The series in which STB writers travel around to other cities and make wild generalizations about their transit and land use is back, with a slight change in venue. I visited Columbus and Detroit in mid-October for a Wikipedia conference and spent plenty of time on the buses and bikeshare in the cores of both cities, gaining a decent enough understanding of their mobility situations. That being said, both cities sprawl out a bit and I was only able to really see the urban cores and inner neighborhoods of both cities, so there may be perspectives on both systems that I’m missing out on.
First up is Columbus, anchoring the largest U.S. metro area without a single passenger rail service, as Amtrak had ceased service in 1979 and the streetcars were dismantled in 1948. Several light rail proposals have come and gone, along with plans to build a proper inter-city rail system across Ohio, and have only left us with nice fantasy maps and a city that still dreams of building a greater transit system.
From Boston, STB’s frenemy emeritus, d.p., shares this twitter observation:
Both of these maps show 3400-foot walks. pic.twitter.com/FtS0oSpuBj
— porcyk (@porcyk) November 19, 2018
One can quibble about hills, and placement of the dots. But he’s right that someone that tried to say that Convention Place serves Capitol Hill, or Avalon Station served the Junction, would rightly draw ridicule.
The development map d.p. attaches shows that “new Ballard” isn’t actually east of “old Ballard,” but instead to the north. A 14th station is simply farther away — not at the heart of coming density that will dwarf the existing old buildings.
- Single-family zoning is indefensible.
- Massive city report ($) goes into extraordinary detail about why.
- Council Candidate Shaun Scott reacts properly.
- SDOT delivered 4% (!) of its 2018 bike lane plan.
- Taking LimePods on a test drive.
- Mayor thinks scooters are too dangerous, auto carnage is just dandy.
- Private transit center near Expedia.
- Driver Nathan Vass tries being nice.
- Let’s ban cars from the streetcar tracks.
- Kitsap buying more boats.
- Durkan hires consultant to represent Seattle to ST; the connection seems a bit cozy, but I’d most like to know the city’s agenda.
- This Link security encounter sure sounds like profiling.
- Cynicism about capital projects is easy to understand ($): when the economy is bad, they can’t deliver because revenues are down. When it’s good, it’s because costs have spiraled.
- Prospects for congestion pricing.
- A new use for bikeshare.
- “Talent wants transit.”
- How we use the land area of the United States. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly cows.
This is an open thread.
Mayor Jenny Durkan retained Anne Fennessy, of public affairs firm Cocker Fennessy, to represent the City of Seattle in planning for the final alignment of ST3’s West Seattle and Ballard Link segments. Durkan’s office also told STB that the search for a new, permanent SDOT director is “underway,” started “earlier this fall,” and that the hire should be announced soon.
Durkan spokesperson Chelsea Kellogg says that the search is similarly to the recruitment of new City Light CEO Debra Smith, who was hired in April:
“National search conducted, employee review panel interviews candidates, senior leadership from other departments interview candidates. The Search Committee then reviews candidates resumes and interviews the candidates which has already taken place. The next step is interviews with the Mayor, which are happening this month.” [Read more…]
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is going through a tough couple of years, and it doesn’t have a permanent leader.
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has not made any indication that they are searching for a permanent SDOT director, though the administration has been in office for a year. Durkan’s staff did not respond to repeated questions from STB, starting on November 27, asking whether an SDOT director recruitment process was under way.
The agency has had trouble completing the large capital projects it has asked to deliver. The First Hill streetcar opened several years late after delays from the vehicle manufacturer. The downtown Center City Connector streetcar has been delayed indefinitely, albeit due to interference from Durkan.
More worryingly, SDOT has not delivered on the ambitious bike and bus projects promised in the Move Seattle levy, as Frank wrote yesterday. Move Seattle promised seven RapidRide bus lines on major corridors. Now, SDOT can only deliver four, and those projects are each delayed by at least a year. Madison BRT, which was supposed to be up and running next year, will instead launch in 2022. [Read more…]
While the original levy included 7 “RapidRide+” corridors, it became apparent in April that SDOT didn’t have the money to do all 7 and would be scaling back. Mayor Durkan ordered a review and a new workplan. We got a hint of the new scope in September, when Metro announced that only 4 new RapidRide lines would launch by the time the levy expires in 2024.
Now we have a better sense of how SDOT is prioritizing its portion of the work. All of the projects are getting bumped 1-3 years. Budgets listed below are totals for each project and include a mixture of levy funds and other federal, state, and local sources (some as-yet-unidentified). As you can see, the level of investment varies greatly from line to line. [Read more…]
El Paso once had streetcars running across the border to Juarez.
RapidRide H, the new line that will replace Metro Route 120 in downtown, Delridge, White Center, and Burien, will feature 0.3 mile stop frequency and new bus lanes, according to the latest designs. SDOT and Metro plan to finish design in
spring summer 2019, and open bidding for the project by the end of the year, with the goal of opening in 2021.
Metro’s Jerry Roberson and SDOT’s CJ Holt presented the 10 percent plans for the H line to the City of Seattle’s Transit Advisory Board on Wednesday. They also commented on preliminary RapidRide plans for the Rainier Valley/Route 7 corridor.
The H line will serve a heavily transit-dependent, highly diverse area, and will make an essential connection to the Link system at the Delridge stop. Burien, White Center, and the south end of West Seattle won’t see Link service until a future Sound Transit package, if ever. [Read more…]
- Metro testing electric buses with 140-mile range.
- Between 80 and 91 low-cost housing units ($) coming to Lower Queen Anne.
- Seattle Transportation Budget: done.
- Rich Smith continues his quest for Light Rail signage that is comprehensible to humans.
- Apply for an opening on ST’s Citizen Oversight Panel.
- Trailhead Direct, now done for the year, served 10,000 round trips in 2018.
- Shaun Scott’s city council candidacy sounds promising on STB issues.
- WSDOT has a draft project list for the next three years, and is looking for public comment.
- Scooters and bikes complimentary in Portland?
- King County ponders Metro’s future business model.
- Bike lane implementation slipping on all fronts.
- Citywide street parking rates ($) recalibrated — RPZ permits make some of these problems unsolvable.
- Sally Bagshaw is done after this term. We will miss her.
- Everett rezones.
- Closing the UW Laundry facility not good for its employees, but may lead to a denser use right next to Mt. Baker Station.
- Car hits pedestrian ($) under Angle Lake Station.
- TriMet going nuts on new parking.
- San Francisco may axe parking requirements altogether.
- This American transit atlas looks interesting.
- Trade war making projects more expensive ($).
This is an open thread.
As ST3 goes through a mountain of process to get to a preferred alternative, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend: The stakeholders who are getting their way are focused on how they will be impacted rather than what is best for riders. It should go without saying that the whole point of expanding Link is to serve future riders, their needs should be the first and last consideration before any route is chosen.
As we’ve mentioned before, this is the point in the process where a balance has to be struck between costs and benefits. There is limited budget and it’s highly unlikely that additional funding is coming from any level of government. On the off chance more funding comes through, the preferred alternative should include higher priced options where they have an impact, but in general it’s time to be realistic.
Sound Transit recently released the level three alternatives, which is a mashup of the options that made it through the SAG and ELG along with the Representative Alignment (RA). It looks like most of the higher cost options are lumped into Alternative 1 (A1), and a mix of lower cost options into Alternative 2 (A2).
At this stage we’re hoping to bid farewell to the RA. It was a good place to start, but doesn’t have any features that are worth preserving. We’ll focus on the good parts of A1 and A2 and what needs attention/improvement.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District, a 6-year levy to fund additional bus service in the city, is approaching middle age. According to the city’s latest annual report, the district is coming to terms with its advancing years in the way most of us do: making incremental improvements, adapting to a changing economic realities, and trying to leave a legacy for the next generation.
Passed in 2014 at the nadir of Metro’s finances as a last-ditch effort to avoid service cuts, the levy is now being used to improve service and fulfill the city’s goal of having 75% of households living within 10-minute or better transit service (which the city defines as an average of 10 minutes between 6am and 7pm). This year, with a labor shortage limiting Metro’s ability to get more vehicles on the road, the Seattle City Council amended the levy to include capital expenditures and subsidized ORCA cards for students. [Read more…]
Lynnwood Link is inching closer and closer to a firm date for the start of construction, thanks to the submission of the project’s full-funding grant agreement (FFGA) by the FTA lat week. The agreement has been held in limbo by the FTA for several months, but lobbying by Sound Transit and the state’s congressional delegation proved to be successful in pressuring the FTA to fork over federal funds.
Before the full $1.2 billion in funding can be accepted by Sound Transit, the grant application has to be reviewed for a 30-day period by Congress before the agreement is signed and executed. If no major objections are raised, then the signing of the final agreement will release $200 million in immediate funding that Sound Transit was appropriated from the Capital Investment Grants program. The agreement also comes with $658 million in TIFIA loans that were promised two years ago.
Last week was surprisingly interesting for passenger rail news. Alon Levy writes that the Federal Railroad Administration has finally published its new rules for train procurement, allowing US transit agencies to buy lighter, cheaper, European-style train sets for operation on American freight railways.
Long-time readers will know we got excited when these rules were first proposed nearly five years ago, and then we got excited again two years ago when it looked the rules were actually going to happen and now we’re excited a third time that they’ve finally been published. Future Sounder and Amtrak Cascades trains could take advantage of these new regs next time rolling stock needs to be ordered.
Meanwhile, the private company that runs Florida’s Brightline and the LA-Vegas announced that it will be operating as “Virgin Trains US” and is planning an initial public offering. These two services are likely to be the first privately-run high speed rail in the US.
Sandy Johnston summarized the interesting nuggets from the IPO prospectus on Twitter. The company expects that the Virgin brand will help it offer tourist packages on both routes (a planned stop at Disneyworld will certainly help), suggesting a different and less price-sensitive potential passenger base than other domestic rail systems.
While Virgin Trains says it won’t compete with any intercity Amtrak service in the US, could we speculate that they might someday bid to take over the Cascades contract from Amtrak? If the goal is to serve the tourist market, perhaps a station at Smith Cove or Broad street to facilitate cruise ship transfers?
On a less speculative note, if you are interested in the future of intercity rail, consider taking WSDOT’s recent survey.
Brightline Test from BBT609 on Flickr
Thank you to every last person that played a role in this campaign – big or small. It is a honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve my community. I am thrilled to be your next State Senator in Washington’s 30th Legislative District. pic.twitter.com/wbZtLFOPff
— Claire Wilson (@ElectCWilson) November 8, 2018
Seven legislative incumbents lost in districts partially or wholly in the Sound Transit taxing district including:
- Sen. Maralyn Chase (D – Edmonds, 21st District), who lost over 2-1 to Shoreline Deputy Mayor Jesse Salomon (D). Chase campaigned against ST3. Salomon made his support for light rail one of the talking points. Salomon was endorsed by STB.
- Sen. Mark Miloscia (R – Federal Way, 30th District), who has for many years complained about Sound Transit not getting light rail to downtown Federal Way faster, while opposing the funding to get light rail to downtown Federal Way. STB endorsed his opponent, Federal Way Schools Board President Claire Wilson (D).
- Sen. Joe Fain (R – Auburn, 47th District) who was actually one of the more left-of-moderate Republicans, and somewhat a fan of light rail, if not car tabs. Other unrelated accusations ($) probably had a larger impact on the outcome. Fain lost to Mona Das (D – Covington).
- Rep. Paul Graves ( R – Fall City, 5th District), a supporter of Sound Transit generally, but also non-shrill supporter of car tab changes. Graves lost to Lisa Callan (D – Issaquah Highlands).
- Rep. Dick Muri (R – Steilacoom, 28th District), who pushed a slew of bills designed to significantly reduce Sound Transit revenue, similar to the ones sponsored by his State Senator, Steve O’Ban (R – Tacoma). Muri lost to Mari Leavitt (D – University Place).
- Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R – Mill Creak, 44th District), Ranking Minority Member of the House Transportation Committee, was one of the most vocal critics of ST and car tabs. He lost to Jared Mead (D – Mill Creek).
- Rep. Mark Hargrove (R – Covington , 47th District), Assistant Ranking Minority Member on the House Transportation Committee, has been a rather snarky critic of Sound Transit. Hargrove lost to Debra Entenman (D – Kent). The defeat of the two Republican Transportation leaders gives the caucus a chance to modernize their thinking on transportation issues.
Also within the Sound Transit district:
- FTA awards $1.2 billion to Lynnwood Link. More on this next week.
- Metro operations will briefly pause Friday to commemorate the 1998 Aurora Bridge crash.
- Seattle tries grassroots pedestrian improvements where sidewalks will never come.
- Hilltop Tacoma Link extension breaks ground.
- Seattle budget maneuvers take some money from Safe Routes to School.
- Mudslide science ($).
- There’s a way for Uber and Lyft to detract from transit, and a way for them to make transit better. Seattle has a unique opportunity to pick one next year.
- Broad Seattle upzone clears some nuisance lawsuits ($)
- Three great things that happened in the Northwest in 2018.
- Study suggests streetcar investments have some positive impact on new construction.
- A review of bikeshare in Cascadia.
- Portland throwing $36m at new bus and bike lanes.
- With the CRC sytmied, Portland is also considering a ferry to Vancouver.
This is an open thread. Happy Thanksgiving!
Sound Transit’s latest quarterly service report, released on November 15, shows continued growth in Link ridership. In Quarter 3 (Q3), Link enjoyed 8.2 percent more weekday boardings than in Q3 of 2017, or 81,022 boardings on a typical weekday.
Sounder (+2.5 percent) and paratransit (+6.6 percent) also experienced ridership growth compared to Q3 2017. ST Express bus ridership decreased slightly (-1.7 percent), while Tacoma Link streetcar service declined significantly (-15.4 percent) against Q3 2017’s ridership figures. [Read more…]
Kitsap Transit showed off its newest fast ferry, MV Finest, as part of Monday’s pre-launch celebrations for the Kingston–Seattle fast ferry route. The ferry will begin regular weekday service on November 26 and run six round-trips between Pier 52 in Downtown Seattle and Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, taking approximately 40 minutes. This is a massive improvement compared to the 1.5 hours it takes for a Kingston resident today via the car ferry to Edmonds and a transfer to either Sounder or an express bus. The debut of the fast ferry may open up the relatively quiet hamlet of Kingston (pop. 2,099 in 2010) to further growth as a more accessible bedroom community for Seattle workers.
The Kingston fast ferry is the second of three routes connecting Seattle to various points on the Kitsap Peninsula, all funded by a sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2016. The Bremerton fast ferry, which uses the high-tech Rich Passage 1 catamaran, debuted in July 2017 and has run into occasional fleet hiccups, necessitating the use of a backup vessel. For the Kingston route, Kitsap Transit has leased the MV Melissa Ann, formerly part of an older Bremerton fast ferry trial and the King County Water Taxi system, to serve as a backup to the Finest. The Southworth route is planed to debut before 2020 using a newly-built vessel, bypassing the slow “Southworth Triangle” car ferry and an equally-slow trip on the RapidRide C Line through West Seattle.