performed by apprentices from $2 million to $3 million, and requires the Department of Labor and Industries to provide contractors with an electronic option for filling out the prevailing wage survey. PENDING ACTION BY THE GOVERNOR, WHICH IS NOT EXPECTED THIS WEEK.
Signed on July 14.

2ESSB 5994 requires local governments to give WSDOT an answer within 90 days of a permit application, if at all possible, and creates new exemptions for WSDOT from the Shoreline Management Act. Signed.

2ESB 5995 adds “including congestion relief and improved freight mobility” to the state’s transportation policy mobility goal. Signed.

2ESSB 5996 attempts to streamline permitting of WSDOT projects, while including the recognized tribes, and requires design flaws costing more than $500,000 to be reported to the legislature’s transportation committees within 30 days. The governor vetoed sections of the bill, but THE SPECIFICS ARE NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE AS OF TIME OF PUBLICATION.
The governor vetoed section 9 of the bill, which called for a number of studies now redundant with studies in other signed bills, and signed the underlying bill.

2ESSB 5997 allows WSDOT to try out design-build contracting, expediting project delivery and possibly saving money. Signed.

The rest of the transportation-related bills passed earlier this year are below the fold. [Read more…]

Fundraising Update: Week 2

south bellevue station renderings

A million thanks to everyone who already gave to our fundraising drive.  Thanks to your generosity, we’re over 1/3 of the way towards our $10,000 goal.  Over 70 of you have donated already, in numbers small and large.  So thank you.

Several of you have generously done recurring monthly donations as well, which is fantastic.  A few dollars a month goes a long way.  For those who haven’t given yet, we hope you’ll consider doing so by the end of the month.  We want to move on hiring our reporter and getting the ball rolling in August. Every little bit helps.

We’re not generally ones for horn-tooting, but here’s a really nice quote from Bellevue Councilmember John Chelminak, on the occasion of David Lawson’s investigation into Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan:

After reassurances from staff that the city wouldn’t move forward with a running project without the most up-to-date ridership projections, the council approved the transit master plan unanimously.

If you can convince the Seattle Transit Blog you’ve done really good work on transit, you have,” said Councilmember John Chelminiak.

Can we get to 100 donors this week? It’s up to you!  Thanks in advance for your support.





Expanding Coverage of a Second Downtown Light Rail Tunnel

Existing and Conceptual Rail Coverage of Downtown Seattle (1/4 mile buffer around station)

For the last few decades the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) has served us well. Originally designed to provide a fast and reliable one-seat ride into downtown Seattle for commuters, it has evolved as our region and transit system have grown. The DSTT has been a resounding success contributing to a drive alone rate of just 23% for commuters in the historic 12-block “JCMSUP” commercial core.

The problem is that Downtown Seattle is quickly growing into a multipolar downtown, making it harder to serve with transit. Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union have drive alone rates of 53% and 46% respectively, significantly higher than the commercial core. As I wrote several months ago there are several solutions to this problem including the “Pill Hill Solution”, extending the routing of express buses into downtown adjacent neighborhoods, or encouraging transfers. All of these solutions have a role to play.

But what about light rail? How might it fit into the future of mobility in the Center City? As the possibility of a second light rail tunnel through Downtown Seattle moves forward I’d like to challenge the “traditional” transit vision popularized by the monorail of a single line running from Ballard to West Seattle. Why? Because South Lake Union happened. [Read more…]

ORCA Regional Day Pass Launches

Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

The ORCA regional day pass, which Brent reported on back in April, is now available for purchase, says Metro.

  • An $8 Regional Day Pass for adult riders valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $3.50
  • A $4 Regional Day Pass for ORCA Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) cardholders (seniors and riders with disabilities) valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $1.75. (At this time there is no youth or low income day pass product.)

The new options are intended to make it easier for tourists and visitors to use transit while in town. Local residents can also purchase day passes, which are available where ORCA cards are sold and revalued. Options include ticket vending machines, retail outlets, customer service offices, online, by mail and by phone. The launch of a permanent day pass program follows a pilot project conducted in 2014.

Bruce’s critique from last year is still mostly applicable (though the cost has been reduced from $9 to $8 an the max fare is now $3.50, down from $4).   As the press release makes clear, this product is aimed squarely at tourists who aren’t going very far.  While you can add to the e-purse for higher fares, the $3.50 number (after all the squirrelly inter-agency revenue share has been accounted for) signals that this probably isn’t the product for you if you need Sounder or an Express Bus.

If the Monorail were to accept ORCA, it could be a more compelling offer for tourists who would have likely blown a few bucks on that separately from their transportation spend.  More importantly, in an era where travelers are increasingly cashless, providing a day pass that can be acquired by credit card is convenient, even if it might be cheaper to pay for each fare in cash.

For locals, however, the pas is expensive unless you already have an ORCA card.  Fortunately, the agencies are considering reducing the $5 ORCA card fee, which would make the day pass more competitive.

Draft Affordable Housing Recommendations: Far Beyond “Abolish Single-Family Zoning”

No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This afternoon, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat had an excellent, but inartfully headlined, scoop: Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee (HALA–rhymes with balla) could, according to a draft plan leaked to Westneat, recommend doing away with the label “single-family zoning” and replacing it with the more inclusive “low-density residential zone,” which would allow more flexibility to build backyard cottages, duplexes, and other very low-density (but not exclusive single-family) housing types.

The new designation, even if it’s limited to a pilot project, as the draft suggests, would be a stunning rebuke to the supposed sanctity of single-family zoning, which applies to an astonishing 65 percent of all the land in Seattle.

The recommendation seems almost designed to fan the flames of single-family protectionism (ten bucks says the leaker was a disgruntled HALA member who believes he or she benefits from those protections), and Westneat (or his editor) didn’t do urbanists any favors by reporting on the proposal under the inflammatory headline, “Get rid of single-family zoning in Seattle, housing task force says in draft report.” (That headline has since been changed to “Drop single-family zoning, housing panel considers.” By tomorrow it may be “Housing panel considers change,” but the 500-plus unhinged comments on Westneat’s piece suggest the damage is already done.)

Those who believe it’s their God-given right to own a four-bedroom house on a 5,000-square-foot lot and never have to cross paths with a single apartment dweller on their route from house to two-car garage to office tend to see any incursion on that right (including a rule change that allows them to build an apartment for Grandma) as an assault on their way of life.

I mean, how dare those HALA hippies point out the historical fact that single-family zoning was originally designed to keep minorities and poor people out? Don’t they know that exclusive areas for wealthy white homeowners is just the natural order of things? The draft report begs to differ:

[Read more…]

My ST3 Survey Answers

ST Central Link 135

Tomorrow is the deadline to tell Sound Transit which potential ST3 projects you think are most important. I thought I’d share my answers, with a bit of commentary, which of course reflect my personal prejudices. I invite others to share their responses on Page 2 or snippets in the comments.

For background on these routing options, see the main ST3 webpage. The survey asks how important we consider each project, with 5 meaning very important and 1 not important. Unlike Seattle Subway, I didn’t game the system by rating everything at the extremes.

Central Projects

5: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, elevated/tunnel (both options); New Downtown Seattle Tunnel; Madison St. BRT

A line that serves Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, and Belltown covers three of the most high-demand neighborhoods that don’t have high-quality traffic-separated transit. First Hill and the Central District are two more, for whom BRT is both inexpensive and the only game in town.

Ballard-Downtown Service also sets up a line to West Seattle no later than ST4, a desirable outcome at any ST3 package size.

4: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via Westlake; Ballard-UW

It’s an unpopular opinion, but outside the Mercer-to-Jackson downtown core I think at-grade can work for the bulk of the line. This is only because ST assures me that they mean MLK standards, not Central City Connector or (God forbid) SLU Streetcar. It makes the system mildly less reliable, and lowers maximum frequency, but it also makes short stop spacing affordable. Grade-separated is better, but the Westlake line makes the very attractive trade of SLU and Fremont for Lower Queen Anne and Interbay.

Ballard/UW, while cheap and cost-effective, sacrifices neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal for Wallingford, which is not an attractive swap in my view. But I’d gleefully vote for a package that contains it.

3: Downtown Seattle-Ballard, at-grade via 15th; Graham St. Station; Downtown Seattle-West Seattle elevated and at-grade

First, the least intriguing Ballard option. Second, a modest Rainier Valley mobility improvement, but not one demanded by development pressure or intersecting bus service. Third, West Seattle’s transportation situation is abysmal, and there’s no reason to believe bus alternatives (not a part of the survey!) will avoid the snares of past iterations. But it ranks below Ballard largely because there’s a whole lot of nothing, in ridership terms, between Delridge and the stadiums. I’ve ranked the at-grade option relatively highly because this is the most appropriate place to economize between Ballard and the Junction.

2: Boeing Access Road Link; Boeing Access Rd Sounder; Downtown Seattle-White Center

There is little argument for Boeing Access Road except a geometric one. Connectivity at nodes like these enables arbitrary trip pairs without truly outrageous detours (e.g. Rainier Beach to the Museum of Flight via TIBS). But the ridership probably isn’t high enough to make this a priority. Delridge is a reasonably strong corridor but the big, walkable stuff is happening at the Junction.

1: Downtown Seattle at-grade

Bruce made a convincing case that at-grade options can work in Seattle for Link-caliber transit, but not in the core.

[Read more…]

ST Unveils New Link Station Pictograms

new pictograms with station signage

After asking the public last year for input on pictograms to identify new Link stations from Angle Lake to Northgate, Sound Transit revealed them in its Northgate project update last week. The new pictograms will appear on redesigned signage in stations and on board trains later this year in advance of U Link’s opening. Sound Transit provided me with a document describing their design approach and a report of community input. While it does not show or explain the final pictogram designs, you can see the process that led to them.

In lieu of an official description from Sound Transit, here are my interpretations of each station pictogram, from south to north:

  • Angle Lake is represented by a rainbow trout, which can be caught in the lake. The shape of the fish also resembles the shape of the lake itself. It is the official state fish and the state stocks the lake with it. Expect to see people with their fishing gear on the train when the station opens later in 2016.

  • Capitol Hill is the rainbow ‘Pride’ flag, honoring the neighborhood’s association with Seattle’s LGBT community. Although the actual flag is commonly seen with six colored stripes, the pictogram is rendered in monochrome as part of its signage program, ST spokesperson Bruce Gray told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

  • University of Washington is a mortarboard cap with the UW’s block ‘W’ logo. This is the most obvious of the pictograms, at least to this Husky. The mortarboard represents academia and is worn in the commencement ceremony which the UW hosts in Husky Stadium, whose parking lot the station is situated. The university and the medical center is the block ‘W’ logo. The logo is trademarked and I assume ST was granted permission to use it.

  • U District is a stack of three thick textbooks, possibly referring to the nearby University Book Store which has anchored “The Ave” shopping district for more than 90 years. The books also represent education, which is why the neighborhood exists.

  • Roosevelt is a Bull Moose, a nickname for the Progressive Party founded by Theodore Roosevelt, who is the neighborhood’s namesake. The neighboring street and high school are also named after the 26th president. At first glance, it could be seen as a Roosevelt Elk but people who know their moose from their elk can tell them apart.

  • Northgate is a dragonfly. It mimics the Green Darner Dragonfly artwork to be installed in the station, which can be seen from the platform and mezzanine. Dragonflies are commonly found in the recently daylighted Thornton Creek near the station. The dragonfly is also the state insect.

While I think the symbolism and intent of having pictograms are great, they are just not implemented very well. Here are ST’s requirements for effective pictograms, from last year’s questionnaire:

  • Simple in form, and are an easily recognizable symbol
  • Readable at many scales; including signage, print material, online and mobile devices
  • Are individually distinguishable and read as a family

Cameron Booth, a professional graphic designer who writes the Transit Maps blog, criticized the existing Link pictograms as “overly detailed” and “reproduce terribly at small sizes.” He cites Mexico City’s Metro “bold and simple” station icons as a good example that ST itself used as an example but instead did “the absolute opposite”. I can apply Booth’s critique to U District’s book stack and Capitol Hill’s rainbow flag.

U District’s book stack is not readable (pun not intended) on a dark background. SODO’s anvil is most similar to the books in design and perspective but functions better because it is a single object with a recognizable shape and minimal ink within the pictogram itself. The books, however, just look like a square blob.

Capitol Hill’s rainbow Pride flag is a case of completely changing the meaning through loss of detail at small size. The rainbow flag turns into a white flag of surrender or a black/blue flag of many things, because the keylines that separate the bands disappear when shrunk. It still looks like a flag, big or small, so it works in that respect and perhaps I am overthinking this.

A rainbow, which was an overwhelmingly popular suggestion at 48, would have been visually clearer and just as, if not more, inclusive and representative of the neighborhood. The arc shape of the rainbow is also reminiscent of how many legislative chambers are arranged (not Washington’s), the dome shape of capitol buildings, and a hill. Many of the adjectives suggested in the questionnaire like diverse, vibrant, fun, etc. could be symbolized by a rainbow, without the added layer of a flag.

Sunday Open Thread: Our Next Generation of Trolleys

Shots of 4500, Metro’s first low-floor articulated electric trolleybus (New Flyer XT60), in action. You can see it rolling up Rainier, up Pike, then lowering the poles and using battery power, and pulling a U-turn at the Route 14 terminus in Mount Baker. I’m glad we decided to invest in more and better trolleybuses. More are on the way and I can’t wait to ride one!