Could ST2 Benefit from Federal Loan?

Los Angeles is asking for a federal loan as an advance on its transit tax revenues, in a plan that would take a 30-year rollout of transit projects to just a 10-year schedule that saves money in the process. Would a plan like that work for Sound Transit 2’s regional light rail expansion? Publicola reports that it just might:

This week, Bill LaBorde, policy director with Transportation Choices Coalition (a mass transit advocacy group), is in Washington, D.C. meeting with staff from Reps. Jim McDermott’s and Norm Dicks’ offices and Sen. Patty Murray’s office to make the pitch. (LaBorde was also planning on dropping in on Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith.)

Sound Transit has not reviewed or put their official stamp of approval on TCC’s play for a light rail cash infusion from the feds to speed up construction, but LaBorde says Sound Transit told him that lacking cash flow is a factor in the elongated timeline.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick tells PubliCola “more money sooner is better … there are [Sound Transit] projects that could probably move faster if there was money sooner.”

However, he said Sound Transit would need to look at the details of any plan before signing off on it.

With a relatively tight schedule already, we could probably save just a few years with a federal loan, and we’ve already heard from sources at Sound Transit that experienced project managers are hard to find. But a loan of some kind may simply be needed to keep ST2 on schedule, as the “conservative” part of ST’s revenue forecasts have largely been eaten up by the deep recession well before most design work has even began.

And building sooner has some benefits…

This post continues after the jump…

Continue reading “Could ST2 Benefit from Federal Loan?”

Haugen and Clibborn Oppose USDOT, Transit Agencies On Private Provider Requirement

Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen and House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn have sent a letter to the Governor (PDF) requesting Gregoire not veto the private provider provision we’ve covered before.

The letter’s points are nonsensical, and fail to address or even acknowledge any of the concerns raised in opposing letters from USDOT (PDF) and all of our local transit agencies (docx).

The chairs claim, for instance, that local jurisdictions have “always resisted even an evaluation of the benefits of sharing these restricted facilities” – when several of these agreements have been adopted already, such as shared use of Overlake Transit Center. Interestingly, we’ve heard that the provisions here in the budget may even conflict with existing state law regarding agreements with private providers – the budget does not amend the existing statute, but instead creates conflicting guidance for transit agencies.

As we covered before, the language in this amendment would tie any WSDOT funding for transit to that agency opening their facilities to private operators.

We’ve heard Starline Luxury Coaches may be involved here – they’re smarting from the Obama Administration removing the public transit restriction for game service, and they’ve weighed in on that issue heavily, and were involved in creating the original Bush rule.

When voters approved local transit projects, they didn’t agree to taxes to subsidize private motorcoaches.

Two-Way Broadway Cross Sections

As reported last week SDOT has recommended, and the council and Mayor seam to agree, that building the streetcar entirely on Broadway is the best solution. The next major decision that must be made is the street configuration. Currently the city is looking at three alternatives.

  • 4-Lane: two travel lanes in each direction, shared outside lanes with bicyclist, 1 parking lane
  • 3-Lane: one travel lane in each direction, center turn lane, bike lanes in each direction, 1 parking lane
  • 2-Lane: one travel lane in each direction, bi-directional cycle track, 2 parking lanes

Its good to see the city looking at a broad range of alternatives, especially the last one. The first one treats Broadway like an arterial, essentially as a means to get people somewhere else fast. I assume this alternative is still being looked at as a base alternative because at first blush it would speed up the streetcar. However I’m not convinced this would occur because there is no dedicated left turn lane, and cars will be able to pass the streetcar and then queue in front of it at signals. This could cause situations in which cars that want to make a left turn will pass the streetcar using the right lane and then cut back over. Since no protect left turn phase will be provided these car will have to wait for through traffic and pedestrians to clear the intersection. This waiting will certainly slow down the streetcar.

The second alternative is most similar to the current configuration although it removes parking on one side of this street. It treats bicyclist better however the major emphasis is still on moving through the space. I’d also be a bit worried of people parking on a bike lane, possibly blocking the streetcar, because there won’t be parking on one side of that street.

The final alternative created by the Capitol Hill Community Council envisions a different type of street, one that prioritizes what the community wants, good bicycle facilities and on-street parking. Its good that these interests have been aligned because it creates an alternative that re-defines the purpose of Broadway in a very welcome way. I would hazard a guess that with left turn lanes at specific locations and turn restrictions at other locations the streetcar would probably experience minimal increase in travel time over other alternatives. Traffic modeling that will better flesh this out will be done in June.

A few notes. As Michael Snyder at SeattleLikesBikes points out the, cycletracks are more complex than bike lanes, and all the details need to be figured out for them to work well, especially with a bi-directional cycletrack. Cycletracks on both sides of the street are certainly better but also take up more room, which is why SDOT is looking at the bi-directional design. All this absolutely does not mean that cycletracks aren’t a good solution, they just need to be built where they make sense and thoroughly designed.

Website Problems

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Some of you visiting the site from some browsers may have recently seen malware warnings when you tried to read the blog. I believe I’ve gotten rid of the offending stuff, and I’ll be taking steps down the road to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In the meantime, sorry for the inconvenience.

Re-envisioning Seattle Center

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Unapologetic urbanist Dan Bertolet argues for putting streets in Seattle Center.

Taking out the stadium, as proposed in the Master Plan, is an excellent bold move to start with. But how about something even more radical and counterintuitive: What if we brought the street grid back in?

Not everywhere, but in several strategic locations. And not typical streets, but woonerfs, where pedestrians and cars safely share the street, like they do in Pike Place. When events like Bumbershoot happen, the streets get closed.

Coming from Dan, the article has a nice Nixon-goes-to-China quality about it. And he’s right that Seattle Center sort of needs major surgery.

The comments to Dan’s piece focus on the cars, which of course would be there, but the more interesting idea is that you’d have more commercial development in and around the center. I mean, the wall of galleries and conference rooms are nice and all, but sometimes the place sort of feels like a college campus without the students.

Right now Seattle Center’s neither here nor there: it’s not a big enough park to take a walk and get lost in, and it’s not connected enough to the surrounding neighborhood to easily walk through. I don’t know that streets are the right answer, but I appreciate the thought.

McGinn Says His Rail is Affordable

This morning, we posted on a Seattle PI report that had city experts hinting that an expensive light rail expansion couldn’t be funded with city sources alone. Mayor McGinn responded today at a press brown bag event, saying that he plans to build an affordable line.

Publicola has the word:

“We are going to try to minimize the amount of expensive infrastructure” associated with rail construction, McGinn said, mostly by building rail on the surface on existing city streets. That, obviously, would mean taking out lanes of traffic—a move that caused major political problems for the now-defunct monorail, whose concrete pylons would have taken out traffic lanes in West Seattle, Ballard, and downtown.

McGinn said he isn’t worried about the political implications of removing traffic lanes. And he declined to commit to a specific light-rail route, saying, “We’re not starting with lines on a map.” He noted, however, that 15th Avenue NW—where the monorail was supposed to run—would be “an obvious corridor” to get to Ballard.

No follow-up today on the comments from McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa, who told the PI that the mayor “hasn’t gotten to the point of studying how [light rail] might happen, and whether it would go to a vote, or what the funding source would be.” It seems to us on the outside that the city should begin studying possible routes now if a vote is on the table for next year, as McGinn promised during his campaign. We’ve sent a message to mayor’s office to clarify.

News Roundup: $19.5 Billion from the General Fund

"Coming up to the Station," by flickr user natfoot.

This is an open thread.

Lowrise Multifamily Code Update

Seattle Channel - PLUNC Committee
Seattle Channel - PLUNC Committee

Last weekend Sally Clark, chair of the Planning and Land Use Neighborhood Committee (PLUNC), held a meeting about the future of the Lowrise development codes (L1, L2, L3, L4) in the city of Seattle (see zoning map here). This is the second half of a  large code update, with Highrise and Midrise development codes already approved by the city council at the end of last year. In many ways those update were less controversial than the Lowrise codes, and in some way less important. Ten percent of Seattle is zoned as one of the Lowerise zones, and these areas are where a majority of population growth in the city will occur. Additionally, ugly and dysfunctional townhouses are often the rallying cries of NIMBY.

In general the thrust of the update is to move away from prescriptive codes that create cookie cutter builds to a more flexible code and administrative review procress that gets us what we want; attractive, context sensitive, affordable, and sustainable housing. The issues related to this are complex and I really don’t have the knowledge or time to fully dive into them, but the resources below will give you decent understanding of the issue.

High quality and affordable housing is critical to what this blog advocates for and this update certainly is a step in the right direction. There will be more meeting on this topic where you can give public comment on March 25th and April 2nd.

Viaduct, Other Debt Could Wrench McGinn’s Rail “Plan”

Legal constraints on city indebtness. Image from the PI.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn plans to bring a light rail measure to the ballot next year, but can the city afford it? According to the the city’s analysis, perhaps not. The PI reports that the city may be unable to create enough debt to finance an expensive light rail expansion:

The city has about $1 billion in unfunded capital needs outside the viaduct project. The city’s central staff analysts told the city council Monday that a large transit project such as light rail that costs between $1.5 and $2 billion would blow the debt limit, or at least wipe out room for anything else.


Noble said a Seattle light rail line possibly could be paid for through Sound Transit’s taxing authority or a Transportation Benefits District, under which the city could impose a sales tax increase or vehicle licensing fee. It would require voter approval and have to generate about $200 million per year, he said after Monday’s meeting.

Another potential problem is that the City Council is considering a Transportation Benefits District to help pay for viaduct-related costs.

Of course, if the light rail plan McGinn proposes is on the cheap (as McGinn hinted in the campaign, with allusions to Portland’s at-grade Max light rail) or if the city raises its relatively conservative debt limit, things could be different. It’s important to note that McGinn may need state legislation to help with this process, another risk toward passing a plan. But what kind of plan will McGinn be offering? From the report:

“He hasn’t gotten to the point of studying how that might happen, and whether it would go to a vote, or what the funding source would be,” McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said. “At this point, it’s just something to be discussed.”

Which, if true, is a discouraging sign. A rail plan being presented to voters in November 2011 should be in planning stages right now as to have the details by this time next year. We hope the Mayor’s office is playing coy here. For what it’s worth, the basic structure floating around town is Link-style light rail to West Seattle that connects at SoDo and a SLUT extension to Fremont and Ballard.

Bellevue City Council Sends Letter Supporting C9T

The Seattle PI reports on the outcome of last night’s meeting:

The council voted 7-0 to send a letter to Sound Transit in support of the “C9T” option, which would tunnel beneath 110th Avenue Northeast before emerging at Northeast Sixth Street and jutting east to cross I-405 to a station at Overlake Hospital.

It appears the city council has plans to cover some of the additional costs associated with the tunnel option, which is about $285 million more expensive than Sound Transit budgeted for its preferred alternative — an at-grade couplet along 108th Avenue Northeast and 110th Avenue Northeast. The excess costs must be covered by the city.

There is still a funding gap which the city hasn’t identified how to fill, but is probably hoping Sound Transit brings some clever ideas to the table. In an open letter last month, we asked Sound Transit to consider putting Eastside commuter rail funds unlikely to be utilized toward East Link. That money is currently earmarked for I-405 bus service expansion, but many would agree that serving downtown Bellevue should be ST’s primary concern on the Eastside.

Metro Releases Sounders and Mariners Service Schedule


On the heels of newly announced special Sounder service to soccer and baseball games, Metro announced this year’s schedule of special buses from (and in some cases, to) Sounders and Mariners games:

  • to and from all weekend Sounder games from Northgate, South Kirkland, and Eastgate.
  • to and from all weekend Mariner games from Northgate, South Kirkland, South Bellevue, and Eastgate.
  • From all weeknight Mariner games to the same four locations.

In all cases the trip will cost $5 each way, a rise from $3 a couple of years ago.  This fare is cash only and will be waived only for children under 2.

Unlike the Sounder service, whatever costs are not recovered by fares will be covered by the teams, which might explain their draconian structure.  It would appear that Link and Sounder are now covering the old downtown postgame shuttle and trips to points South

In any case remember that we have Senator Patty Murray to thank for lifting the ridiculous Bush-era provision that banned this kind of arrangement.

Transportation Benefit Districts are Back From The Dead!

Marko Liias’ HB 2855 is back in the special session! It’s been modified, though, so it would offer King, Pierce or Snohomish the opportunity for up to a $50 vehicle license fee with a public vote. Martin’s noted in the past that $40 would be enough to patch up Metro’s budget hole, and it’s certainly a good start for Pierce or Community Transit.

This bill will likely be on the floor today, and this is probably your last chance to take action during the session. If you want Sunday service back in Snohomish County, there are two things you can do (as usual) – call your own legislator, especially your representative, and call Speaker Chopp’s office to ask for a vote. (Bryan’s pointed out the District Finder)

Remember, every time your legislator hears that you care about this, even if they’ve already heard once or twice before, they’re reminded that people care about transit. We’re going to remind them of that all year!

February 2010 Link Ridership Numbers

from the Flickr Pool

February Link ridership numbers increased slightly over January’s average to 16,741 boardings each weekday, 13,744 on Saturdays, and 12,076 on Sundays. That actually beats out the record for weekdays, set in October, of 16,192.  The weekend records were set in the July opener and are unreachable for the foreseeable future.

Prediction and analysis on this subject are fraught with peril, but the major change in February was elimination of the 194 as part of a reorganization of Southwest King County service that also greatly improved bus access to TIB and Seatac stations.

These always turn into really long comment threads, but recall that we have a basically incomplete data set, Link’s most important promises won’t be realized for decades, and these numbers are neither so astoundingly high nor abominably low that anyone on the either side is likely to be convinced to change their opinion on the project as a whole.

For obsessives, the raw data is here.

SDOT: Two-Way Broadway for First Hill Streetcar

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway
SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway

Seattle’s Department of Transportation has recommended the Two-Way Broadway alignment for the First Hill Streetcar. The recommendation was given in a presentation to the interested parties Wednesday night, according to Richard Sheridan from the department. The recommendation was first reported by Central District News; an impressive scoop.

The park loop initially proposed, which would have had the streetcar route encircle Cal Anderson Park, was dropped because it “didn’t have a lot of advantages” and was “creating more concerns” than keeping the route on Broadway north of Union, according to Ethane Melone, who headed the recommendation process for SDOT.

The Two-Way Broadway alignment performed the best on most metrics the city measured; perhaps most importantly in this climate, it is expected to be the most frugal option. SDOT’s presentation also covered the cost of perhaps extending the Broadway line north from its planned terminus at John St north to Aloha: just $20 million, but some money would be needed to fund the design of the extension in the short term to make the exention “shovel-ready.”

“If that extension were funded by the early part of 2012,” Melone said, “it could be added to the construction contract, and completed at the same time or shortly thereafter.” He also noted that the quarter-mile extension could be completed “in a matter of months” regardless of when it’s funded. Mayor McGinn’s light rail package that will be sent to voters sometime next year could well include funding for an extension.

The exact configuration on Broadway is to-be-determined. The city will be looking at a proposal from the Capitol Hill Community Council for a two-way “cycle track” that is separated from traffic. A cycle-track would have little impact on parking, Melone said, but would require removing the center-turn lane from Broadway.

Some neighborhood groups are likely to be disappointed by the recommendation after heavy lobbying for a 12th Ave Couplet alignment, which this blog editorialized against. Melone told us that the stations being separated by distance and grade could have made the line “less intuitive” to ride and create “a perception of inconvenience.” First Hill hospitals hoping for alignments that pass closer to hospital entrances were probably expecting this decision after earlier analysis concluded their favored alignments were much more expensive than other alternatives.

SDOT made its recommendation to Mayor McGinn, who will in turn make a recommendation to the City Council, who has the final say. CHS reports that the mayor has said he’s leaning toward the Broadway alignment.

Once More, For Old Times’ Sake?

Last year, the Governor vetoed Transportation Benefit District authority for transit agencies. As she clearly really likes that line-item veto power, we’d like to ask her to do it again – to veto the “private provider” language in SB 6381, currently headed to her desk.

Wednesday morning, Rep. Marko Liias asked his colleagues to sign on to a letter to urge the governor to veto this provision. Essentially, it’s turning out that the provision would affect more grants than originally intended, would violate federal regulations, and could potentially apply to the downtown tunnel – in addition to other issues.

I think a lot of us have already called the Governor’s office (maybe more than once) to ask that she veto this portion of the bill. Thanks to Rep. Liias, there’s a new way we can help – call your Senators and Representatives in Olympia and ask them to sign on to Liias’ letter!

Additionally – Seattle legislators, I’m looking at you. Your constituents more than any others depend on transit facilities, and impacting those could be very damaging to those constituents’ ability to get to work.

PT Tomorrow Details Released

Photo by DWHonan

I wasn’t looking forward to breaking down Pierce Transit’s new system concept and route-by-route planning pages because I don’t know the system all that well.  Fortunately, Tacoma Tomorrow has wall-to-wall coverage of developments there.

Chris and Evan wrote up a summary of planned route changes, a roundup of public feedback, and an in-depth look at PT Route 4.

And while you’re at it, check out this writeup of Tacoma Link extension options.

A Peek at the Other Two East Link Stations

I-90/Rainier Avenue Link Station (from the Central District News)

In light of Bellevue routing and whatnot, East Link’s first two stations outbound from International District Station have been somewhat of an anomaly, at least up until now.  The Central District News has some new information about the I-90/Rainier Ave. Station, which is currently a freeway stop.  There will be platform entrances from 23rd Avenue on top of the Mt. Baker tunnel entrance, as well as an entry ramp to the Rainier Avenue bus stops below I-90. More below the jump.

Continue reading “A Peek at the Other Two East Link Stations”