Seattle steps up its affordable housing efforts

Sydney Brownstone in the Seattle Times:

This year, Seattle will invest the most it ever has in affordable housing, a total of $110 million, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday.

All of that funding will go toward the construction and redevelopment of new units, the most ever generated through Seattle investments in a single year – 1,944 in full – across the city.

Truly good news to see the city step up its investment like this. Check out the Mayor’s blog post for more about the funded projects.

Thanks, Seattle voters! There are many reasons to be pessimistic about our housing situation but the city’s ability to fund, permit, and construct new affordable multifamily housing is a bright spot. Imagine what would be possible if the federal government got back into the housing game, perhaps by passing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s ambitious $1T housing bill .

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the city seems stuck in a vicious cycle:

Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing relied on federal, state and city financing to build the project at a cost of nearly $500,000 per unit. The per unit price would have been far higher if the city hadn’t donated the land. The cost to build one new apartment or condo unit in San Francisco today — whether market-rate or affordable — tops $700,000, nearly triple what it cost about 10 years ago.

Construction costs are rising, land values are increasing, and construction workers can’t afford to live in the city, so costs rise even more.

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Ride2 in West Seattle & Eastgate will end service

Ride 2 in West Seattle (image: Metro)

Last week, we reported on the under-performing Ride2 services in West Seattle and Eastgate which have experienced low ridership and outsized costs per rider. Yesterday, Metro announced they were ending both pilots effective December 20. (The news was first reported by West Seattle Blog).

The Ride2 services were created as one year pilots, and the end comes as the West Seattle version reaches that milestone. Eastgate, which experienced a change of provider from Ford subsidiary Chariot to Hopelink in February, ran for 14 months.

There were some interesting new details on how the services performed from Metro. Over seven thousand users had downloaded the phone app, though fewer than 15% had used the service within the last month as customer interest failed to develop.

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Federal Way Link survey is out

The latest round of Federal Way Link public meetings came with a website. There isn’t anything of interest in terms of station area design that Bruce didn’t cover in detail over two years ago.

Nevertheless, there’s new information about the artists that have been selected for each station. I’m of no use for art criticism, but the word “plaza” comes up far too much. Except where the environment is already quite dense, for plazas read “long walks where buildings should be”.

ST did itself no favors four years ago by publishing a map that exaggerated the turns and deviation necessary to mostly run down I-5. But in the end, there’s one station with a college nearby and in the heart of a very ambitious rezone; one unexciting freeway station with little around it; and one right in the core of Federal Way. If you’re super-bullish about the SR99 corridor’s potential, ST has forgone the possibility of more infill there. But otherwise, the stations are pretty well placed.

Anyway, ST wants your opinion on station names, so fill out the survey.

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The cost of HOV-2 on I-405

SounderBruce/Flickr

Any regular transit rider coming home from Bellevue, in a bus, in an HOV lane on I-405 southbound, knows well the feeling of moving 0-5 mph. Granted, it’s not always like this. There are certainly some days where it zips by traffic at nearly 60, while some other days it takes over 20 minutes just to get to I-90.

While unreliable HOV travel times are already quite frustrating, very often traffic flow in the HOV lane ends up being as bad or worse than in the general purpose lanes! Why is this tolerated by WSDOT, when the whole point of an HOV lane is to flow faster as an incentive for people to carpool or take transit? Why would anyone want to do this if they are just going to get stuck in the same traffic as if they drove alone?

I-405 south of Bellevue is getting the same type of express-toll lanes as to the north, but not until 2024. You would think that making the current HOV lanes HOV3+ would be a natural precursor to the eventual ETL extension, but WSDOT would not agree.

But how many service hours might be saved if HOV3+ were in place on I-405, in particular from Renton to Bellevue? In this calculation, I’ll assume that traffic in the HOV3+ lanes always moves at 45 miles per hour or better. That is the standard which WSDOT attempts to maintain for the express-toll lanes generally, and is also the point at which WSDOT says it will consider upgrading HOV2+ lanes to HOV3+ (though clearly that doesn’t seem to mean anything in practice).

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Improving 60/107 frequency to match Link, virtually for free

passengers leaving Beacon Hill Station / photo by SDOT

One of the best improvements in the recent Metro service change was the one that cost essentially nothing: re-timing route 60 and 107 schedules on evenings and weekends to create combined 15-minute headway on the 15th Ave S corridor between Beacon Hill Station and Georgetown.

There is more scheduling cleverness still to be milked out of scheduling inefficiency on this corridor.

The Georgetown diversion

The most obvious opportunity is to remove the Georgetown diversionary loop on route 107, which currently has the unfortunate effect of adding several minutes to the commutes of students going to and from school at Cleveland High School and Mercer Middle School. Even when Cleveland students get out at the stop before the Georgetown diversion and hike along the narrow sidewalk the last few blocks, it still adds a few minutes.

The Georgetown loop increases the total time it takes to drive each run by approximately 10%. In the process, it likely causes a non-trivial loss in ridership, for reasons similar to the old Veterans Administration Medical Center loop on route 60, but not quite as pronounced.

Weekday headway alignment

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SDOT and Metro have some big ideas for Route 44

Source: SDOT

Last election cycle, virtually every city council candidate knew enough about Seattle transit to say they supported “better east-west connections.” You don’t have to ride the bus very much to know that getting across town can be a slog. Promising to fix it turns out to be a popular idea.

At a series of open houses last week, SDOT, in partnership with King County Metro, previewed Level 1 concepts for one of the most important of the east-west routes in the city: the 44. The route, which runs from Ballard to the University District, had been initially proposed as RapidRide but then de-scoped to “multimodal improvements” when the Move Seattle Levy was reset.

While the RapidRide amenities and branding are nice to have, the most important things are the speed and mobility improvements. With these initial concepts – which are drafts for discussion purposes – SDOT is trying to get creative in making east-west transit faster.

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News roundup: shear wave velocity

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XT40 4381 and Sound Transit 2017 Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 91719C
Zack Heistand/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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Seattle legislators: fund transit now

This is a very clear statement.  h/t Jason Weill

Seattle voters couldn’t be more clear:  They demand better transit and they are willing to fund it. Tim Eyman’s I-976 was demolished in Seattle, losing by over 3-1. This follows huge victories in Seattle for transit in 2014 (Seattle TBD), 2015 (Move Seattle), and 2016 (ST3.)

Despite repeated and very clear messages from Seattle voters, Washington State dedicates virtually zero funding to transit.  Worse, the State doesn’t properly enable us to fund our own transit.

Since ST3 passed in 2016, most of the debate in the state legislature has centered on various schemes to cut MVET funding, when it should have been centered on finding better ways to fund transit. Voters in the Sound Transit district proved that by voting no on 976 by nearly the same margin they voted yes on ST3 in 2016.  That result was in spite of an off year election which meant low turnout which typically trends conservative in most of the district.

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Via shuttles performing well; Ride2 not so much

Via Van (image: Sound Transit)

King County has piloted several on-demand services that connect people with transit hubs. The services address first/last mile access issues up to three miles around transit centers. Recent data indicates that Via continues to perform well in the Rainier Valley with growing ridership and progressively declining average costs. Meanwhile, the Ride2 services in West Seattle and Bellevue have seen stubbornly low ridership and higher per-rider costs.

“Via to Transit” launched in April as a partnership with on-demand transportation provider Via. The service mostly operates in the Rainier Valley connecting riders to light rail service at Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach. A more limited version is available in Tukwila. Early results were promising and have gotten appreciably better as the program reached the six-month mark. Via now serves almost four riders per hour at a cost per rider just over $10. That’s above the average of Metro services, but is declining as ridership scales. It rates well against the coverage routes that are the more immediate alternative.

Ride2 launched in October 2018 around the Eastgate P&R in partnership with Chariot, a Ford subsidiary that withdrew from the market earlier this year. Operations transitioned to Hopelink in February after Ford quit the business. It now serves just over two riders per hour at a high $35 cost per rider. On the bright side, it has displaced driving, with a majority of riders surveyed saying they used to drive to either the transit center or their final destination. Service levels are also high with an average wait time under five minutes vs a program target of ten minutes.

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Kirkland needs to hear from you about its Active Transportation Plan

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

The city of Kirkland recently launched a Safe and Active Transportation survey. The survey is the first chance for public engagement as the city works to rewrite its Active Transportation Plan, which lays out Kirkland’s strategy for moving cyclists and pedestrians through the city.

The last time the city updated its Active Transportation Plan (ATP) was in 2009. The 2009 ATP was a big step forward for the time, but best practices for bicycle infrastructure have changed dramatically over the past 10 years and the city’s policies are badly in need of a rewrite. In particular, the 2009 plan focused on the needs of “strong and fearless” cyclists, often missing the perspectives of people who are not comfortable riding in traffic or taking the lane.

Take, for example, this quote from Defining a Network section of the 2009 ATP, which explicitly states that bicycle lanes are only needed on high-traffic streets.

Bicycle lanes are generally suggested when auto volume exceeds 5,000 vehicles per day. Therefore, some segments of the bicycle network do not need bicycle lanes to adequately support bicycle travel.

This might sound about right for the spandex-clad street warrior who can consistently maintain 12-15 mph. But if you are a child trying to get to school or a casual cyclist on a comfort bike, a two-lane street with no shoulder may be an insurmountable barrier, especially if it goes uphill as many of Kirkland’s neighborhood streets do. In 2015, Kirkland recognized the need for traffic calming on even low-traffic streets by funding its first two neighborhood greenways. It’s time for the rest of the city’s bike plan to catch up.

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Which avenue?

At first glance, there is little rhyme or reason to which buses use which avenues in Downtown Seattle. In fact, there is some structure to these allocations, although there are a bunch of exceptions. Assigning rules does point to some situations where a swap or two could allow heavy bus users to commit it to memory.

For simplicity, let’s only worry ourselves with outbound buses.

AvenueRuleBuses that meet the rule but aren’t hereBuses that don’t meet the rule but are here
1stNo busesN/A125
2ndDeparting via I-5 South, I-90, or SR 50963037, 412*, 413*, 415*, 421*, 425*, 435*
3rdLeaving by neither I-5, I-90, SR 509, nor SR 52037, 12541, 304*, 355*
4thCT and ST buses that leave via I-5 North or SR 520412, 413, 415, 421, 425, 435
5thMetro buses leaving via I-5 North or SR 52041, 304, 355630

* Although the bus is ultimately heading north, board it at a southbound stop.

There are presumably myriad reasons for deviations from the rules. The 630, for instance, starts from First Hill so going all the way to 2nd would take time. But the simplicity advantages of swapping, say, the 41 for the 37 and 125 are pretty clear.

A glance at the CT system map doesn’t reveal any obvious rhyme or reason to the 2nd/4th split . As we have 5 years before all of those routes go away, perhaps a revision is not in the cards.

If I’ve missed something, please indicate that in the comments.

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Book Review: Saving America’s Cities

I recently followed the recommendation of a bunch of folks on Twitter and picked up Lizabeth Cohen’s Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. It’s fairly weeds-y, and I’ll admit that I skimmed a few sections here and there.  But overall I was glad to read a book about urban renewal that goes beyond the simple Jane Jacobs / Robert Moses dichotomy to which we’ve become so accustomed.

The book follows Ed Logue, a New Deal-era labor organizer and lawyer who, after World War II, leads redevelopment efforts in New Haven, Boston, and New York between the 1960s and 1980s, successively.  The book tells the story of urban renewal through Logue’s career, as he learns from his mistakes in one city and makes new ones in the next one, all fueled by Great-Society-era federal largesse and modernist hubris. 

In New Haven, he tries to bring the suburbs to the city with the Chapel Square Mall, a bog-standard renewal project that raises the ire of local merchants and bulldozes mostly low-income minority neighborhoods.  While you can understand the city’s plight — tax bases and federal dollars are fleeing to the suburbs, while the remaining businesses like Yale are tax exempt — the approach here is more machete than scalpel.

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News roundup: Happy Thanksgiving

Seattle Metro Bus in Bellevue, WA. New Modern Electric buses are now replacing the dirty diesel polluting buses.

This is an open thread.

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I-976 on hold, likely to be overturned

Language in the ballot title that appears to exclude voter-approved changes from I-976 are at the heart of today’s decision.

Implementation of I-976 has been put on hold temporarily pending the outcome of the coalition lawsuit in King County Superior Court. In a decision delivered this morning, Judge Marshall Ferguson also indicated that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case.

The ruling details testimony about the damage that would ensue if a temporary injunction were not in place. Metro would need to reduce transit service by 110,000 service hours (at an annualized rate) in March and would not be able to restore that service until September. Metro would permanently lose $2 million in grants tied to the amount of service. The City of Seattle would lose $2.68 million in vehicle license fee just in December if I-976 took effect on December 5. Cuts to the multimodal account would follow shortly, likely including critical programs relied on by special needs transit-dependent taxpayers including one of the plaintiffs.

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Intercity Transit looks to go fare-free

An Intercity Transit bus at Olympia Transit Center

Intercity Transit is looking to make the rare jump to zero-fare service beginning January 1, 2020, pending a board of directors vote next week. Last year, voters in the urbanized portion of Thurston County approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase to fund more transit service. Riders on Intercity Transit buses currently pay $1.25 for adult fares on local routes and $3 on express services to Tacoma and Lakewood.

The zero-fare proposal, not part of the long-range plan and goals of the ballot measure, came about as part of a simple opportunity: the fareboxes for the system are in need of replacement. Intercity Transit is not part of the ORCA program and would need to spend more than $1 million to outfit its buses with farecard readers and other equipment.

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How the County could reduce downtown gridlock and preserve more service

Author’s Note: SEPTA’s 50-cent electronic fare discount has been added since the original post, thanks to an observant commenter.

King County Metro is at the mercy of cities for giving right-of-way and signal priority to buses, at the mercy of the State (and Tim Eyman) for being allowed to ask for local tax revenue, at the mercy of a more generous federal government for subsidization, and at the mercy of thousands of daily riders to choose to put the speed of buses over their personal convenience when they choose which way to pay their fare.

A very direct way to reduce bus dwell time would be for King County Metro to finally incentivize non-cash payment on all trips, with a lower electronic (ORCA and smartphone) fare than the cash fare.

Louisville’s new MyTARC card, saving users 25 cents per ride over paying with cash

Thirteen other urban US bus agencies have figured this out:

Continue reading “How the County could reduce downtown gridlock and preserve more service” | 74 comments