Future of Seattle Ferries

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ferry TerminalApropos of nothing, let’s consider how car ferries impact Seattle’s waterfront.  Even in a car-based world it makes little sense to put such a large source of cars right in the middle of the city.  In such a world it’s a bit of a stretch to think of a far-west sider driving on to a ferry to drive and park in Seattle.  But Seattle is quickly changing into a foot-based city, which brings this situation from inefficient to absurd.

How many car-ferry based trips either start or end in the city?  I’d guess very few.  This means cars get off in Seattle and drive through city streets to get to freeways.  That’s not efficient for the cars, and certainly isn’t efficient or attractive for either the pedestrians or the drivers on our streets.

Imagine for a minute our new transformed, viaductless waterfront.  The one choke point and large waste of space I can see is the ferry terminal.  Imagine if instead of a vast stretch of parking lot we had a boardwalk space similar to San Francisco’s Pier 39 with tiny retail stores, restaurants, and common areas for entertainment and picknicking.

We’d keep ferries coming and going of course, they’d just be foot ferries – far less expensive to maintain and run.  We’d also keep a path open for car ferries by running more to West Seattle and Edmonds, or pick somewhere else out of the way.

Vehicle License Fee Back from the Dead

Although the standalone bill that would add authority for a $20 license fee in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties died in the House last month, Publicola reports that the same provision has been proposed as an amendment to SB 6774, an otherwise boring bill about Transportation Benefit District governance:

The amendments—sponsored by Reps. Scott White (D-46) and Sharon Nelson (D-34) for King County and Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) for Pierce and Snohomish—would grant the three county councils the authority to either pass a $20 vehicle-license fee to pay for transit, or to put a license fee of up to $100 before voters for the same purpose. (They could also impose a $20 license fee and put a measure on the ballot, but the ballot proposal would be limited to $80).

My math says a $40 fee alone would solve Metro’s funding problems, or a $30 fee plus a removal of sales tax exemptions similar to the House plan.  However, if I read it correctly this authority would expire in 2015.

Erica says Republicans are hoping for a floor vote to identify who supports the amendments, which have not yet passed.  Someone should tell them that avoiding drastic transit cuts beats doing nothing 3-to-1, even in off-year special elections in relatively conservative districts.

UPDATE: TCC has an email your legislator page for this amendment.

State Revenue Proposals may Help Transit


Both the House and Senate in Olympia have released details of their revenue plans.  As we’ve noted before, to the extent that these eliminate sales tax exemptions, they will also slightly increase revenue at local transit agencies, all of which rely on sales tax for a large chunk of their revenue.

The House proposal (thanks Publicola) contains, by my count, $458m in new sales tax revenue from repealed exemptions in the 2011-2013 biennium.  Our Metro revenue predict-o-tron tells us that that amounts to about $12.5m a year for King County Metro, or about 100,000 service hours.   That’s about a quarter of the budget hole Metro faces in that period.  For Community Transit, it’s about $2m, not enough to restart Sunday service, but enough to buy back about a third of the weekday cuts.

The Senate budget is presented in a way that makes it much harder to figure out what’s sales tax, but my count (see this) says that there’s about $180m for the state over two years, or $5m a year for Metro.  An email to Sen. Murray to clarify the numbers did not generate a response in time for this post.  Anyone who knows more about the taxes mentioned here is welcome to correct the record on this.

Light Rail Measure Planned for 2011

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced this morning that a light rail ballot measure will come next year, in November, 2011.  Publicola reports:

At the press conference this morning where he answered questions about the seawall proposal he sent to the City Council this morning, Mayor Mike McGinn also revealed that he has no intention of trying to put light rail expansion on this November’s ballot.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that we will propose light rail expansion this year,” McGinn said. “I think we will move forward in 2011″ instead.

His announcement comes just over a month after the Mayor polled the possibility of putting a light rail on the ballot this November. While it’d be exciting to have a ballot measure this year, we’ve editorialized that any proposal should be planned carefully — which would’ve been hard to do in just a few months.

McGinn ran on the promise of delivering a light rail ballot measure within two years of his election. Past comments have suggested he would pursue a plan to deliver rail to the west side of the city.

Bellevue City Council Deadlocked Again

Greenbaum Home Furnishings, the site of a proposed B7 Wilburton P&R, would be condemned. Image from Google Streetview.

For those who expected the Bellevue city council to finally come to consensus on a ‘B’ segment decision last night, it didn’t happen.  The large expectations were that the council was to pick up on a vote, where it left off last Monday. From internal sources, rumor was that Mayor Davidson was intending to do just that until the word reached his ear about the damage a vote could do to choosing a tunnel for the ‘C’ segment.  This was further coupled with a mass of discontent from B3 supporters.  Either way, progress was limited yet again in last night’s study session.

A recap of the meeting is below the jump.

Continue reading “Bellevue City Council Deadlocked Again”

News Roundup: SR-520 and Life Between Buildings

Reminder: Bellevue’s B7 Vote Could be Tonight

A Mercer Slough flyer from years ago. Image from HistoryLink.org.

Remember that tonight is the night to show up in favor of your favorite East Link alignment:

The Bellevue City Council could make a very bad decision Monday night tonight, choosing to change its preferred alignment from the superior B3 alignment to the environmentally-questionable B7 alignment that skips the South Bellevue Park & Ride, instantly losing thousands of daily riders for East Link…

WHAT: Bellevue City Council meeting to discuss the light rail alignment in South Bellevue
WHEN: Monday March 1 at 6:00pm. Public comments are taken at the beginning.
WHERE: Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave. NE (one block from the Bellevue Transit Center)

Proposed Changes to Routes 903, 910, 919

click to enlarge

Metro is proposing a change to Route 903 that both shortens the route and provides new service to the Federal Way City Hall and Federal Way Community Center.

New Route 910 (map at right) would connect the Auburn Supermall and a bunch of other stuff  to the Sounder Station.  Service would be hourly during business hours only.

The new route would also suggest a revision of Route 919 to eliminate overlaps, basically eliminating a large dial-a-ride service area in exchange for regular service on the 910 (current service map here).

The latter two changes are part of continuing Transit Now service improvements, part of a service partnership agreement with the City of Auburn.  You’ve already missed the open house (thanks for the heads-up, Metro!) but you can fill out a survey (on the 903 or the 910 and 919) or email comments on any of the three changes to mary.coltrane@kingcounty.gov until Friday, March 5th.

Driving is Subsidized

"I-5 Ship Canal Bridge Under Construction, 1960" (wikimedia)

I feel like I’m supposed to be outraged at Mike Lindblom’s blog post about relative subsidy to transit and roads, but I actually feel like doing a victory lap.  The anti-transit Washington Policy Center published a brief report claiming that state and local governments are subsidizing transit more than roads.  As we know, a frequent conceit of self-described libertarians is that mass transit is a centrally-planned disaster while highways and sprawl are a free-market outcome.  Here the WPC concedes that’s not the case.

Mr. Lindblom quibbles with the numbers a bit, and indeed the WPC and I could argue indefinitely about state and federal funding, past vs. current subsidy, capital vs. operating funds, regulatory advantages for roads, and in particular the sales tax exemption for gasoline, worth about $700m annually statewide.  Diehards will argue that the things actually in the report are “user fees”, but most of these other things clearly aren’t.

However, I don’t see why that argument is all that important, because the study doesn’t present any rationale for why transit and road subsidies should be equivalent, much less proportional to the current number of trips.  The WPC and I would probably agree that the more you subsidize something, the more you get of it.  The question for the WPC is, considering the externalities, would we rather spend subsidy dollars to have more people on transit or more people driving their cars?