Signage changes for Link

The first of the new way finding signs will be piloted in downtown Seattle stations next week (image: Sound Transit)

Several improvements to Link station signage are in development. Numbered exit signs will be piloted at downtown Seattle stations next week, and other enhancements will be rolled out with system expansions in future years. The changes were introduced at a meeting of the System Expansion Committee on Thursday as the Committee approved a contract for sign services. At the same meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff indicated Sound Transit would drop the term “Red Line” and perhaps color-coded lines generally.

Exits will be numbered and paired with directories. The first signs will be piloted in downtown stations next week and the pilot will continue through 2020. Overhead number signs will direct riders to exits. Nearby wall-mounted directories will explain which numbers correspond to which streets or nearby destinations. The directories will include pictures of popular destinations nearby. Labelled exits were identified as a best practice in other systems, and are particularly useful for visitors, first-time users, non-native speakers, and high-functioning illiterate users.

Continue reading “Signage changes for Link” | 51 comments

ST considers stopping some buses at Northgate

Sound Transit is considering reworking both ST and Community Transit buses that come down I-5 from Snohomish County when Northgate Station opens in 2021.

  • Sound Transit buses 510, 511, 512, and 513 would all turn around at Northgate, allowing them to run more frequently.
  • 800-series Community Transit routes would also turn around at Northgate instead of serving the University District Directly.
  • 400-series CT routes would continue downtown, as they do today.

There is a survey. Public meetings begin Nov. 20th, and are listed at the end.

Continue reading “ST considers stopping some buses at Northgate” | 94 comments

News roundup: go it alone

Seattle

This is an open thread.

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The political economy of the spine after I-976

The planned 2030 extension of Link rail to Tacoma is likely to be delayed. 65% of Pierce County voters backed I-976 (image: SounderBruce)

Last week’s apparent passage of I-976 has given rise to a fair amount of commentary affirming that voters were sending a message, and disagreeing about what they are saying. One could focus on the statewide rejection of taxes on cars, narrow support for car tabs in the three counties served by Sound Transit, a probable positive vote within the Sound Transit RTA, the clearly positive vote in King County, or the massive rejection of Sound Transit taxes in Pierce County.

Precinct data is clarifying. It’s unfortunately not yet available in Pierce County. However, current precinct data is available for Snohomish County and first night detail is available for King County. Clear patterns are evident among the cities where I-976 over- and under-performed relative to the 2016 ST3 vote.

The I-976 vote polarized voters within the RTA along geographic lines more than ST3. Seattle voters, already most likely to favor taxes for transit, opposed I-976 by yet larger margins than in 2016. The suburbs to the north and south with the lowest pro-ST3 votes became more adamantly opposed with huge majorities against the MVET. The divided response from voters calls into question the marquee Sound Transit projects extending rail far to the north and south.

Continue reading “The political economy of the spine after I-976” | 83 comments

First regular weekday of tolling in the Highway 99 tunnel

Tolling in the new Highway 99 tunnel has finally started. Today is the first regular weekday commute to feel the impacts (as yesterday was Veterans Day).

WSDOT is encouraging tunnel users to avail themselves of the Good-to-Go Pass, by giving pass users a $2 discount. (If only someone could explain this principle to King County Metro and/or the County Council…)

Tolls are as follows:

  • $1.00, weekends and 11 pm to 6 am
  • $1.25, 9 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm
  • $1.50, 7 am to 9 am
  • $2.25, 3 pm – 6 pm
  • $2.00, for not using the Good-to-Go Pass

Let’s talk about what you see happening today. Are there any impacts to your bus route?

One thing that will impact bus routes today will be the Sounders’ MLS Cup Victory Parade, which will take over 4th Ave from sometime before noon, when the parade is scheduled to start at Westlake Plaza, until 1:30 pm, when the parade terminates at the Seattle Center.

If you haven’t already signed up for travel alerts specific to your route, now is a good time to do so.

This is an open thread.

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Vacant luxury condos are only a problem if you have crappy zoning

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

Katherine Khashimova Long recently published a fine piece of reporting ($) on how many “luxury” condos have unclear ownership, potentially mere financial assets that are left “empty as the city grows less affordable for its middle- and lower-class residents.”

That may very well be the outcome thanks to our many arbitrary restrictions on building enough housing supply to meet demand. But in a more-forward thinking policy environment, the desire of the world’s super-wealthy to park their cash in Seattle would be a huge opportunity.

In such an environment, there would be more projects to meet this demand, which would generate construction jobs, funds for affordable housing, and a myriad of other tax revenues. More importantly, these projects would provide a stream of property tax revenue indefinitely while generating approximately zero demand for public services.

Moreover, as these units can’t leave Seattle and are likely to receive maintenance, they are likely to contribute in a small way to dampening future housing crises. At least some are likely to eventually be owner-occupied or leased. If there is another spike in housing demand, the rocketing asset value is a strong incentive to sell, providing a ready reserve of housing stock that doesn’t require any construction or permitting delays to come on the market.

In the real world, these projects consume some of the tiny allotment of land allowed to absorb population growth, so that we can preserve endless single-family monotony. We wring our hands on extending regressive taxes to address social problems, while leaving $100 bills on the sidewalk.

52 comments

News roundup: dropping

Sound Transit Express

This is an open thread.

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I-976’s impacts on bus service

Yesterday Dan laid out the impacts of I-976 on Sound Transit. Now let’s talk about Metro and Seattle. Unlike with ST, the situation is both simpler and more dire. KC Exec Constantine has already pledged a lawsuit, and Mayor Durkan is expected to follow today on behalf of the city.

Metro calculates it will lose over $100M in state funds over the next five years. These are primarily capital grants from the state’s mobility fund that go to projects like RapidRide and other speed and reliability improvements, as well as funds to support Access vans.

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District is funded by a combination of sales taxes and the $60 vehicle license fee or VLF. (The older $20 councilmanic TBD goes away as well). If the VLF goes away, SDOT estimates a $32M budget hole.

If no new revenue is found, SDOT would have to start buying less bus service as soon as next spring. The roughly 350,000 service hours funded by the STBD comes in two main flavors.

Weekend, evening, and night owl service (77% of hours) enables the car free living that is actually putting a dent in our car ownership rates. As SDOT’s report states, in 2015 there were only five routes in Seattle that met the definition of ‘very frequent.’ today there are 16.

Continue reading “I-976’s impacts on bus service” | 164 comments

What next after I-976?

A Link station in Everett, previously scheduled for 2036, is certain to slip until much later (Image: SounderBruce)

Last night’s returns indicate I-976 is likely to pass. The next step is likely a court challenge, or several. What if the initiative is sustained? Let’s look ahead at the implications for Sound Transit.

If Sound Transit is forced to stop collecting the MVET, that reduces 2021-2041 revenues by $6.9 billion, or 12.3% of what was previously estimated. (Sound Transit mostly relies on sales taxes with a smaller contribution from property tax).

The impact of losing the MVET revenues is multiplied because it is front-loaded. The MVET is 18% of tax revenues through 2028, and just under 10% thereafter. That’s because the 0.3% Sound Move MVET must end in 2028 as a result of a previous Eyman initiative. When that happens, the 0.8% ST3 MVET would have moved to the lower 2005 car valuation schedule reducing those revenues about 30%.

In theory, if Sound Transit were to make up the lost MVET revenues with debt, it would accrue another $13 billion in interest and debt servicing expense. Practically, that’s impossible. Sound Transit runs up against statutory limits on debt long before that. Projections in the current financial plan indicate the agency may already be on track to approach the statutory limit in the 2030s. They also risk hitting limits on debt coverage as revenues are reduced.

Therefore, the impact of I-976 will mostly take the form of slower spending and delayed projects. Before the ST3 spending program peaks (i.e. when limits on debt are most constraining), they must slow outlays by about as much as the loss in MVET revenues. If the Board chooses, all promised projects can probably be built eventually because there’s no time limit on the authority to collect other taxes. But there’s no pathway to delivering the ST3 plan on the schedule anticipated in 2016 because there’s no longer enough money.

Continue reading “What next after I-976?” | 241 comments

Election results

One can get election results at virtually any local outlet, but since you rightly eschew all news sources besides Seattle Transit Blog, here’s the stuff you won’t get anywhere else. Candidates we endorsed in bold.

I-976: Yes (55%) leads No (45%) statewide.

King County District 2: Zahilay leads Gossett 62-37

King County District 4: Kohl-Welles beats Doerr 73-26.

King County District 6: Balducci over Hirt 77-23.

King County District 8: McDermott over Neher 82-17.

Seattle District 1: Herbold 51, Tavel 48

Continue reading “Election results” | 27 comments

ST 541 not dead yet

ST Express 541 (Image: SounderBruce)

Last we heard, just a few weeks ago, Sound Transit’s draft service plan was to discontinue ST 541 (Overlake – University District), along with ST 540 (Kirkland – University District). This week, the Rider Experience Committee is set to reconsider that plan. Up to ten one-way trips will remain on ST 541. That’s significantly less than the 20 round trips currently provided, but it indicates some rethinking of service changes on SR 520 in response to rider feedback.

The staff memo points to recent growth in ridership on ST routes over SR 520, including 541 and 542. There’s also a nod to rider input during public involvement about capacity concerns on the remaining 542 trips. Average weekday ridership on ST 541 this Spring was 873.

There now commences a period of monitoring ridership shifts on all of these services. The ten remaining trips on ST 541 will be evaluated prior to each service change. Route 544 operate for at least 24 months so that the market can develop and the full ridership potential can be evaluated. After two years, it too may be adjusted based on performance.

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Last call to mail or drop off ballots

Tomorrow is election day. If you haven’t mailed your ballot (making use of the free return postage) or a ballot drop box, do so right now. The deadline to drop ballots at the drop boxes is 8 pm Tuesday. Mailed ballots must be post-marked Tuesday. If you don’t mail it tonight, get thee to a ballot drop box.

Review the STB Editorial Board’s endorsements, if you like. You can also peruse King County’s online voter guide.

Chinook Building
Credit: King County

Accessible voting centers (which are open to all voters) will be open until 6 pm tonight and 8 pm Tuesday. Check the hours at each site. Seattle’s accessible voting center has moved to the Chinook Building at 401 5th Ave, room 124, between Terrace St and Jefferson St. It will open at 8:30 am today and tomorrow. If you aren’t already registered to vote, you can register in person at any of these voting centers, and then proceed to cast your ballot.

You can also make use of the online ballot marking program.

No excuses. No more poll tax. No more registration waiting period. Get it done.

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News roundup: the future

King County Metro
  • Seattle Times has a deep dive on the impact of I-976. You never like to see “hunger games” used as a metaphor in a headline.
  • CM Pacheco comes out for scooters. Seattle Bike Blog has some ideas for the rollout.
  • The city of LA wants to know every move you make on a scooter, in real time. Uber and Lime are resisting providing it.
  • 3-day Cascadia HSR conference coming to Microsoft campus.
  • Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, soon you’ll be able to take high-speed rail from Disney World to a Disney Cruise line.
  • Development along the Everett waterfront.
  • Metro’s Trailhead Direct service grew 75 percent in 2019 but still isn’t funded for 2020.
  • Next lane shift for the 520 bridge coming Nov 8-11.
  • SR99 tunnel tolls start Nov 9, Aurora bridge emergency repairs ongoing.
  • Bus lanes and bike lanes are great, but really any kind of asphalt art is a winner.
  • The long, painful history of Seattle-area transit funding.
  • Great to see Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ Home Zone pilot get some national press
  • The future of transportation looks a lot like the past
  • New York City Council working on a big bike/bus/ped package
  • Bike lanes and bus lanes are often put in a zero-sum competition, but in Delridge, as ever, the real culprit is parking. CM Herbold, over to you.
  • Mountlake Terrace upzones around light rail

This is an open thread

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ST544: for Kirkland, Redmond, or both?

UPDATE: 11/2/19: Sound Transit’s final (not draft) Service Implementation Plan recommends “temporarily” keeping up to 10 one-way trips of the 541. The analysis still stands.

Because it replaces the Overlake-UW 541, the proposed Sound Transit Route 544 at first glance seem designed for Redmond/Overlake users, albeit one that serves them awkwardly.  But I think a better way to conceive of it is as a bus for Eastsiders in general, and Kirkland-Seattle commuters in particular. 

When we first wrote about the 544 last month, a few readers gave it a huh? reaction. Commenter asdf2:

In the afternoon commute, I’m guess you’d start on the 544 from SLU. But, even then, getting off at Yarrow Point and transferring to a 542/545 will likely be faster than sitting through the South Kirkland P&R detour. 

And RossB:

This bus will only appeal to a small number of riders. If you are in Redmond, it makes sense to take the 545, which serves a bigger part of downtown, and has oodles of options for getting to South Lake Union. If you are at South Kirkland Park and Ride, and headed to South Lake Union, it is great. 

That last line is key. The route’s main benefit is the connection to SLU, and the beneficiaries are going to be mostly in Kirkland.

Metro and ST are keen to start sending some buses to the neighborhood in advance of the direct 520-Mercer connection being planned for 2023. Downtown is multipolar, and it’s good in general for agencies to recognize that not all buses must go to the CBD. Unfortunately in the short term the Stewart exit will make this specific route a bit of a bummer, but you can see some appeal of having a 1- or 2-seat ride to SLU from nearly all of Kirkland.

For Overlake riders, especially those not going directly to SLU, the 544 will be a regression from the 541, as the detour to South Kirkland will cost 5-10 minutes in the PM peak. Add to that the fact that the 545 will no longer do the costly afternoon loop into the OTC bus bays and instead only serve the 520 freeway stop, and the meandering 544 is now the only ST service on the east side of 520 in Overlake. So riders will either take it or face a long walk across the freeway to and from the flyer stops on the west side.

For Overlake-UW, it will be possible to transfer to the 542 or 255 at Evergreen Point, and the increased frequency of the 255 (6 minutes at peak) should make that transfer smoother, but still not as good as today’s 541.

So I think you have to think of the 544 as mostly being a peace offering for Kirkland riders who are losing the 540 and (likely) having the 255 truncated at UW. Overlake riders can console themselves with the fact that that the blue line opens in just a few short years, while South Kirkland will be buses only for a couple of decades.

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Planning RapidRide K in Bellevue & Kirkland

RapidRide B (image: Kris Leisten)

King County Metro has begun preliminary design for RapidRide K connecting Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate. Some details emerged in a pair of recent briefings in Kirkland and Bellevue.

RapidRide K routing in Bellevue and Kirkland (image: KC Metro)

The line is anticipated to open in 2025. As mapped in Metro Connects, the long range plan for expanding Metro service, the K Line would replace portions of route 255 from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland Park & Ride, current routes 234 and 235 between South Kirkland and the Bellevue Transit Center, and Route 271 between Bellevue Transit Center and Eastgate.

Planning for RapidRide K has funded by a WSDOT Regional Mobility Grant, and just over half the planned $90 million budget for capital improvements is covered by Metro local funds. The $43 million balance is expected from an FTA Small Starts grant. Metro intends to seek other grant funds and partnership opportunities for capital improvements that could support a more robust service. At the Bellevue Council meeting this week, Metro staff made clear that they will be looking for the cities to bring something to the table, and is not necessarily depending on the uncertain FTA process.

Continue reading “Planning RapidRide K in Bellevue & Kirkland” | 33 comments

Seattle TBD Annual Report

Just in time for you to vote on gutting it via I-976, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District issued its fourth Annual Report on what it’s doing with your $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax. It’s long but there are lots of pretty graphs. Some takeaways:

More bus service

The percentage of households within a 10-minute walk of “very frequent transit” has grown from 25% to 70% since 2015, well on the way to the 2025 goal of 72%. (More housing construction in frequent transit corridors, as well as U-Link and its associated restructure, have also undoubtedly helped).

SDOT

Impressively, a sixth of households can walk to 2 or 3 very frequent routes, and 12.8% can walk to four or more. From five very frequent routes in 2015, Seattle is now up to eleven. It’s not hard to see how Seattle has bucked national ridership trends.

79% of the cumulative STBD budget has paid for more bus service. A small fraction of this pot went to Ride2 and Via shuttles, Trailhead Direct, the Downtown Circulator, and (with matching funds) Route 630 to Mercer Island.

Equity and access

The second largest block of appropriations (7% of the cumulative budget) has gone to getting ORCA cards in the hands of people. About 2/3 of this is the “ORCA opportunity” program that issues cards to public school students, and the remainder funds a variety of outreach programs.

Capital projects

Continue reading “Seattle TBD Annual Report” | 56 comments