Union Station Turns 100

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Seattle’s Union Station, home to a private railway company in its heyday and now Sound Transit headquarters, opened 100 years ago tomorrow. ST, the National Park Service, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square are celebrating:

Please join us for a community open house celebrating the 100th anniversary of Union Station and the launch of “Trail to Treasure”, a historic interpretive trail through Pioneer Square. The celebration will feature walking tours, information about planning efforts affecting the neighborhood, a live brass band and model train exhibit.

News Round-Up: Bike to Work Day

Bike To Work Day
Bike to Work day! Photo by flickr user Earthworm

Microsoft, Boeing, T-Mobile, Bellevue College, Group Health to Bellevue City Council: Stop Arguing With Sound Transit And Build East Link

Signatures

We’ve just received a copy of a letter (PDF) dated today, signed by all these and several others, politely letting Bellevue City Council know that they need to get on with it. They go so far as to say East Link and 520 replacement are “equally critical,” very strong language for a transit project, especially on the eastside.

This is a strong message not only to Bellevue City Council, but also to Kemper Freeman, and the small group attacking light rail construction: Business community leaders and the largest employers on the eastside are all sick of the quixotic attacks on East Link. We need regional mass transit now.

Good show to all those who signed. I hope to see other employers add their voices to this message.

Waterfront Design Meeting Thursday

Waterfront Seattle February 17th Kickoff Event from WaterfrontSeattle on Vimeo.

Tomorrow is the second design meeting for the waterfront project. For those that didn’t make it to the first presentation check out the video above to get up to speed on what was presented at the last event.

At the last meeting the design team asked the public where they want to be on the waterfront and what they want to do on the waterfront, using a dot exercise. They also asked other more open ended questions. Their presentation was interesting, especially when they described the different waterfront segments and the specific context of each segment. I felt this was the most interesting part and in my mind really helped to define the opportunities and challengers of each segment.

Event details below the jump. Continue reading “Waterfront Design Meeting Thursday”

Eyman’s Attack on East Link

I-90 Floating Bridge
Photo by flickr user Jeff Blucher

Goldy at Slog has done some careful reading of I-1125, Tim Eyman’s latest initiative and found this attack on East Link buried in the text:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. State government, the department of transportation, and other agencies may not transfer or use gas-tax- funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways for non-highway purposes.

For background, I-1125 is primarily concerned with tolls and what the state can do with tolling revenue and would mean bad things for both roads and transit. I-1125 would eliminate variable tolling, and prohibit tolls raised on a road to be used for anything but the construction of that road. However, the abpve language is particularly scary for East Link; the new provision would prohibit the state from transfering the I-90 center lanes to Sound Transit for East Link. Goldy noticed Kemper Freemans sizeable donation to the I-1125 campaign and reads between the lines:

Of course, that is a section specifically designed to block the use of I-90’s center lanes for Sound Transit’s East Link light rail crossing. It’s what Freeman’s lawyers argued and lost in court, and it no doubt helped inspire Freeman to donate $25,000 to I-1125, the campaign’s largest contribution to date (if you don’t count the indecipherable transfers from Eyman’s other committee).

It’s scary to think that the voters in the Central Puget sound can approve a transportation system and one man with a strange vendetta against transit can help give voters in the rest of the state the ability to undo that decision. Let’s hope I-1125 doesn’t pass.

Op-Ed: B7-R Couldn’t Connect to a Future Issaquah Line

by JOHN CHELMINIAK

Bellevue Councilman John Chelminiak

One of the most mentioned advantages of East Link’s B7 (cross-slough/BNSF route) is that it provides the guideway for a future connection to the Eastgate Park & Ride and Issaquah.  It’s a common theme at open houses, testimony to government boards, and a favorite talking point of the Build a Better Bellevue crowd, both citizens and Bellevue City Council members alike.  Frankly, it’s one of the few strong arguments for the BNSF route.  Build one guideway and you are ready to go east in the future.

However, the east side of the Mercer Slough is a steep ridge. It starts with 118th Ave SE, goes up to the BNSF ROW, and then climbs in a set of tiers containing the I-90 and I-405 ramps and finally I-405 itself. Standing near the BNSF right of way and looking up, it finally hit me.

You can’t get across from there.

Continue reading “Op-Ed: B7-R Couldn’t Connect to a Future Issaquah Line”

Growth Management and Density

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Recently, I was chatting with a friend who works in government, and the topic of density and growth management came up.  We were discussing whether or not growth management leads to increased home values, and I made a point that I think doesn’t get discussed enough: growth management and density need to go hand-in-hand.  You can maybe have the latter without the former (if, say, you happen to build a city on the edge of a cliff or on a tiny island), but you really can’t have the former without the latter.

For example, why is housing so cheap in Texas?  Well, there are two reasons.  One, the Texas government puts strict restrictions on the size of your mortgage, which limits the rate at which house prices can rise.  That, in turn, limits the amount of money people can afford to spend on real estate.  This might be a problem, except for the other reason: land is cheap and plentiful in Texas, and there’s little or no growth management. So development in Texas tends to spread out until supply reaches an equilibrium with demand.

In Seattle, the state’s Growth Management Act prevents development from spreading out.  In theory, it should just spread up instead – until supply reaches equilibrium with demand – and housing should be nearly as cheap as it is in Texas.*  Obviously this hasn’t happened, for a number of reasons: (a) local regulations, such as minimum parking requirements, increase the cost of building up, (b) federal lending agencies such as the FHA are biased towards detached, single-family housing, and (c) local opposition, such as what we’re now seeing in Pioneer Square and Roosevelt, prevents housing from reaching the level of density needed to achieve the necessary supply-demand balance.  If we had Texas’ strict, paternalistic mortgage laws, then something would have to give here; but we don’t, so we limp along with expensive housing and sub-optimal growth management instead.

While the GMA does theoretically encourage urban growth (“Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner,” reads the law), clearly the carrots and sticks have not been tuned correctly. Perhaps cities have been given too much leeway to define modest density targets.  HB 1490, the Transit-Oriented Communities bill that failed in 2009, would have done a lot to rectify this.  Hopefully a similar bill will pass in the future.  Ideally, this kind of legislation would have been baked into the GMA from the start, since, as I said at the top, growth management and density really do go hand-in-hand.

* perhaps our higher housing costs are inevitable in Seattle given our higher per-capita income, but I suspect that it’s actually the reverse: employers here have to pay more for workers because housing is so expensive.

Transit Hikes: Wallace Falls

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The nice(r) weather of late has definitely left me itching for hikes in the mountains.  I usually go with ZipCar for daytrips or Enterprise for multi-day ventures; after all, cars are at their best when providing for the occasional personal trip to a far-flung place.  But Washington also has an impressive amount of rural transit, much of it imperiled by looming cuts.   So as the weather warms I’ll be starting an occasional STB series, highlighting trailheads and itineraries accessible by transit, usually Saturday dayhikes that one can do without missing any days at work.

Wallace Falls is an impressive 265-foot cascade just northeast of Gold Bar.  A well-trodden trail to the Middle Falls offers dense forest, steep switchbacks, and impressive views, yet it is short enough to do a daytrip from Seattle.  For the weekend warrior, Community Transit Route 271 offers hourly Saturday service from Everett to Gold Bar from 6am-8pm.  With an easy transfer at Everett Station, a Seattle daytripper has plenty of time to make a day of it.  A sample itinerary:

  • Take Sound Transit #510 from 4th & Union to Everett Station, 7:55a-8:36a ($3.00)
  • Transfer to Community Transit #271, 8:55a-10:19a (Free ORCA transfer)
  • Get off at Hwy 2 and 1st Ave, and walk 1.7 miles to the trailhead, following the road signs.
  • Walk another 1.7 miles through the woods to the falls.
  • Take Community Transit #271 6:48p-8:18p
  • Transfer to Sound Transit #510 8:28p-9:12p

For only $6 in transit fare (with ORCA), you get a two-seat ride, perhaps a greasy spoon brunch, a moderate 7-mile walking day, and you’re back in Seattle by 9:15pm.  What’s not to like?

UW U-PASS Cheaper, No Longer Optional

"Waiting by the HUB", by Oran

Faced with escalating fares, the University of Washington has decided to no longer provide an opt-out for the U-PASS program. Escalating charges threatened to decrease the participation rate and trigger further rises:

The universal U-PASS program will replace the current system in which students can opt to return the $99 U-PASS each quarter. Starting in autumn quarter, students will pay a fee of $76 per quarter, and the price will be locked in for two years. Faculty and staff will remain in an optional program.

According to Transportation Services, without instituting the universal U-PASS student fee, the student U-PASS fee would rise to $134.40 in the coming academic year and to $148.16 by the 2012-13 year.

At any of these rates, and especially at $25.33 a month, U-PASS is a tremendous deal for a pass at the maximum fare value compared to the open-market alternatives.

According to UW Transportation Director Josh Kavanagh, capping the fare equivalence of the U-PASS wouldn’t help contain costs. Because not many student trips involve Sounder, the formulas don’t really credit the UW much for such a concession.

The University has accumulated $3m in rebates from transit agencies due to lower student ridership than expected. Kavanagh said this would be held in reserve in case fares kept rising, or future negotiations with agencies turned out unfavorably.

In 2008, UW increased U-PASS prices from $50 to $99 per quarter.

About That Extra $100m for B7R…

In last Friday’s B7 writeup, a post-RSS addendum to the story stated that although the cost of the actual B2M and B7R segments differed by $40m, the choice of B7R incurred an additional $100m of costs in the C (Downtown Bellevue) Segment. Some commenters asked reasonable questions about the data, so I’ve reproduced below table 2-2 from the East Link Supplemental EIS, which is a cost matrix of the various B and C segment choices.

As you can see, the total difference is $140m-$160m. Furthermore,  B7R incurs an additional $9m of costs [Table 2] in the C segment over vanilla B7 in table above, making the total gap between B2M and B7R at least $150m. There are certainly both drawbacks and benefits to a B7R alignment, but the large cost difference is probably a significant argument for Sound Transit’s preference, B2M.

The Bellevue city council is expected to take up this issue tonight with lots of supporters expected from both sides, so tune in or show up if you want to see a show.

Kitsap Bringing Paper Back

KC Metro Transfer (Image by Oran)

On May 17th Kitsap Transit may bring back paper transfers, permanently (see page 98 of this):

Kitsap Transit staff are hereby authorized and directed to make certain changes to the agency’s fare policy, effective July 1, 2011, to permanently reinstate the use of the paper transfer system for one-way travel, as outlined in the revised fare policy attached and incorporated by reference herein as Exhibit D.

The meeting is from 9:30-11:15am at 345 Sixth St. in Bremerton.

I think the current level of ORCA adoption is a miracle given the lack of incentives (and often, disincentives) provided for its use.

H/T: Mike Fisher

Capitol Hill Mobility, Take 2

Photo by Bre Pettis (Flickr – Creative Commons)

Despite our budgetary doldrums, it’s an exciting time to be a Seattle transit advocate.  Regional planning is focusing upon performance analysis and capital investment, and at last it seems possible, through the work of the Regional Transit Task Force and others, that radical changes could come to our bus network.   Last Monday’s record-breaking comment thread on Metro’s proposed revisions/cuts makes one thing clear: there is no shortage of enthusiasm and informed opinion any time big changes are proposed.

Two weeks ago I wrote a detailed yet exploratory post about what should happen to Capitol Hill bus service after U-Link.  My proposal sought to make one fundamental point:  that comprehensively higher frequencies can be wrought simply from existing inefficiencies, a point I believe I made well.  The strength of the comments and subsequent email exchanges with readers, however, made it clear that some of my routing choices were unwise and not fully thought through.  A big hat tip to readers such as Zef Wagner, Brent, über-commenter Bruce, and especially Morgan Wick, whose criticisms and suggestions have been particularly helpful.  Useful objections included:

  • Keeping the 2 on Spring/Seneca is duplicative and goes against Metro’s desire to move it to Marion/Madison.
  • Keeping the 3/4 on James perpetuates unnecessary conflicts with I-5 on-ramps, and Metro has already discussed moving it to Yesler.
  • Having the 11 serve the ferry terminal is an inconvenience and prohibits effective interlining with other routes.
  • My Route 12 idea was defective in a number of areas, but especially the 19th Ave tail.
  • Keep the 14N!
  • You can’t mathematically combine a 15-minute bus and a 10-minute bus and end up with 6-minute combined headways.
  • The 27 is pointlessly close to Jackson, and should be eliminated.

Agreeing with some of these and not others, what follows is a 2nd attempt.

An improved post-ULink proposal after the jump…

Continue reading “Capitol Hill Mobility, Take 2”

P-I: Democrats Wobbly on Transit Funding

Bob Ferguson

Scott Gutierrez, in a must-read, shares some statements that show why King County can’t have nice things. To prevent deep Metro cuts next year, the King County needs either 6 votes and no ballot measure or 5 votes and a vote of the people. No Republican are likely to vote for it, so to even go to the ballot all five Democrats have to stick together.

In that light, uh-oh:

I take the bus to work, the 41 from Northgate. I’m a Metro user on a regular basis. But on the fee, I have an open mind about it. I want to balance the needs of Metro with the tough economy for folks,” said County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who represents areas north of Seattle [sic] and has announced he’ll run for Attorney General next year.

“I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. But I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk. I think that’s fair to say.”

and:

Councilmember Julia Patterson, a Democrat who represents suburban areas around Kent, Seatac and Tukwila, says its chances are unclear. She said it could hinge on how the Regional Transit Committee votes on a new 10-year strategic plan that guides how Metro allocates future bus service.

“People are holding their cards close until they see what happens with the strategic planning process and the elimination of the 40/40/20 rule,” she said. “If the process is fair and everyone agrees with the strategic plan, I think elected officials will be much more inclined to support the (the fee).”

So the emergency transit funding bill might get wrapped up in the subarea politics of getting rid of 40/40/20. And that plan is sitting the Regional Transit Committee, which is composed of both County and municipal officials, and chaired by Reagan Dunn:

Right now, Dunn said he leans toward supporting the [service allocation] plan, but could be the swing vote if the suburbs are able to convince him it’s not a fair plan.

If I had to have one or the other, I think I’d rather have the policy reform than avoid the cuts, but I could understand why some would feel otherwise.

Bellevue Releases B7 Study

A-2 Garage from B7R plan, Looking South to I-90

Despite worries it might not be made public, yesterday afternoon the City of Bellevue posted their $670,000 East Link study phase 1 online. A controversial expenditure at the time, it was intended to compare the B7 alignment that Sound Transit studied in its EIS with B7 “revised”, which was conceptually reputed as improved over B7 and named B7R. Although the study did not address Sound Transit’s preferred B2M alignment directly, observers widely construed the study as an attempt to show that B7R, which largely follows I-405 through South Bellevue, is superior to B2M, which would serve the South Bellevue Park and Ride. All “B” alignments refer to the segment between Mercer Island and Downtown Bellevue, exclusive.

There are several differences between B7 and B7R, the most salient of which is a new Park and Ride “A-2” at the Bellevue Way/I-90 interchange. Assuming that downtown Bellevue gets a tunnel, choosing B7R would leave the cost of Segment B about the same at $515m, because the cost of the A-2 P&R is canceled out by the elimination of the 118th Ave SE station. It would increase overall East Link boardings in 2030 from 49,000 to 50,500.

There are additional costs for bus operations (up to $1m** a year), plus some money to enable sharing of the BNSF tracks with other rail operators, if desired. B7R also incurs a further $9m in costs in segment C, because the approach to the tunnel is more expensive. Crucially, there are cost and schedule risks associated with the Mercer Slough crossing (pg. 3):

The crossing of the Mercer Slough is challenging as a result of:  the environmentally sensitive nature of the Slough; the poor foundation materials;  the movement of the peat as documented by WSDOT; and WSDOTs concerns regarding protection of their existing I-90 structures.  While two construction methods have been developed, further analysis will be required to define the appropriate solution and to satisfy WSDOT concerns.  This could potentially delay the project and add construction cost.

By comparison, Sound Transit’s supplemental EIS reported that under the same assumptions, B2M would attract 50,000 riders to the line in 2030, vs. 48,000 for B7. It prices B2M at $480-550m and B7 at $515-595m.

The B7 figures do not match those from the supplemental EIS because the City of Bellevue instructed Arup, who did the study, to use a different (“BKR”) traffic model for both, and “the BKR Model has greater detail for the localized road network and traffic analysis zones.” (page 6)

Although some of these differences make it hard to compare things directly, it is evident to me that the ridership difference between B7R and B2M is basically a wash, but B7R is approximately $40m more expensive*.

*$40m accounts for the gap in segment cost, but is likely to be significantly more when factoring in the costs for the C9T tunnel since a connection to B2M is roughly $100m cheaper.

**The $1m figure only accounts for additional costs with Sound Transit bus operations and leaves out Metro routes.  According to the report, ST would have to procure two additional vehicles just to maintain bus headways.

Legislative Post-Mortem Tomorrow

Transportation Choices Coalition State Policy Director Carrie Dolwick is going to go over how the session went for supporters of transit and other alternatives to driving:

WHAT: 2011 Legislative Session Wrap up
WHEN: Tomorrow, Friday May 13th, 12:00 -1:30 pm
WHERE: Seattle-King County Public Health – Chinook Building, Room 115 (please note room change), 401 Fifth Ave.,Seattle

Not a bad way to kill your lunch hour if you work downtown.

Report: New B7 Study Reconfirms Past Results

Sources for Erica C. Barnett tell her that the first phase of the latest City of Bellevue study about the two remaining South Bellevue Link alignments basically confirm what previous Sound Transit studies found — a revised “B7” alignment, along I-405, is more expensive and carries fewer riders than Sound Transit’s preferred B2 alternative, which takes surface streets from I-90 into downtown. Sound Transit could equalize ridership by spending even more money on B7.

There’s no word on whether the report will be released to the public, or how this will impact the follow-on phases of the study. There is a total of $3m and up to 2.5 years of further study that the Bellevue Council could authorize if it wishes to explore B7 further. This study follows other independent studies Bellevue commissioned to critique Sound Transit’s analysis of the alignments. The Bellevue Council is supposed to decide on the follow-on phases at a meeting on Monday, May 16th, although the agenda can change at the council’s whim.

Sherwin’s primer on East Link is a good starting point if you’re bewildered by all the alignment codes.