Call to action: don’t let the Sound Transit board make expansion beyond ST3 impossible

Feasibility of construction and financial feasibility of future expansions beyond ST3 requires that Sound Transit consider how we’re going to implement and connect those expansions now.

Seattle Subway has 5 fundamental pillars of rider experience: speed, reliability, accessibility, expandability, and safety. 

Ensuring expandability, and the financial and operational feasibility of future expansion, is fundamental to making sure ST3 is a good transit investment, and Sound Transit seems to have forgotten that. We need your help to remind the Sound Transit Board at their meetings on July 7th, July 14th, and July 28th. Sign up to testify or send an email today with links below.

ST3 can be a fantastic expansion of our regional system, but it will not be the end of light rail expansion for our region. As the Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board wrote in 2018, ST3 must be built for the future. Light rail lines must be designed so that future expansion can happen without high cost reconstruction of the lines we’re planning today, or future service disruptions during construction. When ST3 is complete, 13 of 30 Seattle’s “urban villages” and “urban centers” will be connected, but completing our vision map would connect 27 of 30 urban villages and centers in Seattle. There are four areas where Sound Transit needs to explicitly future-proof the system as part of ST3 so future expansion remains financially and operationally feasible, saving money and reducing operational impacts long term:

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Call to action: tell the Sound Transit board to reopen study of an ST3 Link light rail station in the heart of Ballard

The Sound Transit Board failed to advance 20th Avenue NW in Ballard to Draft Environmental Impact Statement Study. Sound Transit must study a Ballard station in the heart of Ballard.

Seattle Subway has 5 fundamental pillars of rider experience: speed, reliability, accessibility, expandability, and safety. 

For many reasons that Seattle Subway has laid out previously, Sound Transit must reopen study of a Ballard station that serves the heart of Ballard. Both Sound Transit’s proposed 15th and 14th Avenue NW station options fail to serve the heart of Ballard and Sound Transit’s prior study of a station at 20th Avenue NW confirmed that it would serve more people and have better transfers. Providing accessibility for the most visitors, workers and residents is fundamental to a good transit investment, and Sound Transit seems to have forgotten. We need your help to remind the Sound Transit Board of this at their upcoming meetings on July 7th, 14th, and 28th. 

Continue reading “Call to action: tell the Sound Transit board to reopen study of an ST3 Link light rail station in the heart of Ballard” | 35 comments

Seattle’s position on WSBLE

Too little internet content is about unironic appreciation for people doing the right thing. So good for Dan Strauss, trying to put the light rail station where the people are in his district:

“Placing the station to the east undermines our city’s work to create a densely connected community,” Strauss said. “This is infrastructure that will last 100 years, and we can’t afford to get it wrong.”

Moreover, Seattle’s preferred alternative presentation contains a lot of good advice for Sound Transit, particularly in the all-important tunnel north of Chinatown. Seattle Subway has written previously about the best choices for future riders. Though I don’t agree with 100% of either document, I invite you to compare results.

Elsewhere in old friend Lizz Giordano’s report for Publicola, there’s less exciting news. Lisa Herbold is extensively quoted about “impacts” without much apparent regard for future riders. Maybe Sound Transit should just build the Gray Line and no one would be impacted at all. Most notably in her district, Seattle requests a Delridge station by the steel plant to keep it away from neighborhoods, and thus from potential riders.

I don’t like this framework for thinking about the project, but at least there’s a recommended decision that can move us forward! That’s more that can be said about the City’s Chinatown advice:

Continue reading “Seattle’s position on WSBLE” | 55 comments

News roundup: fully subsidized

  • Seattle Times‘ Mike Lindblom has a long dive into light rail crashes on MLK. It’s too in-depth to summarize but well worth reading.
  • Meanwhile, Times Columnist Naomi Ishaka argues for more gates in the Rainier Valley to protect pedestrians
  • U-PASS is now fully-subsidized for all UW employees. Good on TRU for organizing around this effort
  • The Urbanist: Sound Transit opening back up the idea of skipping Paine Field to get to Everett on time
  • PubliCola: Josh Feit looks at ways to get small employers on board with transit passes
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News roundup: cracked up

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Transit ridership is slowly recovering

From the Sound Transit ridership dashboard

Last month, Metro reported an average weekday ridership exceeding 200,000 boardings. This is a mark that hasn’t been seen since the pandemic started, with the exception of last October (which typically represents the peak month of ridership in a year). More encouraging is that year-over-year growth is currently sitting at about 40%, which certainly trends with the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Sound Transit has also clawed back much of its lost ridership, sitting just shy of 100,000 daily boardings in April. Central Link ridership is back to a respectable 66,000 boardings, although it’s unreasonable to make comparisons to pre-pandemic levels with the Northgate extension having opened just last Fall.

There’s some discussion about the effect of high gas prices on ridership recovery. From a recent KOMO article:

“If it gets up to like $7 a gallon I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” said Apollo Rising, Seattle driver. “I’m probably gonna use the bus a lot more.”

“We hear it sometimes on social media that people are choosing transit because of the cost,” said Sean Hawks, spokesman for King County Metro. “It’s $2.75 for a bus fare but even less expensive fare if you’re a senior, youth or have a disability or have a lower income.”

Many remember the summer of 2008, when drivers fleeing gas prices helped boost transit ridership to what were then record-levels. My suspicion is that we’re not seeing exactly the same effect now largely since many workers are still working from home.

As I stated last month, crossing arbitrary thresholds can provide feel-good moments but they should not be the barometer we use to gauge system health in a post-pandemic world.

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Sound Transit’s new CEO: Julie Timm

Sound Transit:

Timm is currently CEO of Greater Richmond Transit Company, where her more than 400 employees operate successful regional bus routes serving the Richmond, Virginia area. Timm is known as a highly collaborative leader who forges strong relationships with community groups and partners, and for building an agency culture focused on dedication to public service and equity. 

From 2016 through 2019 Timm served as Chief Development Officer for WeGo Public Transit in Nashville, Tennessee. Her efforts included directing development activities and agency staff across functions including engineering, outreach, customer care, planning, grants, marketing, communications, service quality and Innovation. She oversaw the implementation of major regional capital projects associated with the more than $6 billion nMotion Strategy that the Nashville region adopted in 2016.

We wish her the best of luck.

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New ST3 International District Station options face stiff resistance

Photo by SolDuc Photography / Flickr

Since Sound Transit released the DEIS for the new West Seattle-Ballard extension, stakeholders have been poring over the findings and submitting their comments. One major group of stakeholders is the Chinatown-International District (CID) neighborhood, which recently came out in full force either against the 5th Avenue alternative or against all options entirely.

Mike Lindblom has a detailed scoop:

Neighborhood advocates insist the station must go a block farther west, under Fourth Avenue South near South King Street, with the highways and sports stadiums. That would lessen the impact on an area that’s been sacrificed for generations to regional construction. 
. . .
But choosing Fourth Avenue possibly creates a traffic nightmare, because builders would demolish and replace the six-lane elevated street. In that scenario, about 15,000 daily car and bus trips, and stadium surge traffic, must be detoured during six years of partial road closures, compared to only 5,000 on Fifth for a 2½-year closure.

Total construction time on Fourth Avenue is estimated at nine to 11 years, a couple of years longer than Fifth.

It’s important to remember that while Sound Transit has not yet identified a preferred alternative for this segment, it finds itself in the usual quagmire of picking and choosing between neighborhood impacts, ridership, and cost. The 5th Avenue option certainly has superior neighborhood and transfer access, but construction would come at a great cost to the CID.

Back in April, Seattle Subway endorsed an even-shallower version of the 4th Avenue shallow option (CID-1a). Their proposal would effectively be at-grade, flush with the BNSF tracks and the 4th Avenue viaduct rebuilt over it. It’s not clear how compatible this super-shallow option would be with the deep Midtown Station profiles that are currently on the table.

While not without its own problems, a 4th Avenue alternative does open creative possibilities for re-doing the entire King Street Station-IDS hub, which is currently a patchwork of office buildings, limited walkways, and pedestrian-unfriendly 4th Avenue. A lid over the BNSF/Sounder tracks and repurposing Union Station are some of the ideas worth considering.

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Link work to impact service through early next year

Peter Lewis / Flickr

Sound Transit is marketing a slate of service impacts from 2-Line (East Link) construction and 1-Line maintenance as a “Future Ready” program. Starting next month and stretching into Q1 of 2023, existing 1-Line service will undergo intermittent periods of reduced longer headways and shuttle service. From the press release:

Time periodsTravel impact
Monday, July 11 to Sunday, July 24Monday, Aug. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 4In order to replace tile at the Columbia City Station, train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes in each direction during all operating hours during the closure of one track, requiring all trains to use a single track between Mount Baker and Tukwila.
Friday, Oct. 21 to Sunday, Oct. 23Friday, Nov. 11 to Sunday, Nov. 13As a result of work on the overhead catenary system in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes in each direction until 11 p.m. From 11 p.m. until end of revenue service, a Link bus shuttle will be available to connect passengers between Capitol Hill Station and SODO Station.
A period of five days in late Q3 2022In order to repair and replace the overhead catenary system, Link will be shut down between Rainier Beach and Tukwila International Blvd. stations with a Link bus shuttle connecting passengers between these two stations.
A period of at least three weeks in Q4 2022Trains will be single tracked through the DSTT and train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes.
Q1 2023This work is needed to complete connections between the current 1-Line service and new 2-Line tracks that will link riders to the Eastside. Impacts are still to be determined.

Some of the work is par-for-the-course as it concerns completing connections to the 2-Line, which will branch off of the main trunk south of International District Station. Some other work is a bit more puzzling: the replacement of platform tiles at Columbia City, for example, demands a closer look as to whether this was a contractor misstep or some other root cause.

While this is all happening, Sound Transit is also continuing to work on escalator replacement in the DSTT. This is a long time coming and a big source of consternation, as our friends at The Urbanist point out.

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A new cross-border service starting June 2nd

Photo from FlixBus Facebook

[UPDATE: Service details added below]

With Cascades service between Seattle and Vancouver out for most of the remainder of 2022, cross-border travelers between the cities will have a new option in FlixBus. The German-based intercity carrier is launching a new Seattle-Vancouver route, slated to begin service this Thursday, June 2nd.

The suspension of Cascades service along with the folding of BoltBus last year has proven to be a double whammy for anyone hoping to get between Canada and the U.S. via transit. With COVID restrictions continuing to have latent impacts at the border, it remains to be seen how quickly cross-border intercity transit can recover. The Seattle-Vancouver service will be FlixBus’s second cross-border route, after the NYC-Toronto and Buffalo-Toronto routes, which only just launched this month. Service details below:

FlixBus’ first cross-border routes between Seattle and Vancouver will run 5 days per week in each direction on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and will also include stops in Everett and Bellingham, Washington. 

Vancouver-bound buses will leave Seattle (6th Avenue and S. Lane Street) at 7:30 a.m. with stops in Everett and Bellingham, crossing the U.S.-Canada border and stopping at Pacific Central Station and Richards Street-Waterfront Station between 11:30-11:40 a.m.  

Buses heading to Seattle will leave Richards Street-Waterfront Station at 12:45 p.m. with stops at Pacific Central Station, Bellingham and Everett before arriving in Seattle by 3:55 p.m.  

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Friday news roundup

  • New Eastrail bridge breaks ground next to future Wilburton station. Could open before East Link?
  • Capitol Hill Seattle: Seattle city council moving back to some in-person meetings
  • West Seattle bridge closer to re-opening in “mid-2022”
  • The Atlantic: Jerusalem Demsas takes on the NIMBY-population-growther nexus
  • Seattle Times: Gene Balk crunches the data and Seattle is [slightly] losing population
  • The Urbanist is launching a letter-writing campaign to try and fix Link’s escalator woes. Write yours here.
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Bikes, buses and Rainier Avenue

Ryan Packer, The Urbanist:

SDOT says that the first phase of this transit lane could save riders on the Route 7 one minute per trip, but that the full extension could save riders 6 minutes during times of highest congestion on Rainier Avenue. That could translate to as many as 141 cumulative hours saved per day, given the ridership of that highly used bus route. Even as the pandemic and work-from-home measures have temporarily sapped ridership across much of the bus network, ridership on Route 7 has remained high due to prevalence of transit-dependent households and essential workers along the route, Metro reports.

A comprehensive overview of the state of Rainier Avenue in 2022 in the context of some much-needed bus priority work. Route 7 (and/or RapidRide R) is exactly the kind of route that will continue to have robust, all-day ridership post-COVID.

This is a side note, but it seems that SDOT has done everyone a disservice in keeping a zombie protected bike lane in the aging bike master plan for MLK (south of Mount Baker) and Rainier (north of Mount Baker). Given the traffic volumes on those corridors, its unlikely we’ll see bike lanes on MLK or Rainier any time soon. SDOT won’t radically reduce car capacity without air cover from City Hall, and the current administration and transportation chair are unlikely to provide it.

That said, there absolutely can and should be a flat, safe direct bike route through the Rainier Valley and we shouldn’t be playing bikes vs. buses hunger games all the time. How might we repurpose all that surface parking, for example, before new development fills it in? The city ought to commit to a real study with some viable options — even ones that require a capital investment — add one to the next Move Seattle Levy so we have something to get people excited about besides (say) replacing bridges in Magnolia.

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Monorail proposes another fare increase

Table of proposed fare increases

Seattle Monorail Services, the private operator of the Seattle Center Monorail, has proposed a pair of 25 cent fare increases to take effect this year and next. The increases are “to keep up with rising costs and our commitment to preserving this historic system”. Three years ago the one-way fare was only $2.50 but was raised to offset the cost of accepting ORCA. Depending on how transfer credit is apportioned the $3.00 fare may have been less than half of what the Monorail would have received per ticket before its acceptance of ORCA.

Cash payments are currently “temporarily” suspended as a COVID-19 safety measure. ORCA cards are accepted at turnstiles and credit cards can be used to purcahse tickets at a self-service kiosk. ORCA cards can be purchased from TVMs in the DSTT, but no TVM exists (yet) at Seattle Center.

The $3.50 mark would put fares above all bus fares in the county, even with the longest (currently) possible Link fare, at the lower end of distance-based Sounder fares, but still cheaper than all ferry fares.

The public is invited to comment on the proposed fare increases via email: denise.wells@seattle.gov or by phone: 206-615-0258 through Monday, June 27. 2022.

Comments will also be accepted at a Public Meeting online via Webex on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 4:30 pm, details here.

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News roundup: delayed

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Free transit this weekend, new ORCA on Monday

King County Metro:

The current ORCA website will be permanently shut down at 11:59 p.m. tonight, Thursday, May 12, and will transition to the new site on May 16.  Customers can still add cash to their cards at vending machines, customer service locations and participating retailers.

In order to transition to the new ORCA system, fares will not be collected between 3 a.m. Saturday, May 14, and 2:59 a.m. Monday, May 16, on most area transit systems.

Ride your heart out.

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SDOT shuffles the scooter & bike share mix

Ethan Bergerson, SDOT blog:

After careful review, we selected three scooter companies to receive operation permits for 2022–2023: LimeLINK (by Superpedestrian), and Bird. In addition to scooters, riders continue to have the option of renting shared bicycles from Lime and Veo.

In addition to welcoming back Lime and LINK (by Superpedestrian), we are excited to welcome Bird. Bird operates in over 400 cities and has a demonstrated commitment to safety and sustainability. They will bring their newest third generation of scooters to Seattle, which offers a safer ride and longer battery life than their earlier models.

It wasn’t that long ago that bike share seemed to be on the way out in favor of scooters.

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Sound Transit’s CEO search

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times:

Above all, the position “requires incredible soft skills,” the search firm, CPS-HR of Sacramento, heard from staff and interest groups. “Most often, we heard about the need to listen,” a report said.

While relevant to any top executive, the feedback reflects worries by the board about reliving Rogoff’s first year, when colleagues complained to the human resources department about his abrasive manner. Rogoff apologized, narrowly escaped being fired, and completed executive coaching.

“I think it’s a great callout. A leader does need to have soft skills and we certainly need that in a CEO,” said board Chair Kent Keel, a council member from University Place near Tacoma. Keel mentioned a distinction between hard-charging “East Coast” and a subtler “West Coast” public agency culture.

Are we building consensus or are we building public transit?

Soft skills are fine, if what Keel means balancing stakeholder interests while building useful and usable transit projects. If he means the Seattle Process on steroids, that’s deeply concerning. The primary goal is to provide excellent and useful transit, not simply appease the squeakiest wheels, who often times don’t actually care about great rider experiences.

There is simply no transit agency in America attempting to build anything as ambitious as ST3 (arguably excepting Los Angeles?). The agency probably needs to look overseas, to Europe or Asia, where complicated transit projects actually get built in a reasonable frame for a reasonable budget.

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