Council Approves June Service Change in Unpredictable Session

Yesterday afternoon, in a heated legislative session that lurched between political grandstanding and fumbled parliamentary maneuvers, the Metropolitan King County Council approved Metro’s June service change proposal with only minor changes. This proposal, billed as “Transit Reinvestments” by Metro, is focused primarily on deleting eleven of Metro’s lowest-performing routes, reducing service levels on a handful of other poor performers, and using the money saved to improve service quality on the rest of the network, and extend service on Route 180 to Burien in the evenings. It is not to be confused with the much broader September restructure associated with the introduction of RapidRide C & D.

No-one who has observed King County transit politics for any length of time will be surprised to learn that of all the proposed cuts and deletions, exactly one of them consumed the entire discussion: the deletion of Route 42. The recent history of this route has been chronicled on this blog, along with its complete redundancy and atrocious performance; it should simply have been deleted as originally planned, as a part of the larger 2009 Link Integration restructure. Better late than never, yesterday afternoon’s spectacle finally sealed the fate of this bus.

The structure of the discussion was somewhat complex, with multiple amendments and confusion over legislative process, but it boiled down to a pro-42 group lead by of Council Members Gosset, McDermott and Ferguson versus a pro-Strategic Plan group of Phillips, Patterson and Lambert. Arguments in favor of the 42 seemed to revolve around the putative indispensability of the bus to those who are currently using it, along with claims that Metro outreach to Southeast Seattle has been insincere, inadequate and of insufficient duration. Advocates for the Strategic Plan stressed that similar routes across the county were being deleted; that to single out one route for preservation that didn’t make the cut would amount to failing at the first test in the process to reform Metro.

Gosset’s support for Route 42 is longstanding, but McDermott and Ferguson both voted this package out of committee less than two weeks ago, and no new information about Route 42 has arisen in the interim, so it’s difficult to regard the speechifying they engaged in as anything other than pandering to an influential part of the Democratic base. Both expressed strong support for the Strategic Plan, while Ferguson himself noted that acting consistently with the strategic plan would require deleting the route. Suburban Council Members noted that they gave up 40-40-20 and made difficult votes in favor of raising car tabs based on the promise of ridership-oriented restructures.

Ultimately, the restructure package was adopted, with the 42’s deletion delayed until the Winter 2013 service change, with a stipulation that Metro conduct intensive outreach int the interim to Route 42’s remaining riders. Once the video of the session from King County TV is posted, I will add a link to it here.

Metro Tests New Tunnel Policy Today

With pay-as-you-leave disappearing later this year, Metro is gathering data about its operational impact on the tunnel:

Metro has been doing a series of travel-time tests both on surface streets and in the transit tunnel to determine what operational changes need to be made next fall once all passengers are required to pay fares upon entering the bus. Metro and Sound Transit are involving the bus riders in this latest test.

If you are riding a bus in the tunnel between 4-6 p.m. next Tuesday, please look for signage that directs you to:

  1. Exit the bus at the back door;
  2. Enter the bus from the front door;
  3. Board the southbound ST Express Route 550 at Bay C;
  4. Note that Bay D will be moved forward about 30-40 feet at each station to enable faster boarding on the other southbound bus routes; and
  5. Watch for buses in both directions to drop you off further forward on the platform than normal.

Federal Way Targets Sound Transit With Toxic Legislation

Federal Way Transit Center (thanks to Atomic Taco)

Last week, a group of legislators led by Rep. Katrina Asay (R, 30th) and Senator Margarita Prentice (D, 11th), dropped several bills on behalf of Federal Way, all potentially damaging to Sound Transit and expansion of light rail.

The bills should end any real discussion of whether certain Federal Way politicians actually want or support light rail. None of them address the problem of low sales tax revenue in South King County. None of them address the low density and lack of zoning for transit oriented development where Sound Transit plans to build. None of them appear to have any positive impact on building rail at all – they seem to be simply retaliatory. They are all asinine, making Sound Transit go to ballot separately with capital and operations costs, letting cities pull out of the Sound Transit district without a public vote, or reorganizing Sound Transit with only five directly elected board members. That last would open up Sound Transit to direct expenditures during an election – a perfect opportunity for Kemper Freeman to buy a board. Another would help nickel and dime Sound Transit by charging them, rather than the auditor’s office, for Tim Eyman’s new performance audits. The auditor’s office would still pay for all the other audits they perform – this would just charge Sound Transit.

Continue reading “Federal Way Targets Sound Transit With Toxic Legislation”

Regional Branding Revisited

Lines: A Line, Link, and the 150?

Branding is always an exciting topic to discuss, largely because we can exercise our imaginations without having to spend lots of capital money.  One of the finer points about branding that Jarrett Walker touches upon in his book Human Transit is transit’s associated terminologies and nomenclature.  Choosing between whether to use line or route, for example, can reveal a lot about your service or at least how you want your service to be perceived.

The most clear-cut example of this across North American transit agencies is the fact that we usually reserve “routes” for bus transit and “lines” for rail transit.  Jarrett’s excerpt at Human Transit really deserves a full read:

…Lurking inside these two words, in short, is a profound difference in attitude about a transit service.  Do you want to think of transit as something that’s always there, that you can count on?  If so, call it a line.  We never speak of rail routes, always rail lines, and we do that because the rails are always there, suggesting a permanent and reliable thing…

Obviously there’s existing cultural and institutional inertia behind the conventions of transit nomenclature– people use certain terms because they’ve always been used in that way, which helps produce the semantic vernacular of locally accepted definitions.  You’re likely to use the term ‘bus route’ because people know what you mean and you know what they mean, not because you have a value judgment to make against bus transit.

Nonetheless, I think there is a solid argument to be made in reorienting transit’s vocabulary around its physical and practical qualities, like service levels, frequency, utility, etc.  While I don’t think the word “route” will ever disappear from common usage, there should be a strong delineation between the level of service a “line” will reflect, as opposed to what a “route” will reflect.  RapidRide, for example, does just that, by branding what is really higher quality bus service as lines (e.g., A Line, B Line, etc.) instead of routes (e.g., Route A?).

If you want to really follow that criteria, however, there are a lot more routes in the regional network that should be rebranded as bus lines– the 41, 150, 255, 511, 545, and 550 to name a few.  To be sure, there are even finer nuances in classifying service levels beyond what “route” and “line’ offer us, like stop spacing, vehicle type, boarding operations, etc.  But if we really want a good place to begin in promoting our high-quality frequent transit corridors, then we should start referring to them as “lines” irrespective of the mode.

Density is People: A New Story for Up Zone Activists

Still basking in the glow of the Roosevelt land use feud

There are three things missing from efforts to grow sustainably in the Puget Sound region, a story about why supporting more growth is a good thing, a punch list of policy changes to help get there, and political accountability. I’m going to focus on the getting our story straight first.

We have reams of data and studies that support why density is better than sprawl. But how do advocates of new development that supports smart, sustainable density counter the simple story NIMBYs tell: this is our neighborhood and we were here first!

During the long and often contentious debate over rezoning Roosevelt I divided my frustration, sometimes equally, between opponents of the rezone and the developers asking for additional height. For the former my irritation should be no surprise.

But what annoyed me about the developers, and developers in general, is that they lack of a coherent story and vision to explain why their project is important. For understandable reasons, developers are project-focused, worried mainly about getting their building up and running. Often the big thinking about how their project might fit into a regional agenda is left in the dust of getting it done. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Density is People: A New Story for Up Zone Activists”

RapidRide E Open House

Downtown along Aurora, from the Galer St Bridge
Downtown along Aurora, from the Galer St Bridge

On Wednesday, I joined many others in attending the open house for King County Metro’s RapidRide E Line in Green Lake. It seemed like a majority of the attendees were from the Linden Ave neighborhood where the open house was held, but riders from up and down the line, and around the city, were present. Metro staff provided posterboards discussing the general improvements of RapidRide, along with planned stops, BAT lanes, and intersections that will be equipped with signal priority. (I was hoping to include them in this post, but I didn’t get them in time — I will add them later.) The room was well-filled and there was lots of conversations between staff and attendees, and among attendees, some quite intense.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “RapidRide E Open House”

January 2012 ST Capital Committee

S. 200th Station rendering

Here’s what happened at the January 12th ST Capital Committee meeting, the video for which is archived online. Nothing earth-shaking, but if I sit through a 90-minute video a post is going to come out of it:

  • Sound Transit is negotiating with Microsoft to build a pedestrian bridge across SR520 near the station on the company’s dime.
  • Civil Engineering nerds will enjoy the discussion beginning at approximately the 25-minute mark.  Building light rail on a floating bridge introduces types of motion that have all dealt with separately before, but never in quite this combination. A gathering of the best and brightest have come up with two feasible solutions for the transition from the bridge piers to the floating sections, with the favored one known as CESURA — involving lots of little actuators to keep it steady.
  • The discussion of S. 200th Street design mostly covered what we already know. However, the owner of the airport parking immediately adjacent to the station has some TOD plans for the property, and ST is working with him to design the interface with the station in a sensible way.

Sightline: Cleverness of the “Barrel Fee”

Sightline has some interesting information about the impact of Gregoire’s proposed “Barrel Fee”, which would be the major revenue source for her proposed transportation package.

If you’re out to raise money for transportation projects, one of the more clever methods is the so-called “barrel fee” that is the centerpiece of Governor Gregoire’s new transportation package. It’s structured in such a way that it minimizes impacts on Washington by effectively off-loading the costs to oil companies and out-of-state drivers. In fact, my back-of-the-envelope estimate is that for every dollar residents pay, the state will net roughly $2.20 in revenue.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Washington refines about twice as much oil as it actually consumes, and the governor’s barrel fee pointedly applies to petroleum products that are sold for consumption outside the state. That means Washington’s coffers can benefit from fees on twice as much oil as Washington consumers will actually pay for. (It’s similar, in some ways, to the way that some natural resource-producing jurisdictions benefit from extraction fees on products that are ultimately used elsewhere.)

So who picks up the other half of the tab?

For products that are refined in Washington but consumed elsewhere, the burden of the fee will fall on some combination of out-of-state consumers and oil refiners (and perhaps some oil distributors or marketers to a small extent). Certainly, the oil companies will try to pass the cost of the fee along to their customers, but in markets that are competitively supplied by other sources of fuel, it may be difficult for them to do so. That means the oil firms will have to carve the cost out of their profits.

Go here for the full post.

Being Prepared is About More than Plows

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew and Art Thiel‘s general theses: snow is rare in Seattle, and due to our geography and other factors, a couple inches of white stuff can really mess us up.  It’s a total waste of resources to go out and buy hundreds of plows that would just sit idle most years.

That said, I think we all can agree that the city’s response to the 2008 snowstorm was a total clusterfuck, plows aside.  When the head of SDOT drives around her neighborhood and says “meh, I can get around in my Subaru” and goes back to bed, that’s a problem.  In retrospect, it’s clear that the whole leadership crew at SDOT was in over their heads.

The response to this year’s storm was excellent, IMO.  I don’t think it had to do with more plows, just having a smarter plan.

Revisiting Airport Link

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I was having a drink with a friend and co-worker who’s a heavy business traveller, and I mentioned that I often take Link when I’m going to SeaTac.  He expressed disbelief, and then asked me, “where is the airport station? It’s a ridiculous distance from the terminal, isn’t it?”

I told him no, it’s on the other side of the parking garage, and not too much further of a walk than if you park your car at the airport.  He wasn’t buying it.  To him, the distance between the airport link station and the terminal made it a non-starter (for the record, it’s about 1,000 feet).  I was quite surprised.

This conversation came back to me yesterday as I read Yonah Freemark discussing a potential new route for the train connecting Dulles airport to the DC Metro.  Instead of having the Metro take a detour to Dulles, the plan would have a people mover connect airport passengers, getting them closer to the airport, but requiring a transfer:

What would Tukwila have looked like if Sound Transit had decided to route Link to Southcenter, and provide (or get the Port of Seattle to provide) a connecting tram directly to the SeaTac terminal, let’s say via an above-ground AirTrain-like station that would have dropped you off directly on top of the check-in desks.  The overall ride would surely have been longer.  But the perception might have been very different.

As a bonus, you’d have light rail service directly to Southcenter, which, as Sherwin Lee at STB noted recently, is where Tukwila wants to concentrate urban development.

Clearly it’s too late to re-litigate all of this, and I know the pros and cons were hashed out back in the 90s when the alignment was being decided upon. I bring it up both as a thought experiment and to echo Yonah’s general statement: sometimes it’s better for an Airport line to not go directly to the airport.

News Roundup: Don’ts

Photo by Oran

This is an open thread.

Reminder: RapidRide F Open House

Route 140
Route 140 // Photo by Atomic Taco

Tomorrow, from 6 PM to 8 PM, King County Metro is holding an open house at Renton City Hall, to share ideas and solicit public feedback about Metro’s future RapidRide F Line, an improved local bus service that will replace Metro’s Route 140 in 2013. If you can’t make it, see my previous discussion of RapidRide E & F, which has links to alternate ways of sending feedback to Metro.

Sumner May Leave Pierce Transit

Route 496

In the wake of voters rejecting a sales tax increase to preserve Pierce Transit service, outlying areas that voted heavily against the increase (and have lost most or all of their service) are trying to opt out of the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) entirely. Sumner is the latest casualty, joining DuPont, Bonney Lake, Buckley, and Orting. Background on the (complicated) PTBA exit process here. Routes 409,  496, and 497*, which connect various neighborhoods to Sounder, would be eliminated, potentially aggravating existing parking problems at stations.

Interestingly, this contraction may also affect vanpools. PT Spokesman Lars Erickson tells me that while vanpools that either originate or terminate within the shrunken boundary are fine, those that originate and terminate outside the PTBA may have to be eliminated under the law, pending a legal opinion the agency has requested.

The other interesting wrinkle is that all the cities above but Buckley lie in the Sound Transit district. Sumner is actually represented on the ST board by Mayor David Enslow. I have an email in to Mr. Enslow to see if he has any plans to try to mitigate the loss of PT service.

*The 497 serves the Pierce County portion of Auburn, connecting the Lakeland Hills subdivision to Sounder.  The loss of Sumner would isolate Auburn geographically, and by law PTBAs must be contiguous.

Development Potential in Tukwila

Photo by Dave Honan

There are few neighborhoods in our region that have as good transit service as the International Blvd area of Tukwila does.  With that comes an opportunity to harness existing capacity and use it to stimulate development.  Yet Tukwila is often overlooked when it comes to TOD and land use.  Indeed, the town is largely suburban and low-density; however, it also has one of the State’s highest minority populations and is, geographically, situated at an important “crossroads” in South King.

Transit-wise, this geographic advantage translates into high-quality service at Tukwila-International Blvd to points north, south, east, and west:

  • A Line: Federal Way and points south along Pacific Highway.
  • Link: Sea-Tac Airport, Rainier Valley, Downtown Seattle, and connections north.
  • 124: Alternative all-day service to Seattle via the Duwamish through Georgetown & SODO.
  • 140: Burien to the west, Southcenter, Renton to the east, to be replaced by the F Line in the future.

More below the jump.
Continue reading “Development Potential in Tukwila”

Reminder: RapidRide E Open House

RapidRide A station at 176th St
RapidRide A station at 176th St // Photo by Oran.

Tomorrow, from 6 PM to 8 PM, King County Metro is holding an open house at Green Lake Presbyterian Church (64th & Linden), to share ideas about Metro’s future RapidRide E Line, an improved local bus service that will replace Metro’s Route 358 in 2013. I encourage readers to attend, and  plan to be there myself. If you can’t make it, see my previous discussion of RapidRide E & F, which has links to alternate ways of sending feedback to Metro.

Majority of Seattle Housing Units are Multifamily

2000 and 2010 US Census Housing Statistics for City of Seattle

2000 Count By Units in Structure 2000 Percentage By Unit in Structure 2010 Count By Units in Structure 2010 Percentage By Unit in Structure 2000-2010 Count Change Change in Percentage of Housing Units
  1, detached  132,908 49%  138,309 46%  5,401 -3.4%
  1, attached  5,919 2%  10,972 4%  5,053 1.4%
  2  9,684 4%  9,223 3%  (461) -0.5%
  3 or 4  12,178 5%  12,383 4%  205 -0.4%
  5 to 9  18,935 7%  19,615 6%  680 -0.5%
  10 to 19  23,852 9%  25,485 8%  1,633 -0.4%
  20 to 49  33,991 13%  36,030 12%  2,039 -0.7%
  50 or more  31,708 12%  49,072 16%  17,364 4.5%
Total  269,175  301,089  31,914

A while ago in response a piece that Roger wrote, commenter BGCity wrote this:

“People like the quiet neighborhoods that they live in and the fact is that most of our city consists of, and most people live in these single family zones that resemble the suburbs in oh so many ways. The Urban faction, of which I count myself one, is in the minority…. Can anyone accurately claim that Seattleites want their quiet neighborhoods to be as urban as Belltown?”

Not to pick on BGCity, but I find this a common and inaccurate refrain when talking about density in Seattle. Let me unpack why I disagree. Continue reading “Majority of Seattle Housing Units are Multifamily”

Take it To the Bank: Amending Article VIII Would Help TOD in Washington

How does the discussion about a "state bank" help TOD?

The recent economic downturn has inspired a lot of anger at banks, especially around the problem of credit (loans) given by banks for the purchase of homes. There has been enough anger out there to fuel calls for a “state bank” in order to offer a local, publicly motivated financial institution to avert such a crisis in the future. Unfortunately the current proposal, HB 1320, doesn’t offer much in the way of how such an institution would function in the face of Washington State’s constitutional prohibition on the lending of public credit. The discussions of HB 1320 do have implications for Transit Oriented Development.

The mortgages at the heart of the crisis were often given to people with no money down, insufficient income to make payments, and then repackaged and sold off as securities for a profit by banks. When people started losing their jobs, those loans went bad, creating a crisis for financial institutions that had purchased large numbers of these mortgages. The decision was to “bail out” those banks.

It’s easy to to forget how banks work. Banks take deposits from people with cash and then loan out that money. Banks serve the critical function of aggregating capital, lending it out with some risk, and then paying depositors some interest. There is a great video by Sal Kahn on how fractional reserve banking works, a good refresher on the banking system.

So why not open a “state bank,” run by the state government for the benefit of the people of Washington? It’s a great idea, but it’s not clear it could really work or solve the problems the Occupiers have with banks. There are two gigantic problems, one is surmountable and the other is not.  Continue reading “Take it To the Bank: Amending Article VIII Would Help TOD in Washington”

Transportation Advocacy Day

Washington's Capitol via elden
Washington's Capitol via elden

Transportation Advocacy Day is fast approaching and TCC is trying to get as many people to turn out in Olympia to speak with their legislators. I would especially encourage those that are outside Seattle to make the extra effort to turn out, as your legislators are likely more of a swing vote on the issues we care about than Seattle legislators. Info below the jump. Continue reading “Transportation Advocacy Day”