RapidRide and Transit Now

There’s an important distinction that’s being lost even by knowledgeable and intelligent observers such as Scott Gutierrez of the P-I, and some people on our own staff.

RapidRide is not the same thing as Transit Now.  Look at this slide from a May 20 presentation to the Regional Transit Committee:


As you can see, the original Transit Now plan — the 0.1% sales tax increase — was planned to pay for 590,000 service hours.  Of that, only 100,000 service hours were devoted to RapidRide.  400,000 hours were for new conventional bus service both in “developing [read: exurban] areas” , and high ridership corridors.  As the chart indicates, these 500,000 hours were subject to the 40/40/20 formula.  Importantly, the RapidRide hours have some federal matching funds attached to them.

There’s a further 90,000 hours that come from “service partnerships,” where cities or corporations throw some cash (or capital improvements) into the pool.  The City of Seattle, in particular, has made extensive use of this to circumvent 40/40/20.

No one will propose to cut RapidRide or the service partnerships and leave the matching funds on the table.   The Triplett Plan wipes out all of the unimplemented “developing areas” and “high ridership/core” additional service.  The Phillips plan, and what I’ve called the “Council Plan“, instead treats Transit Now as a separate account.  Under these plans, therefore, instead of 590,000 service hours, the Transit Now extensions will amount to whatever 0.1% sales tax buys you, projected to be about 450,000 hours.  That’s plenty for RapidRide, partnership service, and a whole bunch of new service to boot.

It’s also important to understand that all the Metro budget deficit and cut estimates use the full plan as a baseline. The baseline plan has about 3.65m service hours in 2009 and adds about 200,000 a year after that, thanks to both Transit Now and various WSDOT construction mitigation funds.

The Council Metro Plan

bus tunnel, by Dougerino
"bus tunnel", by Dougerino

[UPDATE 11:42 am: Interim County Executive Kurt Triplett just proposed a different plan.  The key tradeoff appears to be deeper cuts (especially to Transit Now elements that don’t leverage matching funds), in exchange for stopping the fare increases at 50 cents by 2011 and not messing with the Ride Free Area.  More reaction later.]

Last week, four suburban councilmembers released a plan to close Metro’s budget gap.  It’s a serious proposal, with many details difficult to find from anyone running for office this year.  The plan outline is here (pdf).  Discussion of the plan elements and the merits of its claims are below the fold.

Continue reading “The Council Metro Plan”

Followup On Sounder To Lakewood


Dozens of pieces of email and many comments later, I’d like to follow up on what I’ve learned since yesterday’s post, and what I missed that makes me even more sure that this “post and beam” structure is not a good idea.

First, an apology to those of you from Tacoma. I was unnecessarily dismissive of the Dome District as a place for future development, and I didn’t mean for that to overshadow my argument – but that it did. Let’s say for the sake of argument that in thirty years, this area will be like the Pearl District, or at least in the process of changing, like South Lake Union. Maybe that will happen!

Next, my reasoning. As I mentioned yesterday, this is a project I’ve been well acquainted with for years. It’s not just extending Sounder to Lakewood that’s important here – as part of the state’s Point Defiance Bypass project,  Amtrak Cascades will also move to this track to cut six minutes from trips in the corridor. For now, that means a total of 18 trains daily – ten Sounder, eight Amtrak – but not only might some of the Sound Transit 2 Sounder improvements add to this service, but more Amtrak Cascades service is very likely in the next few years.

And this gets us into the reason I think the berm should stay.

When post and beam proponents talk about the cost difference between the berm and their posts, they’re talking about the difference for a single track – some $1 million. They bring up the narrower profile – but that profile comes at the cost of space for a second track. In the Amtrak Cascades long range plan, a second phase exists for Point Defiance Bypass, adding a second track and increasing train speed along Interstate 5 in South Tacoma. That part of the plan would qualify for high speed rail funds, and it’s been on the books for a decade – but it’s been ignored by post and beam supporters, even though their own web site shows a graphic of two tracks on the berm. Building a second post and beam structure next to the first would be necessary in the long term, and cost nearly as much as today’s project, rather than simply being some earthwork and two new bridges.

The TOD impacts claimed by post and beam proponents also don’t hold up under scrutiny. Their web site shows images of shops and space underneath a railway, which I believe is the High Line in New York. This did happen a hundred years ago – but in the US, it’s very difficult for a public agency to incorporate (or even allow) private use or modification of their facilities. Tacoma isn’t really Manhattan, either, the demand for this kind of development wouldn’t really exist for a very, very long time even if it were possible.

What really, really rubs me the wrong way here is that this opposition group seems to be only a couple of months old, but they’re acting like they’ve been wronged. I knew about this berm in 2005. Where were they then?

Reminder: Meet-up Tomorrow Night


In case you missed it, our meetup is tomorrow (Thursday) night at the Columbia City Ale House.  People will gather around 6 and we’ll have guest speakers starting at 7.  My understanding is that Transportation Choices Coalition’s pub crawl will be coming by the Ale House about 9, which is when we typically (officially) wrap up.

If you’re going to attend please say so in the comment thread of the other post.  If you have an ORCA card or Link ticket there will be discounts.

Comments are closed.

More Pay Parking

Publicola helps us out by identifying another park-and-ride lot:  less than a block West of MLK on Othello St., in front of a Safeway.  It costs $30/month, which is a steal compared to some of the other lots.

Consult our list of other Link parking here.  Share information (cost, location, operating hours) of other lots you’re aware of in the comments.

Seattle City Council Endorsements

Here’s the first batch of STB endorsements.  Recall that our intent is to focus entirely on transit and land use issues, and not consider (to the best of our ability) other issues.  Given the relative impotence of Councilmembers to impact transit, we’re going to weight their attitude to development pretty heavily.

Our editorial board is Martin H. Duke, Ben Schiendelman, and John Jensen, with valued input from the rest of the staff.

Continue reading “Seattle City Council Endorsements”

Editorial: You’ve Had Quite Long Enough, Get It Done

My first real foray into the world of local rail transit was my interest in improving Amtrak Cascades service to Portland – I had waited behind freight trains plenty on various trips, and I started trying to figure out why our local intercity rail service was so unreliable and slow. I found many projects listed by WSDOT as ways to improve Cascades, and one caught my eye – Point Defiance Bypass. Through a partnership with Sound Transit to extend Sounder to Lakewood, new track would offer a more direct route from Tacoma southward, removing passenger trains from the freight snarl, and cutting five minutes off my trip – more than any other single project offered.

In the intervening time, Central Link has gone from groundbreaking all the way to being open.

No, really. When I first heard about the Sound Transit portion of this project, I don’t even think that there had been any neighborhood meetings for Link yet. It’s been that long.

And a small band of people in Tacoma want to delay finishing Sounder even longer – for a new reason, almost like the last, but just different enough to spur a new round of editorials about ‘destroying’ a part of Tacoma that’s mostly a couple of surface parking lots and a freeway overpass. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. In the upper right, Freighthouse Square, where Sounder currently terminates. In the lower left, the curve of the old railway to be reused. In between? A handful of businesses, empty lots, an interstate highway. A beautiful urban village to be ruined by a train.

Sound Transit will build an overpass for Sounder – and use earth embankments on either side of South Tacoma Way. The latest opposition tactic is to demand a concrete structure with posts instead – to offer a dry place for the homeless to sleep at night. They wring their hands at light rail’s neighborhood-friendly concrete pylons, and compare to their future pile of dirt, when of course Link was no different – it used earth embankments in several places as well.

Do I seem sarcastic? That’s because this is a farce. These are anti-transit activists drumming up opposition to Sound Transit through typical fear, uncertainty and doubt. They know Pierce County doesn’t have adequate transit service yet, and they know that if Lakewood gets regular rail service, a pretty large group of people will start realizing how useful this is.

Two completed stations sit waiting for Sounder service. This will offer help for commuters into both Tacoma and Seattle. The construction area is not walkable or pedestrian friendly, the benefit of transit service far outweighs any loss. Please, please stop listening to these people.

News Round-Up

Link at sunset
Link at Sunset, Photo by Flickr User litlnemo.
  • Some Beacon Hill residents are not happy about powerlines that have been installed in their neighborhood for the station their, noting they would rather have had them buried. As a Beacon Hill resident I’ll say I never noticed the powerlines, and I prefer the “don’t ask, just do” approach that was taken to an endless barage of community mailers, meetings and notices.
  • Speaking of endless meetings, the Seattle “process” even made the New York Times in their write-up of Link’s opening.
  • In order for Sounder to be extended southward from Downtown Tacoma to Lakewood, new tracks need to be built. The choosen path has an incline from D to M street, and the grade needs to be slowly elevated in that area. Many in Tacoma are not happy with the proposal for an “earthen berm” construction that they say would be akin to a wall in the neighborhood and be a potential barrier to future re-development in that area. Others just want Sound Transit to get on with it already.
  • Here’s WSDOT’s report on SR 167 HOT lanes. Apparently some 30,000 single occupancy drivers paid a fee to drive in the HOV lanes in the project’s first year, with an average of 1,710 drivers per weekday in April. The first number seems huge, while the second seems incredibly low to me. Still, the program had a postive effect on general purpose lane speeds with no apparent negative effect on HOV or transit speeds. (H/T to Erik G.)
  • Some County Councilmembers want to charge Seattle more for the ride free zone Downtown, and Downtown Business leaders are not happy.

More links below the fold.

Continue reading “News Round-Up”

County Exec Roundup

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

King County Executive is by far the most critical position up for election this year from a transit standpoint. The Executive is not only the ultimate authority over Metro, but he or she also appoints representatives to the Sound Transit Board.

Below is my attempt to digest some of the transportation-related positions taken by the four major Democratic King County Executive candidates (Dow Constantine, Larry Phillips, Fred Jarrett, and Ross Hunter) recently, as reported at Publicola, by the P-I’s “Strange Bedfellows“, the Seattle Times endorsement interview, and on the candidates’ own websites.The other front-runner, Susan Hutchison, has fairly vague positions that don’t really fit in the framework below, and I’ve dealt with her ideas in another post.

The first conclusion you reach after viewing all this material is that the four positions are very, very similar.  From this, it’s clear what the next Executive is going to push for with only small areas of uncertainty.

Metro Budget Crisis

The Pro-Transit Case for Governance Reform

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Martin says that governance reform is a bad idea. And it is! I really thought that this issue was settled and done with, but apparently not, as Susan Hutchison is still making noises about it in her run for County Executive.

That said, there is probably a case to be made for some kind of governance reform, just not the kind advocated in the Rice-Stanton report. Rice-Stanton recommends:

  • Giving Sound Transit authority over regional road mega-projects (which ought to be funded by the state and/or tolls), and
  • Creating a 15-member oversight board (which would be stacked with anti-transit folks from Olympia and special-interest electeds, as Martin notes)

A better reform would involve:

  • Keeping road authority where it is
  • Incorporating most (if not all) of the county bus systems (Metro, Pierce, Community, etc.)*
  • Making the board appointed by mayors and/or County Execs in the region

Such a system would be not unlike New York’s MTA or Philly’s SEPTA, which have regional rail responsibility but also handle transit within the city. You’d have to balance the need to serve rural communities with keeping the RTA boundary intact, but it could be made to work.

Of course, such a system would be way too powerful, too pro-transit and too pro-urban to actually get approved in Olympia. Plus, as Martin notes, Sound Transit has work to do… why mess with it? And finally, making the case for reform just adds to the pro-reform noises. I don’t want to be a useful idiot for the other side.

So, onward and upward, Sound Transit!

* Contra Hutchison, Rice-Stanton doesn’t actually recommend integrating transit agencies. It simply suggests further studying the issue.

Meet-up Details


As promised, here are the details.  The meet-up will be in the back area of the Columbia City Ale House this Thursday, August 6.

Importantly, you can take Link there if you’re willing to walk about 4 blocks.  You can also get a discount on their “Light Rail Ale” if you present an Orca Card or Link ticket.  As an added bonus, the restrooms are transit-themeed.

I’ll be there to receive people no later than 6 pm.  We’ll have a guest speaker that should get started by about 7.

If you’re planning to attend, please say so in the comments.  21 and over only, unfortunately.

Why Governance Reform is a bad idea

County Exec candidate Susan Hutchinson (and to a lesser extent Ross Hunter) have made some approving comments about governance reform.  Governance reform refers to a whole class of proposals that involves the merger of various transportation agencies to introduce operating efficiencies.  The most well-known of these is the Rice/Stanton proposal, which would have created a transportation super-agency responsible for roads and transit in a four county area  (King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap).  The 15-member board would be a mixture of directly elected members and the Governor’s appointees.  This proposal, and others like it, is a terrible idea.

For clarity, I’ll focus on the Rice/Stanton proposal, but many of these arguments apply to other reorganization ideas:

Continue reading “Why Governance Reform is a bad idea”

Housekeeping Note

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve upgraded the software that runs Orphan Road to try and deal with some spam issues that you may have seen on the site. There are also some anti-spam measures in the registration process. As part of all this, I’ve been deleting hundreds of spam user registrations that have shown up in the last month. I’m trying very hard to not delete “real” people, but in the unlikely event that I delete your account, please accept my sincerest apologies in advance.

Oh, and bloggers should have an easier time uploading images to the blog. Let me know how that works.

Sunday Open Thread

"KBFI US NAVY Blue Angels", by wings777

I rode Link to Othello yesterday for a quick look at people riding to and from Seafair. My train was well used with lots of people and bikes. Then I went to Alki for some fish-and-chips. I had to go back downtown and catch a bus. It made me wish there were better east-west connections.

In a totally unrelated note, South Seattle hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, the same guys who brought us our official theme song “Joe Metro”, have a short video featuring Link light rail. The video has their DJ Sabzi riding Link on opening weekend (sorry, I’m having trouble embedding it). At the end of the video he announces a new partnership with Duck Down Records and Caffe Vita for their upcoming projects. I hope to see another video or song featuring Seattle’s newest form of transit in the future.

This is an open thread.

Getting the 520 Band Back Together

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The P-I’s Scott Gutierrez reports that the working group who will figure out how to finance and build the new SR 520 floating bridge will meet this week.

This seems like as good a time as any to revisit the three options (A, K and L) still under consideration. Helpfully, WSDOT has posted fly-through simulations of each.

First, in this corner, clocking in at a svelte $4.8 billion, is Option A:

Next, topping the scales at a whopping $6.7 billion, is Option K:

And finally, playing the role of “just right” Goldilox at $5.1 billion, is Option L:

You can read about the differences here.