News Roundup: Senseless Regulations

Sound Transit

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Unconventional Revenue Sources

Pine Street Stub Tunnel, by Adam

While nothing can replace state-granted taxing authority as the primary driver for transit revenue, there are always little ways of funding we can dream up.  Like this tweet from a Bostonian about a quirky new revenue source for MBTA:

@mbtaGM I would actually pay to be able to walk through MBTA tunnels as part of a tour. Midnight T Tunnel Tours once per month??

It’s an interesting idea and one that I certainly think shouldn’t go unnoticed.  There are a lot of facilities around here that could generate quite some interest from the general public, like the DSTT, the Beacon Hill tunnels, Link OMF (Operations & Maintenance Facility), and even Metro’s bus bases.  There are tours here and there that sometimes offer glimpses into some of these places, but only on occasion and seldom to the general public.

Showing off some of our transit infrastructure might not only bring in a bit of revenue, as little as it may be, but could also attract inquiring minds to transit.  If Metro can sell space on its buses and facilities for ads, then doing the same for regular guided tours might be a welcome idea.

Nominated for best chart of the year

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s not the fanciest graph in the world, but it’s shocking.

This graph is from Clark Williams-Derry’s ongoing series Dude, Where Are My Cars?  Our state road building machine is kind of like an optimistic weatherman during a drought in Ethiopia.  Just wait – any day now the rain will come.  They’ve been building and building roads all with bad predictions about future car use.  Despite predictions, we keep driving less.

My favorite quote: “I could have included another projection from the 2006 [DEIS]… But it was getting hard to fit all the wrongness on a single chart.” 

If we didn’t have a constitutional requirement to spend all of our gas tax money on building more roads, perhaps these predictions might not have been so optimistic?

County Council Approves Objectives for S. Kirkland TOD

South Kirkland TOD Concept

A few months ago, we reported on the development of the South Kirkland P&R as a site for transit-oriented development (TOD).  The county council recently approved the objectives and principles of the plan in accordance to agreements made with both the City of Bellevue and City of Kirkland.  From the county’s press release:

The Metropolitan King County Council today gave its unanimous approval to the approved mutual objectives and principles of agreement for the planned development of the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride, an integration of residential, business, retail and transit uses.

$7.2 million in state and federal grants have been secured for the project. The same plan was approved by the Bellevue and Kirkland city councils back in January. The Council and the Executive are expected to take further action later this year. The scheduled completion date is October 2014.

Current plans call for mixed-income units, an addition of 250 parking stalls to the existing lot, and a potential pedestrian connection to the BNSF right-of-way, which is in the works to become a trail.  The expansion in parking is thanks to an expected increase in cross-lake transit demand once 520 tolling begins.

The project seems to be a vast improvement over the existing park-and-ride though there doesn’t seem to be much accommodation for a large retail component.  Nonetheless, the provision of all-day service to Seattle, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Overlake along with a regional trail connection is likely to be a plus for anyone who ends up living there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires.

Hundreds Turn Out to Back CRC

People gather to enter the King County Courthouse.
People gather to enter the King County Courthouse. Photo by Oran.

Hundreds of people volunteered their time last night to sign in or testify to the King County Council in Seattle, most of them in support of the Congestion Reduction Charge (CRC). The CRC is a two-year, $20 annual fee on car tab renewal and would prevent a 17% reduction in bus service that would fully cut many routes.

The Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee hearing may have had the attention of Seattle residents, but two committee members, Pete von Reichbauer and Jane Hague, were notably absent from last night’s meeting.

Inside the council chambers.
Inside the council chambers.

The line to testify took over a full block of downtown and looped around the King County Courthouse. County officials said that this was probably the biggest public comment in King County history. Nearly everyone spoke in favor of approving keeping current bus service, but a non-trivial contingent argued that instead of charging car owners a flat fee with the CRC, we should tax the rich and businesses. Ultimately, King County has no revenue authority from the state beyond the car tab fee to fund bus service, despite incorrect claims made by some who gave testimony.

I gave my own testimony around 9:45 pm after joining the line of people near 6 pm. I argued that a CRC measure sent to voters would enter a crowded ballot, cost progressive groups hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign for, and needlessly put Metro’s future at risk. I urged the council to adopt the CRC by a 6-vote supermajority.

If you weren’t able to make it last night, please consider attending the next meeting in Burien or writing to the council. On July 25th, the council plans to ultimately decide whether to adopt the CRC by a supermajority, send the CRC to voters with 5 council votes, or cut bus service.

Reminder: CRC Meeting Tonight in Seattle

I wanted to put up one more reminder about tonight’s Metro funding meeting. I would encourage everyone that can make it to show up and voice your support of the CRC. Showing up early is probably a good idea as well. The Council needs to know this is a top priority and adoption of the CRC by the council is critical. Passing this vote onto the people is poor leadership, will hurt any future transportation package (Metro or other), and is just bad policy. Press release below from Streets for All Seattle.

Tonight, the King County Council will be hearing testimony from people like you who want to save King County Metro from having to cut service by 17 percent.

Public hearing to save King County Metro
When: TONIGHT, July 12, 6 – 8pm
Where: King County Courthouse, 10th floor (516 3rd Ave, Seattle)
Losing 600,000 service hours – significantly affecting four in five riders – will devastate our economy, environment and communities with more congestion, pollution and inequity.
That’s why it’s so important for the King County Council to adopt the $20 congestion reduction charge – a measure that will provide temporary relief until a long-term state solution is found.

This is the most critical week
in our effort to save King County Metro. The King County Council must vote to adopt the congestion relief charge on July 25th. Tonight’s public hearing in Seattle will be the pivotal juncture. We need to turnout en masse to show strong support for the measure.

If you can’t attend tonight’s hearing, please
write a letter to the Council and attend the next hearing on July 21. Together, we can save our buses!
Thank you for everything that you do.
Craig M. Benjamin
Co-Founder, Streets For All Seattle

SLU Streetcar Ridership Growing Fast

2009 - 2011 SLU Streetcar Average Weekday Ridership (SDOT)

As we have reported before, ridership on the SLU Streetcar has continued to grow since opening in December 2007 as new housing and employment continues to grow in the area.  The average weekday ridership figure for July 2011 is based on 1 week of data, so the June data is better to focus on. Average weekday ridership for June 2011 grew by over 900 additional boardings over 2010, with a year over year increase of 200 weekday boardings the year before. From June 2009 to June 2011 average daily ridership grew by 64%. Average weekday ridership  and year-over-year growth data below the jump. Continue reading “SLU Streetcar Ridership Growing Fast”

40/40/20 is Dead

In what was basically a foregone conclusion, the King County Council formally adopted new Metro Service Guidelines today. The vote was unanimous. Discussion about the legislation is here.

Unlike some people here, I didn’t think 40/40/20 was an unmitigated disaster, but it’s good when leaders are able to look past parochial concerns to serve the interests of the county as a whole. Metro is better off with the new policy guidelines.

It’s reasonable to expect we’ll start seeing changes with the February 2012 service change.

East Link FEIS Released

Last week Sound Transit released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for East Link. Press release here. After a group effort to look over the thing, there’s not a whole lot that’s particularly new, although over the next couple of weeks we might post on a few interesting details.

ST's Preferred Alignments

ST’s preferred alignment consists of alternatives A1, B2M, C9T or C11A, and D2A. The final decision on Segment C should come later this summer. The total cost is $2.3-2.7 billion (2007 dollars) for a surface alignment through downtown (C11A), or $2.6-3.1 billion for the tunnel option (C9T). C9T buys you an extra 1,000 daily riders (for a total of 50,000) in 2030.

The Executive Summary has one-pagers on each of the endless segment alternatives that ST considered.

City Schools

Franklin High School (wikimedia)

I think Roger Valdez’s piece in Crosscut about the importance of schools to a density agenda makes some good observations but ultimately misses some important points.

One issue is the demographic trend towards more childless households in the future, so there’s plenty of room for growth in dense, multifamily housing without any more families with kids moving into the city. Indeed, as a family gets larger the economics of hauling them around in a car instead of transit shift in favor of the car. So I’m not sure, from a strict carbon-accounting perspective, that luring families into the city needs to be a high policy priority.

Everyone is for “good schools.” The problem is, no one can agree how to get there. More funding would probably help, but then spending per student in itself has never been a particularly good indicator of academic success, and skeptics could be forgiven for believing that additional funding wouldn’t lead towards concrete improvements in performance.

People can’t even agree what “good schools” are. The obvious thing to use is standardized test scores, but then there are people who dispute the value of these tests. Is a “good school” one that does really well given the socioeconomic inputs it has, or one that performs well in absolute terms? If you’re administrator trying to figure out which principals are doing a good job, it’s a different answer than if you’re a parent trying to make sure your kid is in a good academic environment.

Sound Transit Releases S. 200th St. Station Update

Sound Transit recently released an addendum to their design and environmental analysis for S. 200th St. station. It updates a 2005 document. The map above nicely summarizes the changes. In ST agency-speak this segment is “South Link” while the other two (potential) stops beyond this — Highline Community College and Redondo/Star Lake — are the  “South Corridor.” Key changes to the plan:

  • Increasing the number of parking spaces from 630 to 1,100. This change is driven by a parking study that SeaTac law requires. There are three different configurations (1 garage, 2 garages, or garage plus lot) that might reach this total. The garage would have ground-floor retail/commercial in accordance with SeaTac law.
  • Add a pocket track just south of the station, which would allow ST to park an additional train at the terminus.
  • Shift the guideway to keep speeds at 55mph and improve safety at some intersections.
  • Changes to the planned road revisions, including better bike/ped/bus facilities on S. 200th st.
  • Move the station 40 feet to the west to avoid power and gas lines.

I’ve emailed Sound Transit to ask what the cost impact is.

Sunday Schedules Aren’t Cutting It on the Fourth

Every Independence Day, regional transit agencies run Sunday schedules to accommodate diminished ridership demand while still maintaining modest levels of service for people going out and about.  While operating a full weekday schedule wouldn’t have made any sense on the Fourth, there were still multiple large events wrapping up Monday evening, generating peak demand that even weekday schedules would struggle to accommodate.  Many revelers were left to wait lengthy periods of time for the next bus to show up.

Similarly, MTA in Los Angeles runs Sunday schedules on the Fourth, and one disgruntled rider there accurately summed things up as such:

I understand why there is less frequent service on Holidays, but what is never pointed out is that a good number of bus routes end earlier on Sundays. Holidays should have extended running hours. Some routes end at 7 on Sunday. The Sun will just be setting! Metro needs to re-look at how they handle holidays so people are encouraged to go out into the city (which will have fireworks) rather than stay home because the nearby bus ends before the sun even retires for the evening.

Because most of the ‘peak’ activity on the Fourth occurs in the late evening, the reduction in demand isn’t proportionally uniform across the span of the day, like it might be for a normal Sunday.  While absolute ridership totals on the Fourth of July may rival that of a typical Sunday, the distribution of demand is strongly skewed, with much heavier loads in the late evening.  What we’re usually left with is the peak demand occurring just as service levels are tailing off.

A great example of well-crafted Independence Day service plan is what Boston does.  Not unlike how things are done here and in LA, MBTA operates a Sunday schedule for the most of the day.  The difference, however, is in the evening when MBTA not only runs later and enhanced service on all modes when demand is greatest, but offers free rides after 10:30p.  Eliminating fare payment greatly speeds up crowds getting on buses and trains.

I’m not suggesting that transit agencies here go fare-free on Independence Day, but I would like to see more in the way of a special service plan, especially for routes that serve high-trafficked areas in the evening.  With high concentrations of people in certain places at once, transit holds a competitive advantage in this arena– a compelling reason to make riding more convenient on the Fourth, and not the time-wasting burden that it often is.

Weekend Alert: 520, Mercer, STP

A Closed SR520 – Photo by WSDOT

A quick reminder that numerous closures this weekend will snarl regional travel.  From Friday at 11pm to Monday at 5am, both SR 520 (Montlake to I-405) and the I-5/Mercer interchange will close completely.  SR520 buses will be rerouted to I-90, and expect backups in and around downtown Seattle all weekend.

Saturday is also the 32nd annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP).  10,000 cyclists (including yours truly) will make the 204-mile trek to Portland.  For our mutual sanity and safety, you would do well early Saturday morning to avoid Montlake, the University Bridge, Lake Washington from Madrona to Renton, West Valley Highway, Puyallup, Pacific Avenue/SR7, and SR 507.

In addition, I-5 northbound around Joint Base Lewis McChord will be restricted to a single lane (9pm Friday to 5am Monday), and WSDOT is predicting an 11-mile backup just as STPers drive and bus back from Portland.  If planning on traveling to Portland, Amtrak Cascades is your ticket out of congestion (ok, Horizon too).

Though these closures will frustrate motorists and transit riders alike, I would suggest making the best of a bad situation either by kayaking/canoeing in Union Bay or by visiting the Arboretum (walk, or take the #11 or #8).  The sunny and mild weather, combined with the tranquility afforded by a closed SR 520, should provide a lovely glimpse into the sights and sounds of pre-highway Union Bay.  (Each time I visit the Arboretum I’m grateful anew that the R.H. Thompson was never built.)   During the last viaduct closure I discovered that it’s really quite stunning to be near a major highway without the attendant white noise; one doesn’t internalize the scale of roadway noise until graced with its absence.  So take advantage of it!

Building Sites Near Transportation Are Few, Valuable

Aerial of northeast Seattle, 1959
Photo of NE Seattle from Roosevelt to Lake Washington, 1959

We’ve spent a lot of time here discussing the Roosevelt upzone and why density is necessary to fully benefit from the infrastructure investment the community is making. This week, the Seattle Times has a feature detailing plans to build two massive housing developments in Black Diamond. Three things really jumped out at me reading the article, and I think they offer interesting insights to Roosevelt upzone discussion. Below the fold.

Continue reading “Building Sites Near Transportation Are Few, Valuable”

TCC Friday Forums to be on Metro Cuts

It’s late notice, but Transportation Choices Coalition will be hosting their next two Friday forums on potential Metro service cuts as well as the $20 congestion reduction charge (CRC) that could help stave off the cuts for two years.  The Seattle forum will be tomorrow, Friday, and the Bellevue one the following week.  Some important guest panelists, like county councilmember Larry Phillips and Metro GM Kevin Desmond will be present.

From TCC:

King County Executive Dow Constantine
King Council Councilmember Larry Phillips
Seattle City Councilmember & Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen
Kevin Desmond, General Manager, King County Metro

WHAT: King County Metro Cuts & the Proposed Congestion Reduction Fee: Seattle Forum
WHEN: Friday July 8th, 12:00 -1:30 pm
WHERE: Bertha Knight Landes Room Seattle City Hall,600 4th Ave,

King County Executive Dow Constantine
Kevin Desmond, General Manager, King County Metro
Additional speakers TBA

WHAT: King County Metro Cuts & the Proposed Congestion Reduction Fee: Bellevue Forum
WHEN: Friday July 15th, 12:00 -1:30 pm
WHERE: HDR Engineering,12th Floor, 500 108th Ave NE, Bellevue

This is also a good time to remind you of two more CRC hearings that will be taking place next week and the week after.

Next Meetup July 26th

It’s well past time for another meetup. Our next one will be Tuesday, July 26th at 6pm at The Diller Room in downtown Seattle. Regrettably, this is a 21 & over venue.

We’ll have a couple of guest speakers that should start around 7 and be done before 8.

If you intend to come, please say so in the comments, so we can get a rough headcount.

News Roundup: Sending it Back

Photo by EBoperator

This is an open thread.

CORRECTION: Bruce Harrell’s Committee Attendance

In yesterday’s guest post from Council candidate Brad Meacham, he asserted that his opponent, incumbent Councilmember Bruce Harrell, had attended only three transportation committee meetings since his term began in 2008.

I’ve now seen evidence that convinces me that this assertion is incorrect.  There are at least 6 cases of him attending, and possibly many more. Due to a deficiency in my fact-checking process, I did not catch the error in time for publication. I regret the error.

Making Transit a Top Priority


Brad Meacham

Editor’s Note: Mr. Meacham is a candidate for Seattle City Council who approached us about submitting a piece. All serious candidates for relevant office are welcome to submit statements to STB about transit, other alternatives to cars, and/or land use.

[UPDATE: I’ve received credible evidence that the assertion that Mr. Harrell has attended only three transportation committee meetings is incorrect. – MHD]

Just about every candidate in Seattle talks about transit. But for me it’s a personal commitment.

I grew up riding Metro buses like the 174, 132 and 130. I took the Coast Starlight solo for the first time in sixth grade and have made several cross-country trips on Amtrak since. When I lived in New York, Osaka and Tokyo I used transit daily and saw how it contributes to an urban environment. In Seattle, my wife and I chose to live in Columbia City partly because the new light rail line is helping make the neighborhood more walkable.

Safe, reliable and easy transit options would give more Seattleites the choice to get out of their cars and would make it possible to have urban neighborhoods with more residential density and thriving businesses. Owning a car adds about $8,000 in expenses to a family’s annual budget, and being able to live car-free would make Seattle much more affordable.

A signature issue of my campaign is better land use strategy – and the transportation system to make it work. I would like us to implement best practices from great cities around the world and act with a sense of urgency. Once I am elected for the Seattle City Council, I will do the following:

Continue reading “Making Transit a Top Priority”