To Cut, Or Not To Cut, That Is The Question

Metro buses

Metro buses at 3rd and Cedar. Photo by LB Bryce.

Monday afternoon, the County Council voted to table an ordinance incorporating the February 2015 Metro cuts recently proposed by an ad hoc committee of County Executive Dow Constantine and a few Councilmembers.  The Council’s decision has the effect of postponing the 2015 cuts indefinitely.  Without further action, Metro will continue to operate the same network it operates today, with this week’s cuts remaining in place.

The Council’s action was surprising because it approved the February cuts in principle just two months ago.  That resulted from a compromise between a Council faction led by Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who sought in June to postpone all of the cuts except for this week’s, and Constantine, who doggedly insisted that all but a few of the cuts remained necessary despite higher forecast revenues.

A couple of things have changed since July, though.  First, King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis (OEFA), which is independent of either the Executive or the Council, released a new forecast with a significant increase in projected sales-tax revenue.  Second, Constantine released his 2015-16 proposed budget, which substantially reduced the number of hours that needed to be cut — although it continued to treat the February cuts, along with another small future round of cuts, as necessary.

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up with both Dembowski and Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond by phone.  Each was gracious, knowledgeable, and willing to talk about the situation in substantive detail.  Their answers revealed a real philosophical divide about how to manage potential risks to the Metro system, and helped clarify a situation which those who follow Metro (including all STB staffers) have found very confusing.  I’ll present a summary of each view below the jump.

First, though, I should provide a bit of background that’s necessary to understand either one.  Twice before, Metro has been affected by funding crises at times when it had promised to expand.  In 2000, the combined effect of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695, which eliminated Metro’s permanent motor-vehicle excise tax (MVET) funding, and that year’s “dot-com” recession resulted in a failure to implement 400,000 hours of new service which had been promised to riders in the late 1990s.  Again in 2006, Metro promised nearly 600,000 hours of new service through the voter-approved “Transit Now” sales-tax increase, and again Metro found itself using the revenue to backfill existing service instead when the Great Recession hit.

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Post-2016 Tunnel Buses

train and bus in tunnelKing County Metro and Sound Transit are still in discussions about which, and how many, buses to run in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel after U-Link opens in 2016. Sound Transit and Metro are looking at running 40-50 buses in each direction during the peak hour, assuming 6-minute headway on Link trains, according to Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

Gray noted that Metro and Sound Transit meet frequently to discuss ways to improve joint tunnel operations, and can decide to move a bus route out, among other measures, if on-time performance doesn’t meet expectations, although the expectations are currently being met. King County Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Switzer noted that, in addition to other ways of decreasing dwell and waiting time, Metro is looking at having only one bus bay per platform, perhaps even before U-Link opens.

Also still under discussion is the date buses will leave the tunnel forever. Although Sound Transit has been planning for a 2019 date, the King County and Sound Transit spokesmen did not deny that joint operations might continue until Northgate Link opens in 2021, and perhaps as late as East Link opening in 2023.

What does not appear to be on the table is Link frequency 2016-2021, and the possibility of running longer trains outside of peak. While Sound Transit has enough Light-Rail Vehicles to run 3-car trains at 7.5-minute peak headway, and can fit up to 104 LRVs at the current base, Gray pointed out that running 3-car trains all day would increase LRV mileage and maintenance costs significantly, and that off-peak ridership is nowhere near enough to justify longer trains. Sound Transit will be able to deploy 3- or 4-car trains on short notice to clear crowds. Two Link operators are kept on standby in case extra trains are needed.

However, 3- and 4-car trains will not be able to operate in the tunnel until after U-Link opens, due to safety restrictions. Sound Transit (via Gray) dismissed Glenn’s suggestion of de-coupling and recoupling trains due to safety considerations and the operation taking longer than two train cycles to perform.

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Tomorrow: Madison BRT Open House

Madison Corridor Map

TMP Madison Corridor

Tomorrow, from 5 to 7 PM, at the Silver Cloud Hotel on Broadway, the Seattle Department of Transportation will host an open house for the Madison BRT project. Madison Street, from Colman Dock to 23rd Ave, was identified in Seattle’s 2012 Transit Master Plan as a high-priority corridor which deserves investment for faster, more frequent, and more reliable transit service. Preliminary feasibility analysis indicated that 40′ buses or trolleybuses were the only viable vehicles on Madison, due to its severe slopes and hill breaks.

Last week, I sat down with Maria Koengeter, the SDOT planner in charge of this project. This meeting, and the work done so far, is essentially about the “homework” of the design: defining the purpose and need, surveying current conditions, identifying specific locations likely to be problematic, and getting agreement from key stakeholders on those things. The serious analysis and problem-solving work will take place in the coming months, notably including:

  • The evaluations of different terminals, 23rd or MLK at the east end (and where to find layover space), and how best to connect with the waterfront at the west (here’s my take on the latter);
  • Possible service patterns, either an open busway which could be used by services that then turn down 23rd or Broadway, or a closed service; and
  • The choice or center or curb running, and if center running, whether to use island platforms with left-side doors.

I’ll be there, and I hope to see lots of STB readers there. While SDOT seems to have pervasively good ideas about transit right-of-way, signal priority and high-quality stops, it’s always good for them to hear from the public about the importance of those things.

Sound Transit Listens to Public, Seattle Subway, Will Study Sand Point Crossing

This is a guest post.

When Sound Transit presented planned updates to their Long Range Plan  to the PSRC last Thursday, there was some blockbuster news for local transit advocates: Sound Transit is adding a Corridor 14, The Sand Point Crossing, to its long range plan for additional study. The Sand Point Crossing was first covered by Seattle Transit Blog here, and then Seattle Subway advocated for it during the Long Range Plan comment period. A lot of you echoed our thoughts to the board and Sound Transit Staff — and they listened.

SandpointSlide2

This post is to say thank you to all of you who sent your comments to Sound Transit. Thank you to Sound Transit staff who reversed direction and decided to add this corridor to the Long Range Plan. And thank you to the Sound Transit Board for your leadership on this issue.

To those who question whether advocacy works and whether Sound Transit listens to the public, I present this as exhibit A. The Long Range Plan explicitly said that they were not going to study this corridor due to the findings of the Trans-Lake Washington Study. Seattle Subway countered that argument and, with your help, the Sand Point Crossing will now be studied.

We will now get objective answers about whether or not the Sand Point crossing is the best option for a Lake Washington Rail crossing. We think it is – but now we can be absolutely sure. When a large agency like Sound Transit is responsive to the public, we all win.

If you have a chance, please take the time to email the  Sound Transit Board and ST Long Range Plan Staff and say thanks. As advocates, we often focus on what is wrong more than what is right – lets acknowledge a job well done.

Thank you all.

This is a guest post.

9 Ways to Make Seattle Public Transit Better

Bay A:  Waiting for the 41, 71, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77, and 316

Bay A: Waiting for the 41, 71, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77, and 316

People sometimes ask me, “what would make Seattle’s transit system even better?” Well, over the years we at STB have suggested hundreds of possible improvements to buses, trains and ferries. With apologies to BuzzFeed, here are nine things that would make Seattle transit service better, a few of which are incredibly cheap (or even free) to implement.

1. Add More Full-time Bus Lanes

Red Bus Lanes Euston Road

Red Bus Lanes Euston Road. Flickr user Ian Fisher.

Bus-only lanes are an incredibly cheap and effective way to make buses faster and move more people using the same amount of street. Sadly, many of Seattle’s bus-only lanes end abruptly or revert to parking lanes outside of the afternoon peak. That might make sense if everyone worked 9-5 jobs downtown, but in today’s economy people are on the move all the time. Bus lanes should follow suit. 24/7 bus lanes on Fauntleroy Ave SW, 15th Ave NW, and Aurora Ave N (home of RapidRide C, D, and E respectively, among other routes) would be a great start. Painted red, of course.

2. Un-suck Denny Way

Proposed Changes on Denny and Howell


Route 8 is so unreliable it literally drives people to buy cars. With thousands of jobs in South Lake Union, and thousands of new apartments right up Capitol Hill, things will only get worse on Denny Way in the coming years. Moving a couple of bus stops and closing off Yale Ave would help things significantly for relatively little cost. Redirecting some freeway traffic to our shiny new Mercer St. on-ramps could help as well. If we want to be more ambitious, there’s always the gondola.

3. Add a Link Station at 130th St NE

NE 130th Street High Demand Corridors

NE 130th Street Station – Linear, High-Demand Destinations


Light rail to Lynnwood is currently slated to open in 2023, but the location of the stations themselves have not been finalized. We think a station at 130th St NE makes a ton of sense. It would better serve Lake City and provide fast cross-town bus connections to Link. While not exactly pedestrian friendly, it avoids the traffic on 145th. Good bus-rail connections re key to Link’s success.

4. Put Bus Rapid Transit on Madison St.
As one of Seattle’s designated transit priority corridors in Central Seattle, Madison Street should have fast, frequent transit between Downtown, First Hill, and the CD. Fortunately we don’t have to dream about this one – this project is already underway.
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Further Reflections on the Senior Fare

Source: OECD.StatExtracts (click to access)

Source: OECD.StatExtracts, 2012 U.S. figures (click to access)

A while back I launched an interesting conversation about the senior fare. After reading the comments and reflecting on the questions some more, here are some further thoughts:

  • It’s pointless to begrudge someone getting a better deal than you. There are all kinds of fare discounts for all kinds of reasons, reasons that have little to do with any notion of justice, and to pick on seniors would be peculiar. The point of raising the senior fare is not spite.
  • Several commenters correctly pointed out that imposing income verification has costs, both for administration and because it means some deserving people will go without.
  • Although I think net worth is a very relevant metric, others suggest a more complicated picture. The poverty chart above shows that 75 is a much bigger dividing line than 65, but 65 is the easiest to verify. Median incomes suggest seniors are doing poorly. The OECD statistics linked to above reports that median disposable income was $27,530 for 65 and over and $33,493 for 18-64 in 2012.
  • All that said, the equity case for senior fare in the presence of a low-income fare is not strong, and weaker than other claims on foregone revenue. It would be more progressive, as well as better for the environment, to purchase more service or reduce the low income fare with the money.

Equalizing Senior and low-income fares, rather than eliminating the senior fare entirely, addresses the second point. Among people who think transit should get more resources overall, whether they equalize because the low-income fare goes down or because the senior fare comes up depends on what you think of the value of marginal bus service.

Look Up a Schedule Post-Service Change (and Get Clearer Maps)

If you’re interested in planning a bus trip for next week, after Saturday’s service change, your options are limited. Many people know that Trip Planner, for all its faults, allow you to plan a trip for a date in the future post-service change. Of course, for many use cases there is no substitute for the actual schedule. Although the schedules exist, and are already on the street as printed schedules*, there aren’t clear links on the Metro website to find these schedules pre-service change.

Yesterday Metro shared with me the trick to finding the new schedules online. It’s through the trip planner interface, but it will give you those schedule grids (as well as route maps to scale!).

1. On Metro’s front page, click on the big “Plan a Trip” button.
step1

2. Select “Route Schedules”

step2

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News Roundup: Today

Seattle Transit 643 at Seattle Center

This is an open thread.

Tidbits from the Proposed King County Budget

Breda bus

Breda, to be replaced. Photo by bayrische.

On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued his proposed budget (warning: 100 MB (!) PDF) for the 2015/2016 biennium.  The headline news for Metro is no surprise, as Metro and the executive announced it a few days ago: 400,000 annual service hours will be cut from the 2013-2014 baseline level, with 320,000 of those spread between service changes next week and next February, and another 80,000 to be cut in March 2016 if the revenue picture fails to make further improvement.  (City-level measures such as November’s Seattle-only vote may defer or eliminate a few of these cuts, but the county’s budgeting process can’t take uncertain city funding into account.)  The headline impact is a $21 million annual reduction in Metro’s direct service budget.

A detailed read of the budget proposal, though, reveals a few interesting tidbits that were not previously public.  I’ll list some of those here, below the jump.  This thread is an open thread with respect to Metro and King County Transportation budgeting; please feel free to discuss the items I list or anything else you see in the transportation section of the proposed budget.

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The Space Fallacy of Aisle-Facing Seating

This is a guest post.

On urban bus routes, interior capacity is often cited as a pressing issue. A frequently proposed solution is to reconfigure the interior of transit vehicles to use more aisle-facing seats instead of forward-facing benches. In theory, aisle-facing seats use up less space, which provides more interior standing room and space to maneuver the carts, strollers, and various objects customers bring on board.

In theory. In practice. . .

This picture was taken aboard an evening-peak NABI 60-BRT vehicle on the MAX route, operated by Transfort (Fort Collins, Colorado). In front of the rear wheel-well is a forward-facing pair of seats, with three aisle-facing seats occupying the wheelchair securement location. According to the website of the seat manufacturer, transverse (forward-facing) rows are manufactured to be between 35-37 inches in width, resulting in an individual seat width of 17 to 19 inches.

Notice how the feet of passengers sitting in aisle-facing seats protrude more into the aisle than the passenger in the transverse row.  The aisle-facing seats above the wheel-well have a gap behind them, as the wheel-well is wider than the length of a seat; but the seats in front of the transverse row are up against the interior sidewall. The customer in the transverse seat protrudes slightly into the aisle, perhaps an inch or two, and also has their foot rotated slightly outward into the aisle. In comparison, the foot of the customer in the aisle-facing seat protrudes further into the aisle.

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This is a guest post.

Sound Transit Considering Low-Income Fare and 25-Cent Fare Increase

ST proposed fare changesThe Sound Transit Board of Directors will consider joining Metro’s low-income fare program on Thursday, November 20. The proposed fare would match the youth fare, but might only be implemented on some services, if at all.

The service combinations under consideration for the low-income fare are:
Option 1. None
Option 2. Link only
Option 3. Link and ST Express intra-county
Option 4. Link, all ST Express, and Sounder

For each service adopting the low-income fare, the proposal calls for raising the other fares on that service by 25 cents across the board, except for the free categories (children 0-5, Access riders with a current monthly Access pass, and uniformed law enforcement).

The low-income fare would be the same as the raised youth fare (for ages 6-18): $1.50 on Link and ST Express 1-county, $2.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $2.25-$4.00 on Sounder. The low-income fare would require using loaded ORCA product, while the youth fare would merely require ID with age. Children ages 0-5 would continue to ride free with an adult, up to four per adult.

The resulting regular adult fares would be $2.25-$3.00 on Link, $2.75 on ST Express 1-county, $3.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $3.00-$5.50 on Sounder.

Fares for Regional Reduced Fare Permit holders (for seniors 65 and older and riders with qualifying disabilities) would be $1.00 on Link and ST Express 1-county, $1.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $1.50-$2.75 on Sounder.

A series of open houses will be held, leading up to a public hearing on Thursday, October 23. Comments, including online, will be accepted through October 23.

Any approved fare changes would take effect on March 1, 2015, to coincide with King County Metro’s fare changes. Public Health – Seattle and King County, and other agencies, are expected to start issuing the low-income ORCA card in February 2015. To be eligible, you have to be at 200% or less of the federal poverty level.

SDOT Bringing More Transit Improvements to Belltown

Proposed Bell St Revisions

Proposed Bell St Revisions

The Seattle Department of Transportation continues to bring small, but valuable transit priority improvements to Belltown this autumn.

First up: through-traffic restrictions on Bell St, between 5th Ave and 2nd Ave. This part of Bell was rebuilt in the last year as a woonerf, or pedestrian-oriented street park, a conversion which included reducing that section of Bell St from two lanes to one. The choice of Bell for the woonerf (where, it is hoped, pedestrians and slow-moving cars will mingle safely) always struck me as one perhaps overly-driven by the neighborhood’s desire to improve Bell St (which was legitimately awful when I lived nearby), without much thought for its importance as a transit arterial. My anecdotal experience in the aftermath of that change was that the PM peak buses I rode on Bell became noticeably slower. But, to be fair, Bell St has become noticeably better, helped in part by the street redesign, and also by the new apartment building at 2nd Ave.

With about five months of Metro data in hand, it seems the official verdict is that, yes, transit speed and reliability has indeed suffered in this area. SDOT therefore plans to add signs at east-west intersections directing cars to turn off Bell St; the intent being to divert non-transit through-traffic away from Bell St, and thus reduce congestion. Now, on the one hand, I laud the intent to keep buses moving in the peak while improving the woonerf experience further by reducing off-peak through-traffic; but on the other, I’m concerned that unless this change comes with active, ongoing enforcement, these restrictions will be ignored by a significant fraction of drivers, undermining their effectiveness, and tending to the corrosion of respect for traffic rules in general. The effect of under-enforcement is painfully apparent nearby on Battery St, where the existing 24/7 bus lane is somewhat effective, but nevertheless violated with seeming impunity almost every minute of every weekday.

This brings me to the next update: In October, SDOT will paint four 24/7 bus lanes red. These lanes will be located on Wall and Battery Streets in Belltown, Midvale Pl (approaching Aurora) in Wallingford, and Pacific St approaching the Montlake Bridge. The expectation is that red paint will improve awareness and compliance from motorists, and there’s good evidence, including lately from San Francisco, that this treatment is effective.

Finally, Page 2 contributor Al noted on Monday, that SDOT has announced transit signalization improvements at 1st & Denny, which will allow westbound buses headed down Elliot to turn left from the queue jump in the right lane. As part of the same effort to improve the Uptown-Belltown transit interface (also which brought us trolleybus wire on Denny, and a bus lane on Broad St), SDOT continues to study the feasibility of adding a bus-only left-turn signal at 3rd & Denny. The results of the necessary traffic analysis are expected to be available in December. If such a signal turns out to be feasible, it would markedly improve outbound travel times for all Queen Anne, Ballard and Magnolia routes.

News Roundup: Preliminary

3 buses, 3 transit agencies

This is an open thread.

Sawant and Licata Endorse Prop. 1

Photo via Councilmember Licata

Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant, writing in The Stranger:

We don’t think this measure is perfect. Some readers may recall that we preferred a different funding mechanism—one based on more progressive tax measures–to pay for this critical bus service. But a majority of the City Council wanted to play it safe and use the same revenue sources—a $60 vehicle-licensing fee and a .1% sales tax—that 66 percent of Seattle voters had already voted to support in April.

There will be opportunities in the future to add progressive funding sources to our revenue system (if we fight for them!). For now, the important thing is to ensure that this Seattle-only, transit-only measure is successful at the ballot so that we determine for ourselves the level of transit service we need in our city.

Good for them. This measure is too important for a rift among supporters of better transit service. As I wrote previously, having more tax revenue to spend on progressive causes is more important than having perfectly progressive taxes.  Nice to see Sawant and Licata arrive at the same solution.

Metro Defers Some Service Cuts

P1000274

Yesterday Metro announced a series of new savings that will reduce the overall service cut from 550,000 annual service hours to 400,000, or about 11%. Here is the bottom line for riders:

  • This month’s service cut (151,000 hours) moves forward as planned.
  • The February 2015 cuts (169,000 hours) will also occur as planned*, unless Seattle’s Prop 1 passes. In that case, those cuts will slide to June “to provide time for Seattle and other jurisdictions to enter into contracts for service.”
  • The third and fourth rounds of cuts, currently unspecified, shrink from 230,000 hours to 80,000. Metro will consolidate this into a single cut and delay it till March 2016.

How we got here, based on Metro’s handout and a conversation with Metro GM Kevin Desmond, is below the fold.

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From the Archives: Denny Way and Revenue Projections

A couple of stories in the Times have caught transit advocates’ interest in the past week. There are a few stories from STB’s past that are quite relevant:

First, although I discussed the general implications of Danny Westneat’s complaints about bus service yesterday, I didn’t address his specific issue with buses on Denny Way. Although more money would help at the margins, what’s really needed is a dramatic rethink of car flow in this corridor.  Zach wrote the definitive piece on how to inexpensively improve Denny, changing a few stops and streets, in 2011. There are also more subtle improvements on Denny near Seattle Center, including this and this. And if you’re thinking a bit outside the box, there’s the gondola proposal.

Secondly, a Mike Lindblom piece today hints at the possibility ($) of new revenue projections reducing the scale of Metro cuts, although the only numbers he provides are a “best case scenario.” We’ll know more soon, but in the meantime this spring’s discussion of the asymmetric bias of revenue projections is still relevant.

RRFP Cash Fares Can Be Higher

Senior RRFPMartin recently asked if King County Metro’s senior fares ought to be raised to the legal maximum of half the regular adult peak fare. I believe that the senior/disabilities fare should go up more than is currently planned in March 2015, but not when paying with ORCA product (e-purse or pass loaded on an ORCA card).

There has been some misconception that the various agencies participating in the Regional Reduced Fare Permit program cannot charge a higher senior/disabilities cash fare than the senior/disabilities ORCA fare, partially because the inter-local agreement that created the Regional Reduced Fare Permit in 1982 was written before ORCA was conceived, and partially because four parties to the RRFP agreement (Thurston Intercity, Mason, Jefferson, and Skagit Transit) are not participants in the ORCA project.

First, lets look at the actual language of the agreement

    Section 10: Regional Reduced Fare Permit Privileges:

Each of the parties shall honor valid Regional Reduced Fare Permits issued by any of the parties. This agreement does not attempt to standardize privileges among the parties. [author's emphasis] Time of day restrictions, transfer privileges, and cost of daily fares and monthly passes shall be set by the respective parties.

Now, about that edge case, where RRFP holders from non-ORCA counties take a trip to King County, and expect their RRFP to be honored. It would be, but at the slightly-higher cash rate. Or, they could load up ORCA product on-line or when they get to an ORCA vending machine, and get free inter-agency transfers for two hours, at least within the ORCA-ized agencies. Citing these very occasional trips when someone may get charged an extra quarter because they have a non-ORCA-ized RRFP (when, really, the rider is taking a much larger hit due to paying cash fares three or more times each way if they don’t use ORCA product) as a reason to not incentivize all RRFP holders to pay with ORCA product is just goofy. If anyone has a legitimate beef here, it is the RRFP-holders from the ORCA-ized counties whose loaded ORCA product is not being honored by the non-ORCA-ized agencies.

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Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff Events this Week

This is a guest post.

Yes for BusesThe Yes for Transit campaign in support of this November’s Seattle Transit Proposition No. 1 is holding two volunteer events this week.  The campaign kickoff event is on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fado Irish Pub and, for those who can’t attend, the Transportation Choices Coalition is hosting a campaign volunteer happy hour at their office today at 4:30 p.m.

David Lawson covered the funding measure here earlier, but in short, it will protect King County Metro bus routes in Seattle from proposed service cuts by raising an estimated $45 million per year.  The funding sources are the same as in the failed countywide proposition earlier this year: replace the expiring $20 CRC annual vehicle fee with a $60 vehicle fee and increase the sales tax rate by 0.1%.

At both events transit supporters can learn about the campaign, donate and sign up as a volunteer.  It may be exhausting to gear up for yet another campaign to save buses, but it is critical to avoid the devastating cuts Metro has planned for 2015.  Seattle-only transportation measures have failed with voters in the past, so advocates should not be overconfident.

About Wednesday’s kickoff Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition says:

Please join Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Transportation Choices and fellow Seattle transit supporters to celebrate the kick off of this important campaign!

There will be beverages to drink, appetizers to enjoy, and plans to be made to keep our transit system moving. And of course, invite your friends!

Details:

What:        TCC Volunteer Happy Hour
When:       Tuesday, September 16 at 4:30 p.m.
Where:     Transportation Choices Coalition, 219 1st Ave S., Suite 420, Seattle WA 98104

What:       Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff
When:       Wednesday, September 17 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where:     Fado Irish Pub, 801 1st Ave S., Seattle WA 98104

This is a guest post.