NE 130th station advances

Preliminary design of NE 130th station (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee unanimously approved a motion on Thursday to advance work on a Link station at NE 130th. If adopted by the full Board later this month, as seems likely, Sound Transit will proceed with design work and the first of the construction required to avoid serious disruptions to riders if the station were built entirely after Lynnwood Link has opened.

The motion defers to next year a second decision: whether to continue toward an early partial build or early full build. The early partial build would construct enough of the station to avoid an extended window of single-tracking trains through the construction zone after 2024, but would open the station for service much later. The early full build would complete the station so it could open in 2025 soon after the rest of the line.

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News roundup: in the right building

University of Washington Station
Wings777/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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What do we name the different Link lines?

A few months ago, Sound Transit backtracked on their decision to name the different Link lines after colors (e.g. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.). This was a wise move for several reasons, among them the history of red-lining in housing, the difficulty of explaining what “red” is to non-English speakers, and potential difficulties for colorblind users.

While Sound Transit have already committed to changing the naming scheme, they have yet to announce what that scheme will be. While many different name examples abound in transit systems around the world, I will contest that naming our rail lines “L-number” (e.g. L1, L2, etc.) is the best for a number of reasons, including local and international consistency, ease of explanation to new users, and simplicity.

Six possible line designators, chosen to be maximally colorblind safe.

Today, our bus-heavy system already uses numbers (the 8) and letters (RapidRide E), meaning any name will need to distinguish itself from those. Since our rail system is regularly referred to as Link Light Rail, naming Link lines L1, L2, and so on will make it easy for users to know that they need a train, not a bus, in a manner consistent with local standards. Additionally, many systems around the world use a similar naming scheme – Barcelona, Munich, Mexico City, Bilbao, and many more cities use a similar pattern. Copying their consensus will make life easier for visitors used to other systems.

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Columbia Street busway opens Feb. 22 with stops for ferry riders

Buses only sign on Columbia Street (SDOT)

On February 22, twelve routes from West Seattle and Burien will begin using the new Columbia Street transit “pathway” to reach Downtown Seattle. These routes (RapidRide C Line, 21X, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125) carry a combined 26,000 daily riders and continue south via Alaskan Way to State Route 99.

In the year since the viaduct was permanently closed, these routes have shifted between two corridors through Pioneer Square and the stadiums, but they will now have a permanent home on the waterfront. A new set of bus stops on Columbia Street to the east of Alaskan Way will be served by all twelve routes, restoring much-needed year-round bus access to the Colman Dock ferry terminal that has been absent for several years.

Changes to lanes on Columbia Street (SDOT)

The pathway has a set of continuous bus lanes in each direction and non-bus lanes for westbound traffic. There will be several points where turning traffic will be forced to merge through the westbound bus lane to reach marked turn lanes, but eastbound bus lane should remain unimpeded. The street has been entirely rebuilt by SDOT with concrete pavement and improved underground utilities to serve the waterfront redevelopment project.

Bus lane painting and other late-stage work began on Monday and is set to be completed within a week depending on the weather. The city plans to open a set of bus-only lanes on Alaskan Way between Columbia Street and South King Street by late 2021, while the waterfront promenade is still scheduled to be finished in 2024.

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Climate bills in Olympia: what’s moving, what’s delayed

Update: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon updated the status of three of these bills in the Comments.

Rep. Vandana Slatter

A key bill to reset the state’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions reductions schedule to a more ambitious pace recommended by the State Department of Ecology, House Bill 2311, by Rep. Vandana Slatter (D – Bellevue) is running up against a deadline to get out of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill would set deadlines for reducing the state government’s and overall carbon dioxide emissions, culminating in a 2050 deadline for carbon neutrality, with carbon sequestration taken into account.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stark report in 2018 calling for such a rapid emissions reduction. Achieving worldwide reduction goals will, as a matter of political reality, require those states and nations that can reduce emissions faster to do so. A similar bill failed last year, putting even Washington State behind the scientists’ called-for schedule.

The deadline to get out of committee is Tuesday, and the bill has already been pulled from the committee’s action lists twice.

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Comment of the week: design review

Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Commenter Matthew, in response to my questions about the value of design review:

What value are we getting out of the process? I would argue a few that should be important to the Seattle Transit Blog readers.

I am an architect and a significant portion of my time has been permitting projects in Seattle. The article referenced from the Seattle Times reflects the well on the facts of the permitting situation. The software rollout was terrible as is likely influencing the increase in review times, but it seems like they are getting up to speed and SDCI internally reviews this and have indicated they are getting closer to their targets.

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Balducci: rethink University St Station renaming

University St station, with entrances not adjacent to Union St

The Sound Transit Board will reopen the decision, approved by the Board just two weeks ago, to rename the University Street Station in downtown Seattle as Union Street/Symphony station. The news came at the conclusion of Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting when Claudia Balducci announced that she would bring a motion for reconsideration to the next Board meeting.

Last month, you recall that we voted on the naming of the University St station. I wanted to just let you all know I’m going to bring a motion to reconsider that decision. I’ve come to believe Robert’s Rules of Order actually contain deep wisdom on the human condition. One of those rules says if you vote and you feel you have made a mistake, you get to ask for reconsideration. My decision on that was based on the tension between the rider experience and wayfinding, versus the safety impacts of how our system works with acronyms for stations. Since that vote I’ve visited that area. The doors are nowhere near Union St. And there’s been some reporting that showed we have acronyms like Angle Lake station. Do you know the acronym for Angle Lake station, colleagues? “200”, nothing to do with the name of the station. So we have that precedent already of that acronym. I think we should really revisit it and I’ll be asking that we do that at the next Board meeting.

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News roundup: soggy

RapidRide J simulation (SDOT)

This is an open thread.

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Legislature has hearing on Sound Transit bills

Senator Liias testifies at yesterday’s hearing (image from TVW)

The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing yesterday on several bills relating to Sound Transit. The most significant is SB 6606, a bill from Senator Marko Liias to reset MVET valuations. That bill saw a substitute amendment that would somewhat offset the revenue reduction to Sound Transit. The offset would not be enough to satisfy Sound Transit’s request they be made whole for lost revenue. Four other bills relating to Sound Transit were also examined, but are unlikely to proceed.

Liias’ bill, as we reported last week, repeals several sections of I-976. It would also replace the valuation schedule for vehicles subject to the motor vehicle excise tax. The new schedule is similar to one adopted by the Legislature in 2006, whereas Sound Transit uses an older schedule dating to 1999. Liias’ proposal would tweak the schedule for vehicles more than ten years old, thereby avoiding a small tax increase for owners of the oldest vehicles if they were to simply adopt the 2006 schedule.

A substitute bill from Senator Liias, filed on Monday, maintains the revised schedule from the bill as first introduced, but adds two significant amendments.

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More scrutiny for SDOT and Madison BRT

Broadway/Madison (SounderBruce)

Heidi Groover and Daniel Beekman with a good scoop in The Seattle Times:

But the draft assessment focused on SDOT’s management makes the broader claim that the department is not yet prepared to manage a major FTA-funded construction project.

PMA Consultants concluded that SDOT “does not yet have the management capacity and capability to implement an FTA-funded major capital program.”

Seattle has received federal transportation dollars for road projects like the Lander Street overpass and Mercer Street rebuild. But the city has in recent years also sought federal funds for several ambitious transit projects.

SDOT had previously revealed that they were pushing the start date back to 2023 per the FTA’s recommendation, but hadn’t given more details. More consultants are being hired to help with oversight.

One striking thing looking at the project’s org chart is how many consultants are already involved. I count 12 separate firms. On one hand, over-reliance on consultants can make it difficult for an agency to develop in-house expertise. On the other, if it takes this many years to build a single BRT line and we don’t know if we’re going to build any more BRT lines because we don’t know if another ballot measure will pass, I’m not sure there’s a better alternative.

SDOT’s expansion over the last decade or so from primarily road maintenance to more ambitious multimodal capital projects has been uneven. I would have thought that by now we’d have reached the point where building transit infrastructure is a more routine affair.

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Paper transfers on Link

Paper transfers (image: Oran Viriyincy)

Should Link accept paper transfers?

The idea surfaced recently in Sound Transit’s ongoing examination of fare enforcement. Making it easier for riders to pay fares is one part of the response to concerns about the impacts of fare enforcement. Currently, Sound Transit can accept transfers from other agencies if riders are using an ORCA card, but not otherwise.

The disadvantages are obvious. Buses are slowed by cash payers and paper transfers. Link, by not accepting these transfers, somewhat indirectly drives ORCA card adoption. A policy change would also import the lively market in fraudulent use of transfers into the Sound Transit system.

There also appears no practical way to manage the inter-agency accounting. The ORCA system shares fare revenue between operators by electronically tracking transfers, a task which becomes impossible with paper.

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The fight over bus lane enforcement is about cultural norms

Cars blocking crosswalk — still shot from Rooted in Rights video

In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in “preemption” laws, whereby conservative states try to clip the wings of their liberal cities.  Examples in the Trump era include banning cities from increasing their minimum wage or acting as immigrant “sanctuary cities.”  Of the national preemption laws tracked by the progressive Partnership for Working Families, Washington State only bans rent control (and even that one is up for debate right now).  

Preemption is not inherently bad — federal preemption is an important part of the constitution! — but many of these bills simply seek to impose Republican cultural norms on Democratic cities, like removing voting rights or preventing firearm bans. While Washington does relatively little of this kind of preemption, the fight over HB1793 – automatic bus lane enforcement – shows that the desire to impose cultural norms is alive and well. 

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Metro picks New Flyer for big electric bus purchase

With the debate about full electrification timetables out of the way, Metro is moving ahead with its plans for ordering 120 battery buses this year:

In 2017, Constantine and Metro General Manager Rob Gannon called on the industry to invest more in battery-electric options, including the creation of coaches that could travel farther and handle the varying terrain requirements of the region.

New Flyer, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with four manufacturing plants in the U.S., stepped up to the challenge, producing both a 40-foot and 60-foot battery-electric bus that met Metro’s specifications and timeline needs. These long-range battery-electric buses can travel approximately 140 miles on a single charge. The 11 existing short-range battery-electric buses in Metro’s fleet are 40 feet long and can travel 23 miles before requiring a 10-minute charge.

Metro announced the vision of buying 120 electric buses back in 2017. At the time, Proterra seemed to be in the lead (Metro operates a few Proterra buses on the Eastside) but New Flyer – which provides 60′ articulated coaches for LA Metro – seems to have won the bake off.

Buses will be run out of a temporary base while Metro brings online a permanent electric base.

This is all good news, of course, but it still saddens me that we seem to have stalled out on running new trolley wire in this city. Trolleys have their quirks, for sure, but they don’t require heavy batteries strapped to them and can climb hills quite well.

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Liias bill would reset MVET valuations

Link and Sounder trains (image: AtomicTaco/flickr)

Senate Bill 6606, introduced last week by Senator Marko Liias, is the latest effort in the Legislature to resolve the three years old controversy over the MVET valuation schedule. The bill would potentially reduce Sound Transit tax revenues by just over $1 billion over the next 20 years.

The MVET valuation schedule has been a political challenge for Sound Transit and the Legislature since the first higher car tab bills began arriving in mailboxes in early 2017. Sound Transit has levied a 0.3% MVET since 1996, and added another 0.8% MVET with ST3 in 2016. The latter heightened awareness that Sound Transit was using a valuation schedule from 1999 that assigned relatively high values to newer cars. An alternative schedule which the Legislature approved in 2005 will not take effect for Sound Transit taxpayers until 2028. That is the year when the original 0.3% MVET expires after bonds are paid off, and the remaining 0.8% MVET is reset to the newer, generally lower, schedule.

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News roundup: not very important

Sound Transit - Central Link Light Rail
Busologist/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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Disappointments with the Connect2020 plan

Shoulda hired these guys

A few weeks into Connect2020, riders are enduring the result of some failures of foresight. Planning any train trip requires a 15-minute buffer that makes it nearly unusable for short-haul trips, where the train’s speed advantages matter less.

Long-term failures

The Central Link line is neither futureproof nor robust. The intention to build rails on I-90, though not voter-approved for most of the period of tunnel retrofit for Link, was well-established. A trivial amount of additional track, where it intersects the track in use, could have avoided the current pain entirely.

Furthermore, more liberal placement of switchovers would not only have allowed much lower headways today, but would also have made the system more resilient in the event of car crashes and other incidents on the track (like train maintenance issues).

At this point it is customary to write off all poor pre-2009 decisions as the bad old days. But ST is still poised to make the same mistakes. Already facing unavoidable huge disruptions for Graham St. and Boeing Access Road, it may do so avoidably at the firmly planned 130th St Station, to say nothing of unapproved but likely extensions.

Short-term failures

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