No Economic Analysis Was Done For Roosevelt Station

Roger Valdez over at Seattle’s Land Use Code has a pretty amazing piece today about the analysis – or lack of it – that went into Sound Transit’s decision to waste the airspace above the Roosevelt station and build what amounts to a suburban commuter station.

This isn’t really new. In the US, transportation agencies aren’t incentivized properly to get involved in land use. Their incentive is to build the lowest risk option available to them, which is, unfortunately, generally a terrible choice for the neighborhood.

In this case, Sound Transit claims they did no economic analysis of potential development on their Roosevelt site before deciding it wasn’t worth it. With a six story mixed use building adjacent to them on one side, and a developer who’d like to build 12-15 stories on the other side of the street, I have no problem calling that decision embarrassingly dumb for the neighborhood.

Unfortunately for us people who care, it’s quite smart for the agency. They’re not a developer – they can’t spin up a limited liability corporation to build a building and then let that LLC declare bankruptcy if the building fails. They’re stuck with what they build, which means the risk to them is very high – both financially and politically –  if they don’t have an absolutely sure thing. It makes sense that they wouldn’t do an economic analysis, because the chances are vanishingly small that it would show them anything other than “don’t build anything but the station.”

What really needs to happen here is that we need to fix Sound Transit’s incentives. There aren’t easy solutions here – it’s essentially impossible for them to partner with a developer when they have a ten year planning timeframe. But there are solutions, and we need to make them happen soon enough that the agency doesn’t become hated by the neighborhoods it builds in – because that’s a great way to sink ST3 and beyond.

ST Adjusts Ridership Forecasts Downward

Photo by litlnemo

There’s a habit of considering ridership projections as an essentially political document — and with all the arguing, perhaps they are — but at its heart lies a technical model with actual inputs and assumptions. One of those inputs, of course, is previous ridership, when that data exists.

I’m a bit late on this, but now that ST has a full year of Central Link ridership data with Seatac station included, it has another input to its model. As that ridership was lower than expected, it’s caused a general downward revision to ridership going forward. The upshot is that 2011 ridership is projected to average 25,000 weekday boardings, instead of 31,000. There are also revised estimates for Tacoma Link, Sounder, and ST express.

ST spokesman Geoff Patrick tells me that these estimates are the first that use 2010 ridership as an input. They also incorporate the latest economic forecasts; Patrick points out that “there are 30,000 fewer jobs in downtown Seattle today than there were in the year 2000.”

It’s a little odd to me that there’s still supposed to be a big jump in 2011, and then much smaller increases through to 2016, so my (totally amateur) instincts tell me this number is still too high. In any case, models are always wrong, although they do have their uses. In the next few days, we’ll have a more detailed analysis of the ST ridership model and its errors.

News Round-Up: Driverless cars

Not what I usually do...

As always, this is an open thread.

Sound Transit June 2011 Service Change

Photo by planet_lb

ST has released the new booklet for the service change effective June 11th 12th. Significant revenue-related cuts to express service begin now.  Changes listed in the booklet:

  • The 599 eliminated.
  • The Burien-West Seattle leg of the 560 is now peak-only.
  • On Sundays only, ST will consolidate the 510 and 511 into a 512 that serves both markets.
  • No more 535s on Sunday.
  • Fewer trips on the 540, 554, and 566. The 554 becomes a 20-minute headway route.
  • One more 550 trip.
  • The 586 goes into summer-quarter mode, meaning less service.
  • A new Tacoma Link stop at S 11th St opens sometime this summer. Headways drop to every 12 minutes, all day, Monday-Saturday, and every 24 minutes at all other times. This is up from 10 or 20 minutes currently. It’s far past time that ST published a schedule for service that infrequent.

There are “minor schedule adjustments” and route changes all over the place, so if you use ST check it out.

There’s no obvious change to the Central Link schedule, but there’s mention of “minor adjustments.” Because weekday headways are advertised as “10-15 minutes” there’s no way of telling if they’re cutting any of the trains that used to provide 10 minute headways during the day. [UPDATE: Oran says “The minor changes to Central Link [are] the extension of the last 3 trips of the night to Beacon Hill Station and route 36 trip to downtown connecting with the last Link trip. I wrote about that 2 months ago.]

The Mayor’s Parking Jujitsu

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Mayor McGinn, the man who’s (unfairly) been labeled in the press as waging a “war on cars” in Seattle, today announced lower parking rates at the city-owned Pacific Place garage. The Mayor’s critics might expect him to be raising the cost of parking downtown, so this move might throw some off balance.  Plus, it’s good policy: parking should be set at a price that optimizes supply and demand.

Of course, the truth is that Pacific Place has been underperforming for some time, the city’s losing money on it, and the idea of lowering rates to boost performance has been floated before.  Still, it’s a political win for the Mayor in the short term.  Whether it buys him any political capital remains to be seen.

Over to you, Dan.

Last Minute: CT Cut Alternatives

[UPDATE: The meeting has been moved to 4pm.]

Sorry for the short notice, but this afternoon the Community Transit Board will discuss three alternatives for how to cut 80,000 hours of bus service this year. One option restores Sunday service, which results in deeper cuts elsewhere in the week:

Three service alternatives for Community Transit’s February 2012 system change will be presented to the agency’s Board of Directors at its June 2 meeting. The meeting will take place at 3 p.m. in the Board Room, located at 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett (accessible by Everett Transit Route 8).

This 20% cut is on top of the 15% cut implemented last June.

ST 1Q 2011 Ridership

Photo by caseyrs77

Sound Transit’s 1st Quarter System Ridership Report is out. Highlights:

  • Central Link weekday boardings up 24% year-on-year, though well below budget estimates.
  • Sounder ridership flat, except for a big drop on the north route (i.e. mudslides)
  • Tacoma Link and paratransit both up about 10%.
  • ST Express up about 6%, though individual routes diverge wildly. The 555, 556, and 560 had big drops in ridership.
  • Link cost per boarding, in the low season, back above that for ST Express.

Route 240 to Serve Eastgate After All

Route 240 Proposal (Metro)

As part of the Eastside service restructure centered around RapidRide B, Metro proposed altering the 240 to provide the only direct connectivity between Renton and the Eastgate Park and Ride, and by extension Bellevue College.

As we reported in February, City of Bellevue staff argued against this alignment, mainly because it would increase travel times to Downtown Bellevue, the main transit market in the area, and a high-quality transfer to the 245 would serve Eastgate adequately. That argument apparently swayed Metro, which changed the recommendation.

Yesterday the King County Council overruled Metro and re-instituted the change, which will take effect in October with the other changes:

Council Vice Chair Jane Hague sponsored the amendment, which will provide greater bus service to Bellevue College. Hague offered the amendment last week after students raised concerns during public testimony that the current proposed route were inconvenient for bus riders and would encourage students to drive – only adding to the region’s gridlock.

“I want to commend the Bellevue College students that testified before the Council,” said Hague. “They really did a good job and this change would not have happened without their activism.”

Just another example of how showing up and testifying in support of feasible changes can be quite effective.