Building Coalitions

Greetings, STB readers! It’s an honor to be contributing to one of my favorite blogs in the Pacific NW, writing for a smart, attractive, diverse audience such as yourselves. You may have read a few of my ramblings at Orphan Road over the years. Thanks to the STB folks for letting me crash the place.

That quick bit of throat-clearing aside, let me say I enjoyed Roger’s cri de coeur in favor of denser urban development. It sparked a couple of thoughts in response, which I’ve adapted below from a previous post I wrote on Orphan Road.

At the 30,000-foot level, Roger’s question is about power and influence: how do urbanists win? How does one agenda defeat another? Well, basically you either out-organize them or out-fundraise them. Politics is a battle of interests, not ideas (apologies to Keynes). If you want your interests to beat out the other guys’ interests, you either need more money, better organization, or both. Having good ideas is a second-order problem. Ideas help you raise money and organize. But you still have to raise money and organize.

So, how do we get there?

Continue reading “Building Coalitions”

Transit and Transportation Revenue Bill Passes House


On Saturday the Washington State House passed a modified version of ESB 6582,  the modified text of which is encapsulated in this Marko Liias striking amendment. The final vote was 53 to 43 (roll call here), compared to 25-24 in the Senate  for a slightly different bill. A number of Eastside moderates voted against the measure.

Here are the key provisions:

  • Counties can levy a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax of up to 1% with voter approval. There is language requiring counties to work with their transit agencies and component cities in crafting the measure, for those with differing governing boards. In King County’s case, a source tells me it is nearly inconceivable that Metro’s long-term deficit is not healed by the measure; whether the remainder goes to cities, Metro, or county road needs is up to the negotiations between stakeholders.
  • County gas tax authority changes from 10% of the state gas tax to a flat 3 cents per gallon; currently, King County does not use this authority. In addition, the City of Seattle gets a one-cent authority, which would raise about $4.5m annually for transportation. Both taxes require a public vote.
  • Transportation Benefit Districts other than Seattle increase the vehicle license fee that does not require a public vote from $20 to $40, with voter-approved limit still at $100. My source, familiar with the legislature, says that this change is an effort to help out DOTs in strongly anti-tax jurisdictions, while the Seattle exclusion reflects that Seattle voters arguably refuted the idea of larger vehicle license fee last November.
  • An entirely new section allows very large TBDs to spend some of their revenue on affordable housing over transit stations; it also frees all transit agencies of the requirement to obtain fair market value on surplus property and airspace rights as long as it is sold for an affordable housing purpose.

“The Senate bill as amended by the House provides the authority counties must have to address our local transportation needs,” King County Executive Dow Constantine told STB. “I urge the Senate to concur with the House amendments and move it quickly to the Governor for signature so we can start work with our partners on how best to allocate this resource.”

I’m not wild about diverting scarce TBD money to subsidize housing, but all-in-all this is a wonderful bill that can solve the immediate problems of the state’s bus systems. The allocation of funds in King County will be interesting; at a minimum, it will stabilize Metro’s service level, but at best it might trigger a series of capital investments that absorb traffic diversion from the deep bore tunnel, improve bus efficiency,  and bring RapidRide up to a more rigorous BRT standard.

MVET Bill Develops; SR 99 Corridor Screwed Again


Early versions of ESB 6882 6582 authorized a 1% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) for counties to address their transportation needs. It was unclear at the time how this authority was to be shared between County road departments and transit agencies. A full 1% would not only have solved Metro’s long-term deficit, but also would have made a large dent in the State’s nearly-dead promise to allow funding of the transit component of the Deep Bore Tunnel plan.

Martin Munguia at the CT blog has a very helpful update on how this bill has evolved, and it should surprise no one that the possibility of addressing the DBT shortfall has disappeared:

The bill also says that if a county does not impose a local MVET of up to one-percent by December 31, 2013, the transit systems within that county may impose up to one-half of the county’s one-percent, and that a county may waive the December 31, 2013, deadline.

Meaning that if the county waits for a vote or simply decides not to go for a vote of MVET funds by Dec. 13, 2013, the transit agency in that county can seek such a measure for up to 0.5 percent.

The peak annual deficit at Metro is about $60m. A 1% MVET generates at least $100m a year in King County, so a 0.5% rate more or less preserves current service, while doing nothing to address traffic diversion when the viaduct is replaced with the DBT.

The $190m in capital improvements for transit is nowhere to be found. WSDOT recently emphasized what an afterthought the transit is in the “tunnel and transit” plan by finding $200m in the seat cushions to fill a shortfall in the highway budget. It shows that with a little creativity someone in Olympia could solve this problem, but no one seems to care.

If you voted for the deep bore tunnel because there were transit improvements in it, the leaders behind ads like this have played you for a sucker.

Goldy at Slog has more on mechanics of the local vote associated with the measure.

Six Week Detour for Aurora Buses Begins Next Week

Aurora Work Area
Aurora Work Area -- From WSDOT's interactive simulation

Starting next Monday evening, March 5th at 9 PM, WSDOT will close one lane of southbound Aurora Avenue between Republican and John Streets until mid-April. While the road will remain open, substantial traffic congestion can be expected, especially during rush hour, so Metro will detour southbound Routes 5, 5X, 26X, 28X and 358 at Valley Street for the duration of the closure. No detours will occur northbound.

The detoured buses will travel into downtown on 5th Ave N and Cedar St — essentially the alignment of southbound Route 16 — and serve only two stops, on 5th Ave N at Mercer and John, before rejoining their regular alignment on 3rd Ave. Route 16 will not be detoured, but could (I suspect) suffer rush-hour traffic delays. Similarly, Route 54 riders could presumably be affected if the 54’s through-route partner, the 5, suffers delays. Leaving the regular route might limit OneBusAway’s ability to make accurate predictions for those routes.

Full WSDOT press release after the jump. Continue reading “Six Week Detour for Aurora Buses Begins Next Week”

Joining the STB Fold

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

My fellow readers, I’m very exited to announce that Matt the Engineer and I are going to be joining the excellent blogging crew over at Seattle Transit Blog. I’ve always had great respect for the STB team. In fact, our blogs started at about the same time back in 2007 when the infamous “Roads and Transit” debate was raging. They’ve created a strong community and a solid voice for transit and land use issues in the Seattle area.

I won’t shut down OR. Too much good stuff to let it slip to link rot. But I’ll probably be doing the bulk of my writing about transit at STB from now on. You’re welcome to follow me on Twitter, but you may be disappointed as few of my tweets are specifically about transit.

Special thanks to all the contributors who have blogged here over the years, and to you all for reading. The ability for anyone in the world to self-publish and find a niche of readers is still, to me, the most magical thing about the internet.

The Right Tool for the Job: King County

King County Metro has a very specific function.  Their voter base is spread throughout the county, and it is their job to provide the highest quality transit service to the most of these citizens that they can.  If you were in charge of the county and you started from scratch, with no buses and just a map and some data about the county, how would you design transit?  First, you’d look at where most people lived and worked, since you know that commuting is a very strong transit need.  You’d see that the largest job center was downtown Seattle, with Bellevue and Redmond as secondary job centers.  And you’d see that a third of your citizens live in Seattle, but two thirds live elsewhere in the county.  Then you’d consider your transit options.

Appropriate use of transit technologies (Matt Gangemi)

More after the jump.

Continue reading “The Right Tool for the Job: King County”