Metro service change moves to October 2nd, STBD changes unveiled

Northgate Link Extension Construction
The future Northgate Link Station under construction, adjacent to the existing Northgate Transit Center (Atomic Taco)

Since Sound Transit has announced that Northgate Link will open on October 2nd, which is a few weeks behind a widely anticipated September 2021 opening, King County Metro has also changed the Northgate bus service restructure to occur on October 2nd as well. When we reported on Metro’s scaled back plans for restructuring service for Northgate Link, there were a lot of disappointments in how the plan was scaled back to match COVID-19 adjusted revenue expectations. But Metro’s plan assumed no contribution from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), to establish a baseline for the STBD to build on. Now we have details on how the city will spend its STBD money on bus service.

The plan is broken down into three broad categories: West Seattle, Northgate, and service reductions. West Seattle is getting special attention due to the effects of the sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge last year, increasing travel time for buses on the lower Spokane Street bridge. The closure of the low bridge to general traffic also increases demand for bus service in the corridor. The Northgate area is going to be transformed by the opening of Northgate Link, so much of the service funded by the STBD is going to be adjusted. Finally, there are reductions to the STBD program that are necessary because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Northgate Link opens Oct. 2nd

Airport Link Opening Ceremony (4198862959)

On Friday, Sound Transit announced that Northgate, Roosevelt, and U-District stations will open for service on Saturday, October 2nd. There is no word about any celebration for what, with luck, will be a nice symbol of our emergence from the pandemic. We might not get one, with ST having endured bad-faith critiques about marketing expenses for the U-Link opening, and potential public health restrictions lingering.

It is a cause for celebration. The U-District is an obvious place to put a subway station. Roosevelt is the rare fashionable neighborhood where some growth is legal. Northgate is simultaneously a transportation hub, a blank slate for major redevelopment, and a logical interim terminus for buses coming from further north. Link will provide an alternative to the very worst bit of I-5 congestion, 5 minutes to the U-District and 13 to Westlake.

Better yet, this is the first major Link deliverable from the Sound Transit 2 vote in 2008. It arrives only one year after the proposed date at election time (2020). Combined with East Link 1-2 years late (with City of Bellevue dithering) in 2022 or 2023, and Lynnwood and Federal Way also a year late in 2024, ST2 is going to have an excellent delivery record after weathering an unprecedented recession, far better than Sound Transit 1 and a testament to the abilities of former CEO Joni Earl (2001-2015).

ST3, in year 5, is already in quite a bit of trouble on these terms. Thanks to poor cost estimation, the most likely outcome is some major projects suffering a couple of years delay, and either a large new infusion of cash or the other projects sliding over a decade.

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On (ware)housing in Mt. Baker

Accessible Mt. Baker Plan (SDOT)

My idiosyncratic habit of scanning the Daily Journal of Commerce headlines paid off this week when I noticed a piece by Brian Miller about plans to replace The Rainier Valley Lowe’s with an Amazon warehouse and shared it on Twitter. It caught my eye as I’ve been a frequent shopper at that Lowe’s since before Central Link opened, and not a visit went by without me lamenting that the former Sick’s Stadium site could be put to better use.  

Turns out it a few other people shared my lament.  A few thoughts…

First, it’s interesting to go back and re-read some of the contemporaneous accounts of the debate over the re-zone of that area in 2014. While the city wanted to make the area into a houing-and-jobs hub, many people wanted to preserve their local hardware store, which to its credit had been a long-time presence in the Rainier Valley at a time when many national chains had stayed away.  Opponents of the plan wanted “NO REZONE / Jobs NOT Apts.” Mission accomplished I guess?

Second, Bruce Harrell, then about to become a candidate in the new District 2 and now running for mayor, cast the lone vote of dissent. Per Erica Barnett’s reporting at the time, Harrell argued,  “The prudent decision would be to do nothing and continue with the dialogue. We don’t have any developers knocking on the door and saying, we need to have the heights lifted.” Mike O’Brien hoped it would become a university campus.

Third, we all need to think harder about the future of retail and what it means for urban spaces. People keep buying stuff from Amazon and so Amazon will need more distribution centers closer to where the people are. This isn’t just a Seattle problem. It’s good to have these distribution sites close to people. It’s bad that Seattle’s zoning means that a relatively small sliver of city land has to do all the work of multifamily housing and industry. How might these distribution centers be made to work better in an urban campus?

Finally, city hall ought to do some soul searching. The fact that no housing developer outbid the warehouse for the land is revealing. How much can we squeeze developers in exchange for affordable housing? Are we confident we’ve set the MHA dials correctly, especially in a world of more remote work? Do we want to encourage housing near transit or are we so confident that it will happen that we can extract concessions from it? And how much should we rely on payments from a few big projects to meet our affordable housing goals? I wish I were as confident as some about the answers to these questions. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t the best idea to pin all our housing hopes on a few large lots while continuing to outlaw apartment buildings in two thirds of the city.

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Route 40 online open house

Metro:

King County Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have been working in partnership on the Route 40 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Project. The goal of the project is to reduce bus travel times by 5-10% during peak periods, improve transit service reliability, and make it safer and easier to access transit.

Lots of Red paint in Fremont and along Westlake Ave, which will benefit not just the 40 but also the 31, 32 and 62. A few rechannelizations on Leary and a Northbound-only bus lane on Leary and Holman to help reliability in the PM peak (where most of the reliability issues occur).

Also welcome is a Southbound bus lane on N 36th in Fremont which could act as a queue jump, moving the bus to the front of the line when the bridge is up.

Drop-in session today at noon if you want to learn more and comment. Be sure to take the survey and let them know you support all this good stuff.

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News roundup: fresher air

KCM 4602 (Proterra) at Eastgate P&R

This is an open thread.

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Delay ST3 parking to save the rest?

Projected years of delay to ST3 projects if parking is the lowest priority (NP = No Parking)

As Sound Transit grapples with escalating costs for ST3, one emerging option focuses on delaying parking construction to prioritize transit. In the past month and a half, we have:

Delaying parking has a number of advantages. It allows ST to complete the “lines on the map” that captivated most voters with the least delay. Parking is an expensive way to acquire riders, averaging $128,000 per net new space in ST3. By comparison, upzoning and selling the land to a market-rate developer adds riders and is revenue positive.

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Metro wants feedback on transit in Skyway

Metro is considering transit options for this area of Skyway between Rainier Beach and Renton (image: King County Metro)

If you live in or near the Skyway neighborhood, King County Metro is seeking feedback on the future of transit in the area. Some of the services Metro is considering in the area include “van services, on-demand programs, greater access to reduced fares, or infrastructure improvements that will make it safer and easier to travel to transit stops,” and is due by Friday, April 9th, 2021.

Aside from Skyway itself, the study area extends north to Rainier Beach Station, and south to Renton Transit Center and south Renton. Any future transit project in the area will very likely involve connections to Rainier Beach Station or Renton Transit Center.

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News roundup: return on investment

Sounder at Lakewood Station

This is an open thread.

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Patty Murray is seeking $1.9 billion for Sound Transit

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), along with six other senate Democrats, introduced a bill Thursday that would boost funding for Sound Transit as reported by The Seattle Times. The bill would partially offset the financial effect of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing an additional 30% of the cost of the Federal Way and Lynnwood Link extensions, adding up to about $1.9 billion for Sound Transit. Though both projects are on track to open in 2024, the financial boost would have a significant impact on the $11.5 billion affordability gap that is the primary cause of the realignment process that Sound Transit is undergoing. Getting nearly $2 billion from the federal government on its own would put Sound Transit about halfway to the $4 billion “additional capacity” options in its illustrative scenarios for alignment.

Being a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray has a lot of influence in this area. Though the standalone bill is unlikely to get 60 votes in the senate, the provisions of this bill could be included in the next budget reconciliation bill as it is budget-related.

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A true Seattle Subway requires a citywide plan for the future

House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transit is now unlikely to pass this year and its last hope is a long shot: inclusion in a larger transportation package. As a reminder, the bill updates the antiquated language in the CTA law so it can be used for rail expansion now. Though we’re disappointed that HB 1304 didn’t pass on its own this year, it’s not uncommon for a bill to take multiple years and we’re really thankful for the work done by the bill’s sponsors and the many people who voiced their support and gave testimony. We’ll be headed back to the legislature next year.

That said, when one door closes another one opens. The Seattle Department of Transportation will send the Seattle City Council a proposed plan for what should be funded by a new $20 Vehicle licensing fee. This is an excellent opportunity to fund an updated Seattle Transit Master Plan that includes a roadmap for a future citywide Link rail system. This is work that, almost incredibly, has never been done for Link expansion in Seattle.

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News roundup: access

Technicolor of a Skagit Transit Bus

This is an open thread.

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Seattle’ ambitious electrification goals

Seattle’s Clean Transportation Electrification Blueprint (via the Seattle Times):

Seattle will lead the transition to an electrified economy, supplying residents with clean electricity via a reliable, carbon free electric grid. In this fossil-fuel free future, the air is clean. People will take electric buses, ferries, or light rail to work, shopping and other destinations. A robust bike lane network will make it easy for Seattleites to leave cars behind and use bikes, e-scooters, and e-cargo bikes or walk. Ships at port are plugged in, every package delivered to your doorstep comes on an electric van, truck or e-bike. Silent, clean, electric trash and utility trucks will service neighborhoods.

Sounds great! Also perhaps a bit ambitious for an administration that kills bike lanes and prioritizes car traffic at the hint of neighborhood opposition. Or a city council that hemmed and hawed last year about whether to add an additional five-hundredths of a percent to a sales tax for transit.

Congestion pricing, once the mayor’s big idea for mode shift, has been relegated to a sentence or two. Overall the thinking in the report is more in line with the current Democratic Party approach, which has de-emphasized painful tax schemes (less necessary in a world of cheap money) and prioritized the so-called troika of “standards, investments, and justice.”

In the spirit of justice, the report welcomingly acknowledges that the city’s past focus on EV charging infrastructure was inequitable and that the community preferred electric public transit to electrifying private infrastructure.

However, Metro is scaling back it’s electrification and expansion plans, so the city may have a problem securing the copious bus service this plan assumes.

And yet! And yet! The Biden administration is handing out billions to transit agencies. A national infrastructure bill is on the horizon. The politics of climate change are shifting. The Seattle electorate is changing. We’ll have a new mayor next year. And whatever shortcomings this “blueprint” has, it’s a more ambitious decarbonization initiative than has been proposed by any other U.S. city.

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News roundup: vaccine-eligible

Sounder Station - Tukwila

This is an open thread.

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Metro’s March 2021 service change makes minor adjustments

RapidRide A Line to FWTC Test Coach
The RapidRide A-Line, which is getting an evening frequency boost (photo: Atomic Taco)

In the final twice-a-year planned service change before the Northgate Link restructure transforms north Seattle bus service this fall, King County Metro is keeping it simple and not making many substantial changes to the bus network. Certain routes are gaining or losing a handful of trips, and bus bay assignments at Auburn Station are changing. There are no routes that are fully suspended making the jump to fully or partially restored, as the long road to recovery is just beginning. The changes take effect on Saturday, March 20, 2021.

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