- ST3 goes final
- Making transit work better during special events or construction
- Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT
Last month, Zach explained how a view of Mount Rainier from Bellevue City Hall had become a roadblock to rezoning of several redevelopable sites near the East Main Link station. Last week, the Bellevue City Council voted 5-1 to not retain the view corridor. While the rezoning process is not over, this decision makes it much more likely that the East Main station walk-shed will support much higher development densities.
Bellevue is engaged in several rezoning efforts. The East Main Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) is reviewing the area immediately adjacent to the East Main station. The Downtown Livability CAC has made recommendations for areas which include the Sheraton site northeast of East Main, and most directly within City Hall’s view of Mount Rainier.
The goals around the station are commendably ambitious. Current height limits of 75-90 feet may be increased up to 200 feet at the Sheraton site, and up to 300 feet on lots to the south (including the Red Lion across from the station). The current FAR of 3.0 on the Sheraton site, and just 0.5 further south, would increase up to 5.0.
Bellevue City Council Chambers, and an adjacent balcony and interior concourse, enjoy a view of Mount Rainier over these sites. Current zoning doesn’t allow buildings tall enough to impinge on those views, but preserving the view would require that portions of the Sheraton site in the view corridor be built up to no more than 91 to 117 feet, and portions of the Red Lion site be no taller than 123-148 feet.
Council Members opposed to mandating a view corridor cited the detrimental impact to likely development. Kevin Wallace, in an earlier meeting, described the view corridor as “extremely close to a regulatory taking” because it had not been considered before developers began planning for the site.
OneBusAway, one of the essential transit rider tools available to us, has unveiled its updated Android app with a major redesign to its interface. The app now adheres to Google’s “Material Design” guidelines, emphasizing the use of “cards” and responsive animation, bringing a modern look that is a far cry from the bland look of yesteryear.
In addition to the redesign, the app now features live trip status and displays real-time positions of buses on a given route. The live tracking also features fleet numbers, allowing transit nerds to select their bus type of choice and ensure that they never trip over the stairs of a high-floor bus ever again.
The app still displays real-time arrival information for participating systems (as of this writing, King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit, and Washington State Ferries) and scheduled arrivals for other agencies (including Community Transit, Everett Transit, Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail and Link light rail, the King County Water Taxi, and Seattle Streetcar). The app also has an online client, an iOS app on the App Store, and Windows Store app (for mobile and desktop).
A front-page story in yesterday’s Times ($) describes a study that shows much higher property values around light rail stations. “Studies” that come from local firms trying to generate PR deserve some skepticism. Nevertheless, I think their headline writer is trying to spin this as a bad thing: “To live near light rail in Seattle, you’ll have to pay up, study shows.” Clearly, though, the obvious conclusion is that light rail is a huge improvement to neighborhoods, an improvement that people are willing to pay for.
Moreover, there is far more demand to live near light rail stations than than there are homes. A housing shortage is a product of both bad zoning and not nearly enough stations. A coherent response would both upzone and build more stations.
Somehow, the Times editorial board is opposed to the latter. Their headline is even refuted by the article’s own map, showing median homes for less than $275,000 near some stations in South King County. This is way below the King County median, the Snohomish County median, and is near the Pierce County median.
However, I have to credit the editorial staff for publishing a front page story that, to the mildly economic literate, suggests that light rail is a boon to neighborhoods. It does make you wonder about the thought process of Surrey Downs and “Save Our Trails” NIMBYs who have done everything in their power to keep away high property values and convenient transportation.
Bike and transit advocates share many common goals. We all want walkable and bikeable cities alongside (or atop) fast and reliable transit. But potential fracture points have arisen between the sometimes competing visions of the Center City Bike Network (and the broader Bike Master Plan), Move Seattle’s Rapid Ride corridors, and the sudden entry of a new process layer in the Center City Mobility Plan. The challenges are real and it’s imperative both that bike and transit advocates work together for each others’ mutual benefit, and that we understand each others’ biases and policy preferences.
To that end, please join us Tuesday from 4:30-6:00pm in the Bertha Knight Landes room at City Hall for a discussion with Transit Center Policy Director Jon Orcutt. The topics couldn’t be timelier for Seattle, including “(1) a discussion of bike/transit integration in urban areas, particularly downtowns; (2) bike network connectivity and its import; and (3) rapid implementation of bike networks.”
STB is co-sponsoring the event with Councilmember Rob Johnson, Cascade Bicycle Club, Commute Seattle, Futurewise, Seattle Bike Blog, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Transportation Choices, and The Urbanist. They do ask for an RSVP here.
Growth skeptics love to complain about South Lake Union. It’s too sterile, too corporate, too luxury — it couldn’t possibly help address housing affordability.
I never bought into that — just building units does a lot of good for the region — but give it just a little time, and districts like SLU can solve the problems that growth critics claim to care about. Exhibit A: Crystal City, Virginia ($), a soulless 1980s sea of single-use office buildings, now in hard times due to defense cuts:
At first glance, there appears to be nothing new among the high-rise offices and apartments lining Crystal Drive and its bisecting streets in this Arlington County enclave. In fact, there is little new construction. Instead, buildings from the 1960s to 1980s are being retrofitted, some converted from offices to apartments, others welcoming new commercial tenants, including tech start-ups, co-working spaces and restaurants.
The area… is attracting residents and younger workers with competitive rents and convenient transportation options.
Perhaps this won’t be SLU’s fate: I’ve spent enough time in both to know that it is a much better urbanist space than its counterpart. It may continue to thrive as a regional economic driver. This wouldn’t be a bad thing! But in the long term, SLU will either succeed or it will fail, and in either case all of these buildings developers are putting up will do Seattle a lot of good.
Of all the good urban problems to have, an overactive downtown core is among the best of them. We’ve come to the point where a weekday/weekend transit service dichotomy is too simple to adequately respond to unique changes in demand or stresses to the system. From Pride, SeaFair, Rock and Roll Marathon, Obama x 3, Xi Jinping, and on and on, there are ever more days each year in which unique pain points occur for Downtown service.
The impetus for this post, of course, is Obama’s visit yesterday. Walking along Stewart in the PM peak, it was a wall of continuous gridlocked buses from Harrison all the way to 6th, burning fuel, transporting no one, and wreaking havoc on the broader transportation network. The poor Tacoma drivers operating Sound Transit’s 590s were diverted onto westbound Denny, woefully stuck with everyone else.
At the ST3 Board Meeting last Thursday, CEO Rogoff gave his customary ridership update, and disclosed that not only will ST be tripling 3-car trains on weekdays, but will also be looking at turnback trains between UW and Sodo for special events. Previously, this idea was limited to helping bridge the 2 years between Convention Place closure and Northgate Link’s opening. But why should event-related service improvements be limited to trains, when buses and their crazy reroutes bear the brunt of the pain?
A proposal: its time for a new “Enhanced Weekend/Event” layer of service. Here are some possible criteria: If both of the following are true, operate “Enhanced Weekend/Event” service:
- Sound Transit expects weekend/ridership to be within 10% of weekday ridership
- Buses will be rerouted by 2 blocks or more for 4 or more hours that day
If buses cannot serve the downtown core, and if the stops they serve are duplicated by Link, those buses should not serve Downtown at all. Routes such as 255, 545, 554, 578, and 594 should run to their nearest Link station, and run twice as often.
In turn, Sound Transit should operate Link with equivalent weekday capacity, just spread out evenly throughout the day. So instead of 10-minutes off-peak and 6 minutes peak, run it 7-8 minutes all day.The truncations proposed could also apply on weekdays for limited but severe stresses like Presidential motorcade closures.
Surely a forced transfer is preferable to a bus that’s an hour late, and buses idling with no passengers are in nobody’s interest. What do you think?
By now you will have heard that Sound Transit 3 (ST3), the 25-year, $54 billion transit expansion plan, is headed to your November ballot. The Sound Transit Board unanimously approved the System Plan yesterday afternoon, without a whiff of the controversy surrounding the ST2 vote, when last-minute antics and 2 ‘nay’ votes ruffled feathers and raised temperatures. No, the only thing missing from yesterday’s exercise in contentment and mutual congratulation was a round of hand-holding and Kumbaya.
Which is stunning, because ST3 is simply without precedent in North America. ST3 will ask you this November whether or not you want 58 more miles of 100% grade-separated rail. Nothing of this scale has ever been proposed in North America. That is not necessarily a compliment, but merely a statement of fact.
Consider our peers. As I wrote two weeks ago, there are many boxes in which U.S. transit expansions fit. There are the mature systems with high-quality rail that expand slowly if at all, and struggle to maintain themselves (New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC). There are those who build high-quality lines at low frequencies, and seem ever more eager to extend them rather than invest in the city (looking at you, BART). There are all the second-generation systems that build low-quality at-grade rail in the heart of their cities, often dependent on cheap legacy freight corridors (Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, etc). There are bait-and-switch agencies that passed big capital measures but then spent all their money without actually building their lines (cough, Miami). Even our closest peer, Los Angeles, is hinging its $100B Measure R2 plan on tens of billions in highway tunnels. We’re the only high quality, all-transit game in town.
ST3 is different in many respects. On the good side, it cuts no corners and offers 100% grade-separated rail. It forgoes the surface-running operations so tempting to other agencies. It builds a second subway in a town of less than a million people (though not for long). And it will run with longer trains and at higher frequencies than any light rail peer. We already carry 80% more riders per mile than Portland, for instance, and that disparity will only grow with ST3s buildout.
On the questionable side, ST3 is also a grand experiment in linear, suburban rail. Building high capacity, high frequency interurban rail to Tacoma and/or Everett is similar to building DC Metro all the way to Baltimore, or building DART from Dallas to Forth Worth, something neither agency would ever propose. The length of the spine is enormous, and presented sufficient operational challenges that Sound Transit chose to split it in two, with Tacoma trains headed to Ballard and West Seattle transit headed to Everett. There is both principled opposition to such a scheme (as in the BRT optimization crowd), and disingenuous opposition (as in the Smarter Transit astroturf group now forming, or the John Niles-esque criticisms that ST can’t be trusted because of rounding errors in ridership forecasts two decades ago).
But though the quality of the Seattle projects is undisputed, what are we to make of the suburban rail? Though much has been made of the longer travel times between, say, Tacoma and Seattle (around 75 minutes), it’s worth noting that most quality rail systems don’t even attempt to be competitive with motor vehicles. The Piccadilly Line in London takes 90 minutes to go the ~35 miles from Cockfosters to Heathrow. Chicago’s Blue Line takes 75 minutes to travel the 27 miles from Forest Park to O’Hare. New York’s A-Line takes 2 hours between Inwood and Far Rockaway. So competitiveness with theoretical express buses or SOV travel times isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for highly successful rapid transit lines.
But you know what is? Sufficient density to maximize turnover at all points in the system, spread out crush loads, and maximize ridership and operational efficiency. Personally, my assessment of ST3 largely depends on three things: the quality of its urban projects, the prospects for ‘second-city’ revivals for Everett and Tacoma, and density in intermediate suburbs. I am far more confident in the first than I am the other two. Given our far-flung but historically urban cities (Everett and Tacoma) and their decidedly low-density suburban intermediaries, it is clear that ST3 is a grand experiment in inducing this kind of density rather than responding to it. Some suburban cities are doing very well in this regard, especially Lynnwood, while others (such as some South King County cities) have preferred to spare the odd McDonalds on SR 99 rather than build the train where it’d be most useful. While Seattle is building a decent amount of housing, we’re still falling behind, with 1 unit being built for every 3.5 people who move here. Therefore, rapid transit to the suburbs will become increasingly essential for the daily functions of the city.
So we’ve got 5 months to think and argue before we give our assent or dissent. But let’s not forget the sheer ambition and breadth of this package, a package that will gauge the American appetite for a fundamental reset of regional travel patterns. Even if you don’t think it builds the right places, you have to grant its quality and scope. And though there may be many principled objections, I think that “What’s your alternative?” is a pretty high bar to clear. What is there about waiting, or not building, that would tangibly make things better? If your argument is that the suburbs get something too nice for their own money, you’re unlikely to get much of a hearing. If your argument lies on the basis of fundamental governmental changes or capture of suburban money for urban projects, don’t expect to be taken seriously. With daily examples of BRT dilution, you’re unlikely to win a technical argument for BRT superiority, even if you have the theoretical facts on your side. For this region in this time under these governmental structures, this is what ‘going big’ looks like. We’ll either make a huge splash with a “Yes’ vote, or face plant with a 4th failure at the ballot box. I certainly prefer the former, but it’s up to you.
Seattle Subway was formed just over 4 years ago with a simple goal: Speed up high quality rail investment in Seattle. Today, the Puget Sound region took a momentous step towards that goal when the Sound Transit Board approved the ST3 plan that will be on the ballot in November. The planning process has been long and sometimes contentious, but the final product is very much worthy of your vote.
The light rail extensions alone are expected to carry 243,000-307,000 people a day including a 7 mile Ballard/Lower Queen Anne/South Lake Union/Downtown line that will carry more riders each day than the entire 60 mile Portland MAX system. West Seattle riders will enjoy a 12 minute trip from the Junction to International District station that never gets stuck in bridge traffic. The plan has a a lot more good news for every part of our region.
Nearly all of our criticisms of the draft plan have been addressed in the final plan:
- It will be built faster
Timelines are sped up by 3 years on most projects via tweaks to the finance plan. We have noted that they can be sped up 3 more years by cities choosing to expedite public process prior to the vote. Projects can be expedited even further after the vote by changes to the bond coverage rules or by additional federal/state funding.
- ST3 rail will be 100% grade separated
We fought long and hard for this win. Grade separation for rail is a founding Seattle Subway principle and the speed/reliability/capacity benefits of this choice will be enjoyed for generations to come.
This is a very big deal. Though they are not called out as “provisional“, we have been assured that additional extensions can be built as part of ST3 if more funding from Federal, State or local sources can be identified, if projects come in under budget, or if the bonding coverage rules change. Currently, the funding assumptions for ST3 are: 11% from the Federal government, 0% from the State government, and 0% from additional local funding mechanisms. Essentially any funding mechanism other than additional tax receipts. What does it mean? Though all the dotted extensions we show are unlikely to be built, they could be. Smaller gains could mean significant improvements to the plan via single station extensions such as Fremont/Zoo/Aurora and Westwood Village, or additional study work that could save 6+ years off future project delivery.
- 130th Street Station will be built
This gives a solid timeline for greatly improved transfer opportunity for Lake City bus riders than 145th and is a prime location for TOD/affordable housing per the Seattle 2035 plan.
Seattle Subway always focuses on the light rail part of the investment, but it’s worth noting there is something for nearly everyone in this plan. ST3 will also include major expansions of Sounder, Tacoma Link Extensions, and 405 BRT to serve Burien to Lynnwood via the Eastside. Seattle Transit Blog will have full coverage of the plan’s details tomorrow morning.
Over the past four years, Seattle Subway has spoken to thousands of people at hundreds of community events and hundreds of thousands on our social channels. The biggest criticism we’ve heard from nearly everyone is that rail can’t get to more people, faster. ST3 is a giant leap towards that goal for our region. We want to thank the Sound Transit Board for their hard work balancing competing priorities to put together a very good plan and to Sound Transit staff for their tireless work behind the scenes.
Seattle Subway is excited to fight for the passage of ST3 and to one day enjoy a city that no longer lacks this essential transportation infrastructure. Today, we have a plan ready for a vote in November that will overturn a century of false starts in Seattle.
For both ourselves and for future generations –the answer is clear: YES on ST3.
Today’s the day ST3 gets sent to the ballot. Follow along on Twitter (@seatransitblog), or watch above! We’ll be live tweeting from 1:30-4:00.
Zach informed us all last Thursday that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to make only minimal transit improvements in its proposed Fairview-Eastlake-Roosevelt “high-capacity transit” (HCT) corridor. SDOT’s proposed improvements would be limited to a few blocks of BAT lanes near downtown, queue jumps at just a few congested intersections, off-board payment, some signal priority, and electrification north of Campus Parkway. Nearly all of the route would remain in mixed car/bus traffic. There are no improvements to two intersections that cause major transit delays along the corridor today: Fairview/Mercer (in the northbound direction) and Eastlake/Lynn. In short, the project would amount to a through-route and electrification of today’s Metro routes 70 and 67, with only a few functional changes.
SDOT, this is not good enough, and it’s not HCT. Residents and workers in our burgeoning city deserve far better. You promised to make it better before last fall’s Move Seattle vote, and you know how to make it better.
This corridor has been on the City of Seattle’s radar since the original 2011 Transit Master Plan. Serving approximately 10,000 daily riders on today’s bus routes, the combined corridor would be one of the city’s highest-volume bus corridors, even before any growth. Ridership on its south half has been growing fast with increasing employment in South Lake Union. As Zach recounted, it has been proposed for streetcar service, BRT with end-to-end dedicated lanes, RapidRide, and then “RapidRide+” — all within the last five years. In the Move Seattle levy measure, approved by city voters last November, the corridor was to be one of seven new “RapidRide+” corridors. It has been a core project in every iteration of the city’s Transit Master Plan, and there has never been any real disagreement that most of it is worthy of substantial transit investment.
So why did SDOT devise such a limited concept plan? The corridor has many competing uses, and it appears that transit drew the shortest straw of all of them. Right-of-way is limited throughout the corridor, and SDOT had to balance transit with competing uses: general car traffic, street parking, and bicycle traffic. Different uses were prioritized in different sections of the project; bicycles took priority along Eastlake, while car parking and general traffic remained the highest priorities along Roosevelt. But the end result is that along nearly all of the corridor — with the sole exception of the short stretch between Republican Street and Stewart Street — transit took a back seat.
That is a decision that makes no numerical sense today, and will make even less sense in the future. Our resident and employee population are growing fast, while available right-of-way stays the same. Today, transit serves a large minority of trips in the corridor. Very close to 10,000 daily riders used routes 66, 67, and 70 combined before the March restructure of bus service in conjunction with U-Link. Preliminary indications are that ridership has risen after the restructure (as usual with restructures). Meanwhile, SDOT traffic flow data indicates that most portions of the corridor carry 13,000 to 20,000 daily car trips. This comparison is imperfect; not all car trips cover the entire corridor, and many duplicate other bus routes such as the 45 or 49. But it is more than enough to establish transit’s importance. And transit, as always in city centers with no room for more right of way, is the way to grow capacity. There is no way to stuff more general-purpose traffic into Roosevelt or Eastlake. The city’s ability to grow population and jobs relies in a very concrete way on transit being able to grow ridership. Transit should have taken first priority, not last.
- Our treasured Craftsman Houses were once “evil,” ($) because change is scary.
- SeaTac considers banning “park and fly” lots at Angle Lake.
- Empty Metro bus catches fire ($) in Tukwila.
- I continue to be impressed by Lynnwood’s vision for the future.
- UW staff fear that the U-PASS (for employees, not students) is in danger.
- KUOW compares ST’s marketing spending to peer agencies.
- YIMBYs meet in Boulder.
- Beating the FHSC on foot.
- Turn parking lots into housing.
- TriMet mulls a Tualatin MAX line, but polls are soft.
This is an open thread.
Link ridership continues to climb, with preliminary figures for May average weekday ridership in the “mid 60s” according to spokesman Bruce Gray. Anecdotally, certain twitter scolds have noted times where these loads have meant jam-packed trains. At the least, loading a bike during rush hour is uncomfortable. At worst, dozens of people are left on the platform due to lack of space.
In response, ST will increase its peak-hour baseline of 3-car trains to 6 out of 17, up from the current value of 2. On certain high-demand days, ST has already run more than two such trains. The week after UW/SCCC spring break had six. During last Saturday’s marathon, every other train had three cars.
But now six trains will be the norm, giving riders a roughly 1 in 3 chance of extra space. These are all the trains that ST adds during peak hours, so until they take the step of running longer trains during the day, this is likely all the capacity Link is going to have.
On Saturday the Seattle Times published an editorial opposing placing ST3 on the ballot. For a well-done and more profane takedown, read Heidi Groover’s great piece on Slog yesterday.
Here are some high(low?)lights of the Times editorial:
There’s no silver bullet, especially not the complex and evolving $54 billion plan Sound Transit is rushing onto November’s ballot. Voters should be given more time to consider alternatives, such as a smaller, more incremental plan.
Slow down. A November ballot measure is too soon. Sure, the agency has provided much promotional fanfare around the Christmas list of expansion and new services. But there has been little discussion of other options for investing tens of billions in the region.
The board should pause and give voters time to understand and respond to the region’s largest ballot measure.
ST3’s cost is another moving target. Sound Transit last year pitched a $15 billion project, but extended it to $50 billion in March so it could build for decades without needing another vote. Then it kept growing.
It would also take forever, figuratively, to reap the benefits. Even under the accelerated schedule, the light-rail spine from Tacoma to Everett won’t be complete until 2036.
A blank check raises accountability questions. Sound Transit should be subject to voter oversight periodically.
A hallmark of concern trolling is to wrap values arguments in process language in order to appear neutral on the projects in question, and responding to such disingenuous concerns is a tiresome business. The editorial’s process objections do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. The idea that this is being “rushed to the ballot” is false a priori and laughable on its face.
Beginning the weekend of July 8-11th, WSDOT will conduct a major repaving project on I-5 between Tukwila and Federal Way. Southbound I-5 will shrink down to two lanes during this work.
Transit users can expect delays. The work affects the 101, 106, and 150, as well as ST Express Routes. Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the agency is considering detours that would still serve all stops, but that in any case travelers will have to allow more time.
There will be no HOV lane in the construction zone even when the existing HOV lane is open. WSDOT representative Tom Pearce cited the “86,000 cars” that use I-5 on a weekend day:
During these weekend lane reductions, if we were to leave one lane only for HOVs and force all other traffic into one lane, we would cause huge tie-ups on I-5 and other roads that either feed the freeway or that could be used as alternatives. This would have a ripple effect through the entire highway system, causing service disruptions on local bus routes as well as those that rely on I-5.
When we reduce southbound I-5 to two lanes, we need to allow all vehicles to use both of those lanes. With just two lanes where we normally have five, everyone using the road, including transit, will see backups.
This model assumes that very few people will switch to transit given the proper incentives. In my view, a better way to meet the demand for travel in this corridor would be to provide a much faster transit alternative. This would provide at least a hope of matching the normal throughput of people. Unlike WSDOT’s tolling initiatives, the agency is choosing to make everyone sit in a traffic jam rather than giving an alternative to the people that really need it.
Let’s also spare a thought for the Federal Way voter. ST3 opponents are saying that the existing bus system is just as good or better than light rail, but a totally separate right-of-way would be really good about now, and really any time (planned or unplanned) that I-5 melts down.
A television documentary from 1984 about the history of the Bay Area’s transit system featuring scenes of long gone interurban railroads.
Today is Seattle’s annual day of manic, awesomely creative weirdness. Rock and Roll Marathon runners will take to the streets and run on the Viaduct, and thousands of naked cyclists and parade floats will make their annual pilgramage through Fremont. Over 30 bus routes will be detoured from Fremont to the Rainier Valley. There will be no service across the Fremont Bridge, some Viaduct routes (such as the C-Line) will use I-5 in the southbound direction, and tons of routes will have minor detours. Check the full list here, and be ready for delays.
The First Hill Streetcar will terminate at 14th/Washington and not serve the International District or Pioneer Square.
Metro will also operate two shuttles. The Fremont Shuttle will operate every 15 minutes from Downtown to the south side of the Fremont Bridge mostly along the Route 40 alignment. The Rainier Valley Shuttle will run every 20 minutes from Mt Baker to Rainier Beach along Rainier and Seward Park Ave.
Since University Link opened, many more of you have occasion to use light rail in the course of your daily lives. Moreover, lots of stuff happens on Capitol Hill, and for most people, Link is part of the best transit path to get there.
Nevertheless, if you’re not of those lucky rail riders, tomorrow will see the Beacon Hill Block Party right by the station, from 12pm-8pm. There will be artists, vendors, food, and lots of people right by the station. Come down (up?) and enjoy yourself.
The September service changes will be nowhere near as systematic as the recent ULink restructure, but they will bring a number of substantive changes nonetheless. Angle Lake Station’s September-ish opening will surely be the headliner, and Sounder’s new off-peak round trip will also be a big splash. The big SE Seattle restructure will also take effect, the Yesler closure will continue, and South Bellevue P&R begins its 5-year closure (a bit later, likely November). Finally, Metro will continue tinkering with the ULink restructure. Route-by-route highlights below the jump. [Read more…]