UW Looking For Alternative U-Pass Funding Models


In our news roundup yesterday, we noted that ASUW (UW’s student government) would be hosting a forum today to discuss the endangered U-Pass.  The discussion will take place in Room 310 of the Husky Union Building on UW campus from 4pm to 5pm.  With severe budget cutbacks at the University, the current funding model is unsustainable.  The U-Pass is heavily subsidized, costing students $99 and faculty/staff $120 per quarter.  According to ASUW, 11.5 million trips are taken with the U-Pass annually.

In recent years, more and more people chose to use U-PASS and fewer and fewer chose to drive, making it impossible to grow the revenue from parking proportional to the new program costs. In addition, financial distress among local transit agencies has led to increases in the cost per transit trip, and a new tax on parking has decreased the amount of parking revenue available to fund U-PASS. If we do not find an alternative funding model, the U-PASS program – which provides the UW community with affordable, convenient, and safe transportation options – will cease to exist in its present form.

UW students can take a survey (log-in required) to address comments and thoughts on a few new funding alternatives.  Read about the alternatives below the jump.

Continue reading “UW Looking For Alternative U-Pass Funding Models”

McGinn Threatens Veto of Tunnel Measure


He’s unhappy about the notorious provision saddling Seattle with the cost overruns, although his veto isn’t likely to matter:

The city plans to co-sign a request for proposals for tunnel construction with the state at the end of May. A previous memorandum of understanding with the state passed the city council unanimously; unless McGinn manages to convince four council members to change their positions, that’s a veto-proof vote.

The overrun issue is a big one, as it could further eat into the taxing authority McGinn is trying to gather for the seawall and other transportation improvements.   Some tunnel supporters claim that the overrun provisions are unenforceable; some legislators insist the opposite. I don’t know the law in this case but I know that someone is the sucker here.

Other differences we perceive between DBT and 520 here.

News Roundup: Over 400 Homes

RapidRide Interior, by Oran

This is an open thread.

WTA Tax Increase Loses


This Bellingham Herald article indicates that the Whatcom Transit Authority sales tax increase has been defeated.  The measure would have increased the rate from 0.6% to 0.8%* and avoided drastic service cuts.  Election results here.

Discussion on what cuts to make have already begun, as discussed further in the article. A 14% cut is needed, and the question, as ever, is whether to eliminate Sunday service or make deeper cuts to weekdays and Saturdays.  There are significant city/suburb valences in this debate.

TCC has more.  The Herald’s Traffic blog has an absurd amount of vote analysis.

* The State maximum is 0.9%

Some Like it HOT…

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

… but apparently not as many as WSDOT predicted:

At the outset, officials expected 5,000 of state Route 167’s daily 120,000 drivers to move over to the HOT lanes by their second or third year of operation. Two years in, it’s at less than half of that total.

Still, the money raised by the tolls has steadily increased. Drivers took more than 47,000 tolled trips on state Route 167 in March, the most ever and 25 percent more than the same month last year.

At an average of 84 cents a trip, they added nearly $40,000 to state revenues that month.

But running the all-electronic tolling program costs the state about $97,600 a month.

Obviously it would be nice if the lanes were profitable, and it would be doubly nice if that profit were plowed back into transit improvements. But even if it’s losing money, it might still be worth the investment if it were speeding up travel times for the rest of the commuters. So far, though, the results on that score are murky at best.

WSDOT may be about to find out what those of us in the web content business found out a long time ago: there’s a huge psychological difference between “free” and “a tiny amount of money.” Even if its “rational” from a cost-benefit point of view to use the lanes, the idea of paying for certain things (like news, music, or movies on the web) just rubs people the wrong way.

Reinventing Seattle’s Waterfront: Lessons from Boston

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Anyone working on designing the post-viaduct waterfront should have this Boston Globe article stapled to their desk. The Rose Kennedy Greenway was built over the “big dig.”

The Greenway, by contrast, is placeless desert. It’s a series of oversize shapeless spaces, none of which seems to have a purpose. Some are paved with stone, some with concrete, some have trees, some have flowers. It all feels random. It doesn’t look as if it’s been shaped by a creative mind. There are things to look at but nothing to do.

Only twice did I feel I was in anything I’d define as a memorable place. One was a lovely circle of budding trees around a sculpture, opposite Rowes Wharf. The other was a curving space in Chinatown, with a sense of enclosure and a respite from bigness.

As for the rest, it’s as if we had decided, when we tore down the overhead green-painted Central Artery, that we would memorialize it on the ground. We’d make another big green disruption through the heart of the city.

Here’s the initial rendering for the post-viaduct downtown waterfront:


I realize that all that pink is planner-speak for “TBD,” but still, it seems all too easy to replicate Boston’s mistake here at the other end of I-90.

Top photo of the Rose Kennedy Greenway

Metro Rider Communication Minus

Less than 24 hours after I say wonderful things about trends in Metro’s rider communications, alert commenter aw proves me wrong:

**UPDATE: Due to lower than expected ridership, Seattle Sounders FC and Metro have announced  that beginning May 1 special shuttle service to Sounders games from Northgate Transit Center, South Kirkland Park & Ride and Eastgate Park & Ride will no longer be provided.  However, extra coaches will be added to accommodate Sounders fans attending games at Qwest Field on regular Metro routes during periods of heavy ridership.**

As aw points out, this information exists solely as an update to the original March 29th press release.  There is no separate announcement, and Jeff Welch observes advertisements for the service are still posted in some buses.

I have no trouble believing ridership was lousy.  That said, bailing on this experiment after two games seems awfully premature.  According to Metro, it was the Sounders that made the call to cancel.  As sports teams are expected to make Metro’s participation cost-neutral I’d speculate fares fell short of the plan and the club didn’t want to make up the difference.

Musing about SR-520

Montlake Area

Everything with SR-520 has been moving at a fast clip over the last few months and for the first time it seems like consensus is starting to build around a single design. To me this consensus is emerging because city leaders have finally asserted themselves and WSDOT and state leaders are finally making meaningful changes (but not necessary concessions) that are good for neighbors, transit, and non-motorized users.

The Seattle City Council and Mayor have taken a very active role in this project since the last election. In April the Council laid out what needed to change and last week’s revised design in some ways goes beyond what the Council asked for. To his credit, most of what the Council asked for was discussed in the Nelson/Nygaard Project Enhancement Report McGinn commissioned. While the city has been engaged for many years it feels likeit has only recently taken a proactive role. More below the jump. Continue reading “Musing about SR-520”

Capitol Hill Streetcar Campaign Kickoff Party

Hot on the heels of the City Council approving the First Hill Streetcar line, the Capitol Hill Community Council’s Complete Streetcar Campaign (a group I’ve personally been involved with) is holding a kickoff party Tuesday evening to gather support and spread the word about efforts to extend the line further north and re-envision the Broadway streetscape.

The event is Tuesday, May 4th from 6:30pm to 10:00pm at Sole Repair (1001 E Pike St) on Capitol Hill. Free food is being provided by area businesses.

More information is available on Facebook. See you there!

Seattle City Council Approves First Hill Streetcar

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway
The First Hill Streetcar alignment.

The Seattle City Council today unanimously voted to approve the First Hill Streetcar.

The decision follows months of public outreach, which included strong lobbying from various coalitions seeking to put the alignment on 12th Ave or closer to the hospitals south of Union St. In the end, a two-way Broadway alignment was picked by Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT). The mayor forwarded SDOT’s recommendation to the council.

The resolution is the same as the one passed last week by the council’s transportation committee. In it, the First Hill Streetcar will begin construction next year and start operations in late 2013. That is three years ahead of the original schedule in the Sound Transit 2 plan.

The Sound Transit Board must approve the plan before funding is released, but that is expected to be a formality. A more controversial board vote will center around an extension the city wants sooner than later.

The resolution calls an option contained in the inter-local agreement between Sound Transit and the city, which allows the city to propose an extension north of the Capitol Hill light rail station. The resolution direct SDOT to seek funding sources for an extension north to Aloha, which would serve more of the vibrant Broadway shopping and restaurant district. If preliminary engineering were completed on the extension — which SDOT has told us would cost around $20 million to fully construct — then Seattle could receive regional, state, or federal grants to fund the extension. Preliminary engineering would cost less than $1 million, and SDOT is expected to ask Sound Transit for the ability to fund that engineering from the streetcar fund.

Sound Transit staff — on background — do not support that move, even though the First Hill Streetcar is currently $6 million under budget including the contingency. Sound Transit is worried about its ability to fund its capital projects given the dire revenue situation for the Sound Transit 2 plan that went before voters in 2008. That plan is the funding source for the First Hill Streetcar.

Breaking Down the Case Against Kemper Freeman

Kemper Freeman's Bellevue Collection, photo by raggiesoft

The Seattle Times had an article out in the last Sunday Times profiling the life of Kemper Freeman and his lawsuit against using the I-90 lanes for light rail.  We’ve written so many times on Freeman’s anti-rail positions that I’ve lost count and am frankly weary every time his name comes up in the same sentence as ‘light rail.’  However, I couldn’t possibly pass up the ability to explain in full why most transit advocates have found extraordinary distaste with Freeman’s ideology toward transportation and why he’s simply wrong on many matters about rail.

It’s important to begin by saying nothing about Freeman’s virtues or moral character.  Whether he is a good man or not is beyond this argument.  The truth remains that a large share of Eastsiders admire him and show it by flocking to his malls and restaurants.  Some have labeled him racist— whether he is or not, I really don’t care.  In all honesty, he probably gets a good chuckle out of it.  Narrowing our attention on that only detracts from the real arguments on why his views on transportation are questionable.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Breaking Down the Case Against Kemper Freeman”

SR-520 High Capacity Transit Plan

SR-520 HTC Plan

We have talked a lot about transit across SR-520 over the last few months, but I don’t think we have ever mentioned what the adopted plan for the corridor is. The plan calls for increased bus service during SR-520 construction with BRT service phased in afterwards. The plan also touches on the Montlake Triangle and light rail over SR-520. Both of these sections are somewhat redundant, as imminent planning or recent studies cover these issues in more detail.

Five BRT lines (see map above) would have two-ways service with 7- to 10-minute headways during peak periods, 15-minute headways mid-day, and 15- to 30-minutes headways in the evenings. Under this plan the 255 and 271 become BRT routes. The plan says that $16.5 million per year (in 2008 dollars) will be needed to fully fund the additional 130,000 service hours identified in the plan. I believe that 38,000 to 48,000 service hours have already been funded through ST2 and the ferry district tax, but money for another ~90,000 service hours is needed. This lack of identified funding sources is in my opinion one of the largest unaddressed issues for transit in the SR-520 planning. A funding plan (supported by toll money?) has to be written in stone or else I have very little confidence that the hostile state leadership will allow or authorize more funding.

Senate Earmark Requests for Metro, ST, Others

Sen. Maria Cantwell (wikimedia)

Larry Ehl’s exceptional WSDOT Federal Tlansportation Issues blog explains that the earmark requests of Senators Cantwell and Murray are now online.   Earmarks are funds attached to specific projects, rather than sent to agencies like USDOT to apply a formula.  Publishing them online is one recent reform of this system.  The request is the first step and is a long way from the item being funded.

At any rate, both lists are very heavy on transportation, and there are dozens of transit-related requests in each. If you’re interested in a particular county’s system, check out the lists.  The most interesting items are, by my count, $28.3m for RapidRide and $3m for the S. 200th St Link extension, which would take us part of the way to opening it in 2014 instead of 2020.

People always ask how new money will affect RapidRide.  Some federal contribution is already figured in to the budget, but Metro is “hopeful that we may end up securing slightly more grant money than we had originally thought”, according to a spokesperson.  Of course, RapidRide is just a line item in the Metro budget, so additional cash could divert current capital funds to either make improvements to the lines (e.g., more ticket machines) or simply be used to prevent looming cuts elsewhere in the system.

Some other items of particular interest are below the jump:

Continue reading “Senate Earmark Requests for Metro, ST, Others”