Tacoma Thursday and Furlough Friday

This Thursday June 18, Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma are hosting a public meeting about the future of Tacoma Link. They’ll be talking about plans, funding, and how to move forward with extensions. It’s from 6-7pm Thursday at the Tacoma Municipal Building.

Friday, June 19 is the fifth of ten County unpaid furlough days this year.  The buses will still run their normal schedules, but all Metro offices will be closed.

10 furlough days also more or less amounts to the 5% pay cut frequently suggested by armchair budget cutters.

20/40/40 Under Fire

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

[Update: Aubrey Cohen at the P-I takes this post and runs with it, by collecting some quotes from some of the important players.]

The service allocation rule known as 20/40/40 is a directive from the King County Council that requires new Metro service hours in the proportions 20%/40%/40%. That is, 20% to the West area (Seattle, Shoreline, etc.), 40% to the East area, and 40% to South King County.  It is intended to gradually remedy the traditional allocation to Seattle well in excess of its share of the County’s population, and bring service to areas that currently have little or no transit access.

Critics have long contended that this reduces Metro’s cost efficiency and denies relief for overloaded routes in dense, transit-dependent areas.  As we discovered in February, Metro policy dictates that cuts be made in proportion to the current service levels (approximately 60/20/20).  This means that cuts would heavily impact Seattle, but restored service would be directed to the suburbs.  $100m in operating cuts would therefore require a $300m budget increase to fully restore the situation in Seattle.

This asymmetry, combined with the strong likelihood of some service cuts, has given new energy to the 20/40/40 opponents.  Last week, the P-I reported that  King County Executive candidate and State Sen. Fred Jarrett, perhaps trying to reach beyond his Eastside base, came out against 20/40/40 as a “failed model.”

On nearly the same day, Mayor Nickels’ office sent a letter to Interim County Executive Kurt Triplett (pdf) insisting that the strictly geographic criteria be replaced with four metrics: Continue reading “20/40/40 Under Fire”

32 Days

A Happy Mix, by Steven De Vight
"A Happy Mix", by Steven De Vight

We haven’t had one of these in a while.

Route 32 will be replaced by Link. It’s basically the express version of the 36, it runs from Rainier Beach to SODO and then Downtown, much like Link does. It’s only five runs in the morning and another four at night, so it won’t mean anything significant for Metro (another route likely already gets the hours).

In 1996, the same year some folks older than I am passed Sound Move, measure 32 would have authorized lottery funds for light rail in Oregon. It failed, the count was about 660,000 to 700,000. Since then, the Oregon legislature has approved lottery funds (presumably multiple times) for light rail construction, although another public vote failed in 1998. I haven’t found a solid timeline – does anyone know when light rail has passed at the ballotbox in Oregon?

32 is also the number of times Mike Lindblom made a dig at light rail in the Seattle Times today.

358 Bus Stop Plazas

Existing Conditions
Existing Conditions

Some great news from the Aurora Seattle blog. SDOT is looking at creating mini plazas along Aurora Ave N by reallocating side street ROW to transit riders. The project, which is funded by Bridging The Gap, will improve the waiting environment at 3 locations (104th, 84th, and 76th) for transit riders, especially in areas where existing sidewalks are narrow and ridership is high. This is an innovative (I have never seen this anywhere before) example of how street ROW can be put to better use. Aurora is one of the most hostile streets for pedestrians, and this is definitely a step in the right direction. I’m guessing this is a result of planning for the larger RapidRide station shelters. More information herehere and here. Thumbs up SDOT!

Option #1
Option #1

Continue reading “358 Bus Stop Plazas”

“We need to do everything possible to get new stations built quickly.”

img_4628The Stranger recently wrote about seven things they learned when they rode light rail for the first time. The last one caught my eye – we need to speed this up.

There’s a big shrug from Sound Transit about accelerating University Link or Northgate – we can’t do much without immediate infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars, and I keep hearing they’re already working on a Northgate acceleration plan. But we can definitely do something about ST2’s other components. We could speed up Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Redmond extensions with more cash in the next few years, and we could accelerate planning for a new line in the city. This is why we’re starting to try to talk about new funding sources.

At the national level, there’s not much. There’s pressure on the Federal Transit Administration to improve their New Starts grant process, but we’re all here in Seattle, where it’s tough to have an impact in DC. It makes more sense to me to fight for new funding at the local level – we’re going to have to go to the state, and that’s a tough task on its own.

The options that stuck out for me are the basics:

  • State or local MVET using a smarter approach than the tables the state used to use.
  • Local option property taxes, both at a city level and through LIDs.

Were there other obvious funding sources I missed? I know there are lots of other options, but these seem like they’d be the easiest. Sound Transit already collects some MVET for Sound Move, but they won’t be able to continue using that revenue after the bonds are repaid, probably around 2023. Would that be a good place to start? How about allowing local voters to double it?

I-90 HOV

bridgesLast session’s legislative attack on the I-90 two-way HOV project has been discussed mainly as an attack on East Link, and it was.  Nevertheless, it’s useful to remember on days like today that “reverse-peak” HOV capacity is critical to the flow of buses and carpools.

There weren’t really any accidents or anything today; it was just run-of-mill congestion on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Edit from Ben: I can’t say it was really run-of-the-mill. I got on the 545 at Overlake around quarter after 6, and didn’t make it to Denny and Stewart until nearly 7:45. An extra hour lost. Yesterday was the same way – exceptionally nasty.

Edit from Martin: I was referring to I-90, not 520, and the point was that there wasn’t some massive wreck or other cause of delay.  I believe my point stands.

36 Days: 194 Love

Route 194, by Oran

Starting in September, Route 36 will connect Othello, Beacon Hill, and the tunnel stations.  It will be entirely electrified, which means it’ll serve neither the extreme southern end of Beacon Hill nor the front entrance to the VA hospital.

The guaranteed time from Westlake Station to the airport will be 36 minutes, which makes this a good a time as any to discuss what I like to call “194 love.” Continue reading “36 Days: 194 Love”

Action in Congress

There are two interesting transit actions in Congress:

Jim McDermott (Wikimedia Commons)

First, Streetsblog reports (via Yonah Freemark at the transport politic) that the Senate version of the war funding bill has a provision that 10% of transit stimulus funds may be used for operating, rather than capital, expenses.  A bunch of Congressmen, led by Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), is urging the conference committee to include the provision.  The only Washington rep to sign (pdf) is Jim McDermott.

Freemark is surprisingly down on this, because he believes that local authorities should step up and find more stable funding models.  I think it depends on what revenues are going to look like going forward.  It’s unrealistic to think that revenues will return to the unsustainable boom year of 2007, but if things bounce back pretty quickly, a brief period of stimulus could bridge the gap with minimum disruption.

Locally, Metro is receiving $71m over two years from ARRA.  Given that the gap is $91m in 2009-2010 (including some of the stimulus), $7.1m towards operating savings is not going to save the day.

Jay Inslee (Wikimedia Commons)

The other action is H.R. 2724, the National Transportation Objectives Act of 2009.  It’s co-sponsored by Washington’s own Rep. Jay Inslee.  This is a fairly high-level bill that requires USDOT to have a plan to do lots of desirable things.

It’s unclear whether this just shuffles the deck of existing FTA and intercity rail funds, or if it would lead to the diversion of funds from what we would consider counterproductive uses (ie, highway expansion).  It could even be bad for agencies if it increases the hoops that local transit agencies have to jump through, and therefore delays projects, without doing anything about the structural shortfalls agencies face.

It’s now in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Meet-Up Tonight

We’ll be having a meet-up tonight at Pyramid Alehouse, at 1201 1st Ave S. We’ll start showing up around 6pm, but feel free to come any time after that.

[UPDATE by Martin: Our operating plan is to be on the patio.  If you don’t know what I look like, I’m the guy in the blue shirt in this photo.  I’ll be there by 6.  If we have to move somewhere else I’ll tell the hostess we’re “Seattle Transit Blog.”]

[UPDATE 2: I’m also assured that under-21s can be on the patio as well.]

News Roundup: 38 Days

Route 38 completes our list of slightly ridiculous single-purpose Metro runs in the wake of Link Light Rail.  Currently a route that runs from Sodo to the Mt. Baker neighborhood, allowing a bypass of downtown congestion, it’s been whittled down to a shuttle between Beacon Hill and Mt. Baker stations, allowing those in need to avoid the climbing the extremely steep hill that is S. McClellan St.  Luckily, the line is so short that it can be served by a single bus.

Two good tidbits from the TCC Blog:

  • The Columbian has a noncommittal editorial about extending MAX light rail into Clark County.  For media in this state, that’s tremendous progress.
  • The Cascade Bicycle Club launched a site called Bikewise, to report crashes, hazards, and thefts across the country.  I found the interface a bit cumbersome, but then I’m not a bicyclist.  (Hint: click on “Crashes”, “Hazards”, or “Thefts” to get to a link where you can change the city from St. Louis).  Q13 Fox had a report on it yesterday:

Perhaps Adam will expound on this site further.

Transit Ridership May Not Dip Much

Since late last year, when oil prices dropped fairly dramatically, transit ridership has fallen a bit – Sound Transit’s systemwide is off about 5,000 weekday riders from last summer’s 60,000. While ridership is still higher than the same time last year, I’ve certainly heard a few people say “hey, ridership’s down,” and through implication, “maybe these impending Metro service cuts won’t be that bad.” Today’s New York Times article (free registration required, sorry) has a fantastic, inflation-adjusted graph of fuel prices that should make it clear fuel prices aren’t staying down at all – the national average is up a dollar since December.

There’s more than one factor here, of course. The recession is increasing unemployment, meaning fewer people are commuting. If our economy continues to slide, we may see a continued decline, but with Washington’s average fuel price back up around $2.75 a gallon, I suspect those with jobs will be looking to leave the car at home once again.

ST Launches Safety Site for Kids

Zap on Board!

Sound Transit has launched Zap on Board, a pretty well-done flash entertainment site designed to teach kids the basics about Link light rail safety. Link light rail is in near ’round-the-clock testing now and will open for revenue service on July 18th.

Through various flash mini-games and downloadables, Zap on Board gets the point across: pay attention when crossing light rail lines, don’t walk down the tracks, and be alert for quiet light rail trains. And hey, sometimes flash games for kids are fun for us big kids too!

Be sure to spread to friends and family living in the Valley.

39 Days

by Steven De Vight
by Steven De Vight

The 39 will connect with Link at Othello, Columbia City, Sodo, and all stations North.  Although Sunday headways are improving from 60 to 45 minutes, Saturday and midday weekday headways are increasing from 30 minutes to 45.  There’s also nothing being done about the lack of evening service, effectively cutting off the Seward Park neighborhood from Link after about 7pm.

There was talk of diverting the 39 to run Othello-West Seattle instead of downtown (and renumbering it as the 50), but that died thanks to budget constraints and complaints from the VA that they’d lose their one seat ride to downtown.  The VA hospital is another example of a building that turns its main entrance away from their best transit option (the 36 on Beacon Ave), although unlike ACRS they didn’t finish their building  a year ago.

39 years ago, the second Forward Thrust mass transit proposal failed at the ballot box.  It was another 25 years before a regional ballot measure would go to the voters again.

King County Executive

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ouch. It turns out the current front runner for King County Executive, the seat that has the most influence over transit decision in Seattle and throughout the county, is Susan Hutchison – a former Discover Institute board member and former TV news anchor. Why does this scare me? 1) I like to call the Discovery Institute the Discover How To Build More Roads Institute. They fought hard against light rail, and fight hard to build more roads. 2) Former news anchor = instant name recognition, which will help her in the polls.

I admit I don’t know much about the other candidates. Does anyone have a suggestion about who to support?

Oh, and don’t be too afraid. Although she’s leading with 37% to 9% (with Larry Phillips in 2nd place), I should point out that it was a KING5 TV poll.

Seattle PostGlobe Agonizing Over ORCA

A number of ex-Seattle P-I employees have put together a new local news site, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it – the Seattle PostGlobe.

They raise an interesting point or two about ORCA this morning, but I think the piece overall has a lot of needless hand-wringing. From the article:

But bus drivers predict they’ll cause delays and problems collecting fares.

And maybe even accidents.

Seriously? Most of their complaint is that if a rider boards a two-zone bus and wants to only ride for one zone, the driver must change the ORCA reader to one zone. They’ll have to know to do that, or they’ll be charged the two zone fare, and perhaps demand the poor driver reverse the transaction.

For starters, if I’m not mistaken, most people boarding two zone buses are either free ride, or planning to cross a zone boundary. I don’t think this is going to be a big deal – everyone who makes this mistake will have a $1 wake-up call. For most people, this will happen once.

ORCA is largely opt-in. If you get a pass from your employer in the form of an ORCA, you won’t be doing anything differently than you do with a pugetpass today. ORCA e-purse users will be largely opt-in, and will be repeat riders. I expect the overlap between ORCA users and inexperienced riders to be quite small. It seems to me that if someone knows to tap in, they’ll also know to check for the number of zones first.

I know several drivers read here – do any of you expect big issues? How hard is it to cancel a transaction? Is it a pain in the butt to set the fare default?

Thoughts on Transit Funding

With Transit Now and Sound Transit 2, both Metro and Sound Transit have capped out what sales tax they’re allowed to ask for – when we extend light rail again, we’re going to need a new source of income to pay for it. There are lots of options: A new MVET, tolls, part of the gas tax, a carbon tax, even a property tax. None of these are available unless authorized by the state legislature.

This won’t just be a matter of asking nicely. The Governor vetoed the option of a local vehicle license fee for transit. Chair and Vice-Chair of Senate Transportation, Senators Mary Margaret Haugen and Chris Marr, respectively, sent this letter (link removed due to a technical issue, email us if you want it) to the Governor requesting the veto. Essentially, the chairs would like local option taxes to be on the table for other “transportation modes” – like, say, highways.

The state has had little will to increase gas tax past the 2005 9.5c package, and with driving down, they’re left with a huge backlog of underfunded highway projects. They’re looking increasingly to local government to fill some of those gaps – local government that lost access to the MVET a decade ago.

This is a multi-decade trend. Transportation project funding has been shifting from primarily federal to primarily state, and now local – I can only speculate as to why, but the recent RTID package was another manifestation of the larger government failing to build the political will to fund projects, and passing the buck down to the local level. I think this letter, and the Governor’s action, is another sign that we’ll be asked to fund highways locally once again.

The problem, of course, is that at the local level and the state level, we seem to have different aims. Voters in the city want to build mass transit and increasingly a streetcar network, and want relief for overcrowded buses. Sidewalks are getting wider, excess parking is frowned upon, density in the city is slowly going up.

The state hasn’t caught up to this thinking. There is still a belief in Olympia that a wider highway will decrease congestion – there’s still a belief that congestion is something you can decrease! So several billion goes into infrastructure for cars, and virtually nothing goes into infrastructure for people.

So what do we want the next state budget to look like? What funding options do we want to build our next rail line in the city? And how do we get there? If enough of us start talking to our legislators, we can make it clear that our next transportation budget needs to look very different, but what is it that we want to say?

Andrew Smith: An Appreciation

Back in April of 2007, Andrew Smith created the Seattle Transit Blog.  For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, STB quickly became the preferred focal point for people interested in transit-related discussions.

However, one reason for the blog’s success was Andrew’s intent to make sure that content was frequent and current.  To that end he accepted the inquiries of other bloggers, including Ben and me later that year.

As the blog continued to grow, Andrew handled most of the business and technical aspects behind the scenes.  He also built an impressive set of contacts in the establishment.  Most visibly, he was the one that made sure that there was a post every day, when the stable of bloggers he built was too busy with other things and didn’t come through.

Most of all, Andrew has become a friend to all of us: not just another member of the pack, but the one who serves as the nucleus, the soul of the group.  He may have let others get a lot of face time (in the photo above, witness me in the background ranting to the meet-up attendees), but he was the decider that kept the personalities in balance.

Meanwhile, STB has become a full-fledged community with thousands of readers, where both transit riders, political leaders, and the news media itself find out what’s going on in the transit world.  It’s gone from a stream of personal opinion pieces to a semi-professional news and advocacy organization.  A cadre of intelligent commenters from inside the transit agencies make sure we stay grounded in fact, and when the time comes we’ve shown we can mobilize for change: the community around this blog deserves a small part of the credit for Proposition 1 going to the ballot and passing in 2008, and a somewhat larger one for the defense of East Link in the last legislative session.  It’s a community I’m proud to be a part of.

As he announced Friday in typically understated style, Andrew is leaving the blog to focus on some other projects, most notably his infant daughter.  As a father myself, I can appreciate his shift in priorities, but we will definitely miss his unique voice on both the blog and in our internal communications.

I’ll leave to others the discussion of what this means for the future of volunteer media in our region, coming on the heels of Dan Bertolet’s sabbatical at HugeAssCity.  Our hope is that, by having several of us replace the various functions once performed by one man, we can keep the blog’s traditions in both volume and quality.  For my part, I’m going to be the new front man, so please direct all brickbats about our editorial direction my way.

Good luck, Andrew, in your future endeavors, and don’t be a stranger.  And thanks for taking a chance on a blogger with a wafer-thin resume and a lot of passion for transit.

Farewell, Old Friend

car-backWarning: This is likely to be the most car-loving post ever on STB.

Saturday, I say goodbye to what was once my favorite possession: a 1999 Mustang Convertible. It will not be replaced.

The clock started ticking when we moved to Columbia City, where bus service is already pretty good, from cul-de-sac hell. With Link about to arrive, bringing 20 hours a day of frequent service, it was clear that there was little or no reason to maintain a second car. Even before the train, having both cars out of the garage is exceedingly rare, although that’s partly because I’m a transit zealot.

Although the memories I’ve had with this car will be cherished, I’m not going to miss the $100+ a month in insurance and other costs (with no car payment, assuming no driving, and neglecting depreciation), as well as the space it took up in the garage.

A lot of the discussion about taking cars off the streets gets bogged down on the point that the Seattle region is far from fully accessible without at least occasional access to an automobile. And that’s true. On the other hand, there is huge potential to improve the options and economic situation of many two (or more) car families given good transit, bike, and walkability options.

Martin’s old car goes up for auction 9 am, Saturday, June 13, at 18226 68th Ave NE in Kenmore.

41 Days

Forward Thrust Plan. Photo by Oran
Forward Thrust Plan. Photo by Oran

Seattle’s last Streetcar was torn up in 1941.  Tipper Pete tells us it was along 8th Ave NW in Ballard, and replaced with diesel and trolley buses.  Somewhat later, the rails were pulled up and the steel used to support the war effort.

It’s been 41 years since the failure of the first Forward Thrust transit measure.

In 2020, the opening of Northgate station is likely to eliminate or truncate Route 41.

In more current news, a Thursday trip on Route 941 swayed so much that some passengers were thrown from their seats.

HSR: Awesome, or Only Kinda Awesome?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The PSRC (whom you may remember from such landmark PDFs as the BNSF Eastside Commuter Rail Feasibility Study) has a blog as part of their Prosperity Partnership.

The PP wants to know whether high-speed rail makes sense on the West Coast: “What’s so great about High Speed Rail?”

Well, I have my own opinions, but I’m sure you all have your own. So why don’t you head on over there and tell ’em what’s so great about HSR.

Oh– and in case you need a reason to get motivated, these are the guys in charge of managing our region’s share of the stimulus money. So don’t be shy! (and, unlike my own sucky blog, you don’t even have to register to comment.)