Help Accelerate Rail to Ballard!

On Tuesday, we have a great opportunity to take the next step building rail transit for Seattle.

The city and Sound Transit have been working together to accelerate basic planning for rail alternatives between downtown and Ballard. Ballard has grown by more than 25% since 2000, three times the city average, and any line to Ballard would improve service to the rapidly growing north end of downtown. With RapidRide expected to be over its peak capacity the day it opens, and bottlenecks preventing faster or more frequent bus service from being effective, this is one of the corridors that most needs a better solution.

You may have read a few months ago that money was budgeted to do this alternatives analysis – but the City Council withheld it with a proviso, requiring that a plan be in place to extend the First Hill streetcar to Pioneer Square before any steps were taken toward Ballard.

Now that plan is in place – and the city council’s Transportation Committee will consider lifting the proviso on Tuesday afternoon. If it’s lifted, planning will begin that will benefit any rail transit to Ballard. The sooner this work is done, the sooner we’ll know the costs of different alternatives.

Whether you support our efforts with Seattle Subway, or support extending the streetcar up Westlake to Fremont and Ballard, this is a necessary precursor to both, and it’s an important partnership between Seattle and Sound Transit that will set the stage for future projects.

Next Tuesday the 26th, at 9:30am, we’d like you to join us at city hall, and show the city council your support – simply saying “We want to get the ball rolling on rail to Ballard and support lifting the proviso” is plenty. Even showing up at all demonstrates interest! Showing the council that there’s public support will help them feel comfortable funding transit – not just this time, but the next, too. Please let us know in the comments if you can join.

36th District Candidate Debate Review

Candidates, photo by the author

On June 13th, all seven candidates appeared at the Queen Anne Community Center for a public debate sponsored in part by the Seattle Transit Blog.  Sponsoring this event was a big win for transit, as much of the debate revolved around transportation at the state and local level.

I was impressed by all of the candidates – though nobody beat Gael in political savvy, most were strongly pro-transit and each was sharp and had reasonably good grasps on the issues.  The candidates ranged from Left-Wing Linde that proposes a state banking system, to Republican Ryan that believes homelessness is caused by real estate taxes.

In regard to transit, here was an interesting series of questions:

Question: Should we prioritize road maintenance over building new roads?

Answer: Everyone says yes.

Question:What % of transportation budget should go to transit, bike, feet? (currently 7%)

Answer Ryan:  (I wrote “depends” in my notes, don’t recall exact answer)

Answer Evan: 15%

Answer Sahar, Noel, Gael, Brett: 50%

Answer Linde: 75%

Question from audience: How can you both increase transit spending to 50% of budget, while prioritizing road maintenance? Are you just telling us what we want to hear?

Answer: Nobody answers this correctly (in my humble opinion).  Gael answered best by changing the subject, saying that we need to spend money on transit at the state level to chase federal grants.  Noel had a reasonable approach, saying this 50% is a starting point for negotiations.  Brett said his 15% came from the proportion of people that use transit.  I think a fair answer anyone could have given is that the first question was effectively just saying we shouldn’t be building new roads, or at least focus on fixing our existing roads first.

One transit-adjacent issue that most candidates need to work on is the issue of toxic runoff.  This came up as two seperate questions, and I wasn’t satisfied with several answers.  Sahar  and Noel gave answers that revealed they need to study the issue more, and although Gael seemed to understand the issue well, her answer to the problem was very weak (#1 measure: improved government procurement).  Linde suggested we tax lawn fertilizer.  The shining winner on this issue was Brett, whose answers were detailed, intellegent, and implementable (get Puget Sound listed as a national Great Water, provide incentives for green roofs, subsidise transit and electric cars, and #1 solution would be reducing single occupant vehicles).

From left to right in the picture:

Sahar Fathi (Prefers Democratic Party), Ryan Gabriel (Prefers Republican Party), Brett Phillips (Prefers Democratic Party), Evan Clifthorne (Prefers Democratic Party), Linde Knighton (Prefers Progressive Party), Noel Christina Frame (Prefers Democratic Party), Gael Tarleton (Prefers Democratic Party)

Times: St. Louis Interested in Buying Waterfront Streetcars

Following up yesterday’s cover story about the challenges facing the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar, the Times is reporting today that officials from St. Louis have visited Seattle and are looking at possibly purchasing the streetcars, which are currently in storage. From the Times:

More bad news for those five beloved, 1920s waterfront streetcars that draw such emotional responses from Seattleites.

They could well be heading out of town.

The streetcars have been warehoused out of sight near the Metro bus complex just east of Safeco Field for the last seven years.

But at least they were still here, even if in limbo, as lonely reminders of the city’s quirkier past, giving hope to their fans that something could be done to save them.

Now it turns out that if you’re interested in buying them — yes, getting them out of here — Metro will give you a showing.

Go ahead, make ’em an offer.

Just last week, Doug Campion, project manager for the Loop Trolley in St. Louis — a $43 million project that will run vintage streetcars, and is set to begin construction later this year — came to town to look them over.

Campion says about Seattle’s elegant streetcars, constructed with beautiful Tasmanian mahogany and white ash, “They’ve taken very good care of them. They’re certainly very nice.”

Now he’s back in St. Louis, putting together the numbers.

Metro says it’ll listen to an offer.

Jim Jacobson, Metro’s deputy general manager, says the classic trolleys “would be better served by serving people than having them parked.”

Full story here.

Open Letter: ST, Bellevue Shouldn’t Advance Station Cost Saving Designs

June 18th, 2012

The Honorable Pat McCarthy, Chair
Sound Transit Board of Directors
401 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA 98104
 
The Honorable Conrad Lee, Mayor
Bellevue City Council
450 110th Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
 

Dear Chair McCarthy and Mayor Lee:

The Seattle Transit Blog (STB) Editorial Board is concerned about the Downtown Bellevue Station cost savings designs that the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit have identified through the Collaborative Design Process. As STB has reported, tens of millions of dollars in possible cost savings have been identified recently through the design process. This is good news and very welcome, especially when design changes reduce costs, reduce neighborhood impacts and improve operations of East Link.

However, changes that result in functional and irreparable reduction in the quality of Link are unacceptable.

Over two years ago the STB Board sent you an open letter indicating our support for the C11A (surface on 108thth) and C9T (tunnel under 110th). The C3T (tunnel under 108th Ave) is the ideal solution. We still hold that position.

Roughly $180 million to $235 million dollars have already been shaved from the ideal downtown tunnel proposals (C3T to C9T). These costs savings are a result of the shorter tunnel design, which also results in a poorer station location, located farther from the geographic center of Downtown Bellevue, increasing walking time to much of downtown Bellevue. We believed this was an acceptable compromise because it reduced East Link travel times and made a tunnel financially feasible.

However, the two proposed station cost saving designs currently under review unacceptably compromise the station design. The downtown Bellevue Station is the most important station of the whole $2.4 billion dollar line and the STB Board finds the cost savings proposals short sighted.

The NE 6th St Station design is wholly unacceptable and defeats the purpose of the downtown tunnel. It reduces walk access to employment and housing throughout downtown Bellevue, results in slower travel times due to substandard curves and will result in inferior passenger comfort. It also has little TOD or development advantage over other station designs.

The Stacked Tunnel design, while better than the NE 6th design, results in reduced station accessibility due to elimination of station access on the west side of 110th Ave, reduces vehicular capacity on 110th Ave (which could degrade transit speed and reliability at the Bellevue Transit Center  immediately adjacent), and eliminates the possibility of a center platform design which improves ease of use and safety while waiting. These compromises are not worth the estimated $8-13 million dollars in savings.

Thus, the STB Board urges you to cease work on these cost savings designs as they are unacceptable compromises in the quality of an investment the region will rely on for decades.

Sincerely,

Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board

cc:

Bellevue City Council
ST Board of Directors
Joni Earl, Sound Transit CEO
Steve Sarkozy, Bellevue City Manager

Let’s All Get Together and Grill Some BROTS

Spring District Development Plan

by BERNIE HAYDEN

The Bel-Red area, Segment D in East Link speak, has been highly touted by the planning community. To realize this vision City of Bellevue and Redmond worked out the BROTS Interlocal Agreement with the Spring District as the center piece. But this whole segment, which includes two stations and a new P&R have been eclipsed recently in the Collaborative Design Process discussions. I think it’s important to highlight a few of the issues which can have a huge effect on the future landscape of this area.

Little in the way of cost savings have surfaced through the Collaborative Design Process, but there are opportunities for a fuller street grid and improved pedestrian access if Bellevue and ST work together on the new 15th/16th street corridor.

Use of “low impact design elements” and existing stream beds to channel runoff contribute perhaps $2M in savings, but these elements can be abused if not bird-dogged by citizens. The 130th St. P&R is shown with Goff Creek left buried. Let the promised daylighting of Kelsey Creek stand as a reminder of what can happen.

As far as development goes, a recent Seattle Times article notes Wright Runstad may break ground in the Spring District next year and is already selling off parcels for residential development. The multi-developer rather than single developer model is what Group Health switched to in Overlake to accelerate construction. However, the city council has not fully funded the infrastructure projects in the Bel-Red corridor.

Also much angst has been expressed over some low traffic crossings being at grade; SE 4th for example. Yet there is no similar concern over crossing NE 20th St at grade just prior to transitioning to elevated along SR-520. NE 20th carries 23,000 vehicles every weekday. That’s the same volume as Bellevue Way going through downtown.

Of course the real heavy lifting is going on in Bellevue’s Budget One process. Staff and the City Council are in effect accelerating project plans where concurrency with East Link is required. It’s a “messy job” finding the right balance between studying design alternatives, making compromises and then committing to one idea. But it’s important to remember that the vision that prevails today will determine what Bel-Red looks like in twenty years.

An Interview with Pro-Transit Conservative William Lind

Photo by Oran

In this day and age, anti-transit politicos generally don’t get very much airtime to espouse their opposition to transit investments.  Media coverage of transportation spending is subdued at best and the overwhelming consensus among planners is one that aspires for a greener less auto-oriented future.  Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean transit advocates can kick back and relax.  Opposition still remains staunch and is generally focused indirectly, through groups like the highway lobby and property rights advocates.

Though anti-transit ideology stems largely from the conservative crowd, there are a select few that have been vociferous in their support for transit while remaining staunchly conservative in other areas.  William S. Lind, director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, is one of those few and has authored quite a bit of pro-transit literature from a conservative’s viewpoint.  As a result, we’ve not been unfamiliar with his work.

I had the privilege of corresponding with the Center and soliciting a few opinions from Mr. Lind about his thoughts on the matter.  While you may not find some of the nuances in his opinion entirely agreeable, his general argument does deliver a powerful and persuasive case for bridging the ideological gap on transportation.  The interview is below the jump.

Continue reading “An Interview with Pro-Transit Conservative William Lind”

Eastern Washington and Idaho by Bike and Transit

Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes near Harrison, Idaho (photo by the author)

Two weekends ago I traveled to Idaho to experience some the country’s best bicycling.  The Inland Northwest’s trails are a spectacular pleasure, and if you’re a Seattle cyclist you really owe it to yourself to experience them. And with a combination of Amtrak, Greyhound, and/or local transit, it’s possible to do it all without a car.

The silk-smooth asphalt and (almost) complete separation from traffic allow even a casual cyclist to ride safely and without intimidation. Over  the course of 134 scenic miles, you can travel through and alongside many distinct ecoregions: dry pine parklands, river valleys, glacial lakes, boggy wetlands, and mid-montane forest.

From Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, The Centennial Trail offers 60 total miles of paved trail from Nine Mile Falls eastward to Higgins Point (though it’s just 35 miles from downtown Spokane to downtown Coeur d’Alene).  Heading east you begin an unnoticeable climb to the Idaho border, where the sparse pine parklands begin to thicken and you start feeling the transition back into the wetter Rocky Mountain forests.  Once in Coeur d’Alene, the trail hugs the spectacular northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, where you can really appreciate the awesome erosive power of the Missoula Floods.  The city of Coeur d’Alene is also worth exploring in its own right.  With a population of ~50,000 – and sporting an unusual number of high rises (three 200′ towers) – the city has aggressively pursued bicycle improvements since the adoption of their Bikeways Master Plan.

More than you could possibly want to know after the jump… Continue reading “Eastern Washington and Idaho by Bike and Transit”

News Roundup: Second Time Around

King County Metro 1999 New Flyer D60 2336 and others by Zack Heistand

This is an open thread.

“Sorry the 16 sucks”

I don’t know who this young man is, or the woman he is writing to, but he speaks for multitudes:

I felt your pain trying to get somewhere on time on that bus. Not only is it slow as hell, but it's never on time. I hope you made your destination on time tonight. Sucks to see such a beautiful gal look so pissed.

He’s right: The 16’s reliability and travel times are absolutely pathetic. More galling is that those problems are obvious, must be known by Metro, are entirely within Metro’s capacity to fix (without requiring any significant expenditure of capital money), and yet Metro has utterly failed to do so when given the opportunity. The 16 is so bad that it inspired me to write my first blog post for STB, wherein I examined the problems at length. In this post I’ll extend and update that original discussion.

To recap, the 16 is crippled by two terrible routing choices, one in each direction, near each origin, which destroy its reliability, in both directions, for the remainder of the route. Both of these routing choices would never be made if the 16 were created today, but it always seems to require Herculean effort to fix vestigial bad design in Metro’s bus network, no matter the merits of doing so.

More after the jump. Continue reading ““Sorry the 16 sucks””

More on iOS 6 and Transit

Sound Transit Trip Planner
Sound Transit's Mobile-optimized Trip Planner

After my post on Tuesday about Apple’s support for Transit maps in iOS 6, a few things have come to light that are worth noting. Andy Baio provides an excellent overview of the relevant issues involved, and Philip Bump at Grist has some screenshots (hat tip to Shawn Medero in the comments).

For the non-techie, the gist is this: when a developer submits a “routing” iPhone app to Apple, they include instructions about what parts of the world their routing app provides routing for.  So, for example, Metro might submit an app that covers the entirety of King County. If you’re looking for directions within those coordinates, then Apple will show you a link to the Metro app which you can download and get directions.

Presumably there will be routing apps for most cities by the time iOS is released.  Heck, it’s possible Google will submit an app and list “the whole planet” as coordinates, which would make it effectively the same as the current setup.  Apple seems to be indicating that they wouldn’t reject such an app, but we’ll see.

One more point worth bringing up in this discussion: it’s worth taking a minute to be clear about what we mean by a “routing app.”  There are (at least) three tasks one might want a transit app to provide:

  1. Bus & train routes and stops (where does the bus go?)
  2. Real-time arrival information (is the bus on time?)
  3. Routing (get me from Point A to Point B at Time C)

1 & 2 are relatively straightforward* assuming the transit agency provides the appropriate data feeds.  This is what OneBusAway provides, for example. Routing is much trickier, because it involves making complicated decisions about when to take which mode and when to transfer, walk, etc.  Google does this reasonably well (though far from perfect) on a global scale.  Specific agencies typically do this quite well within their specific domains, but can choke when trying to hand old between agencies.  Initiatives like Open Trip Planner exist in part to solve this problem.

Sound Transit’s online trip planner is actually reasonably good at routing across agencies and offers a nice mobile-optimized web interface (though not an app yet).  Nevertheless, it’s quite likely that by the time iOS 6 ships in the fall, iPhone users in Puget Sound will have a pretty decent solution.

* “straightforward” does not imply “easy.” The OBA folks put a lot of work into their app, but it’s a different problem than point-to-point routing.

Another View of “Healthy, Green and Just”

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed on by CR Douglas for his regular segment on politics on Fox Q13. Douglas delved into the recently released Puget Sound Sage report on the impact of light rail on the Rainier Valley. Here is the whole segment which runs about 4 minutes.

My take on the report is a bit more critical than some. I think it is important to remember that communities in the Rainier Valley wanted light rail for many of the same reasons the report now points to as bad things, including increased property values, more people visiting and moving into the Valley, and an overall boost to economic activity. In a very real sense light rail is working just the way everyone hoped it would.

Whatever you think of the report, it has raised some issues that consistently get raised when expansion of light rail is considered like increases in housing costs. But too often what gets missed is the decreased costs in everything else created by the many benefits created by light rail, including decreased dependance on owning a car. There have been efforts to capture these savings that I have written about before, the residual income approach to defining affordability and the Center for Neighborhood Technologies metric of affordability which includes transportation costs.

Richard Conlin to Propose Northgate Access Strategy

Tomorrow Richard Conlin will present his proposed Northgate access strategy at the Sound Transit Capital Committee. Between Sound Transit, the City of Seattle, King County and grants his proposal would fund $10 million dollars for pedestrian and bike improvements, $20 million dollars for a pedestrian and bike bridge over I-5 and $12-15 million dollars for a 450 stall shared-use parking garage. At least $10 million dollars of the $42-45 million dollars has not been identified at this point.

Boiled down his proposal essentially diverts funds away from the additional 150-450 parking stalls that ST proposal included, to pedestrian and bicycle improvements. From my understanding King County has been counting on these additional stalls to begin the conversion of County land to TOD. How this change affects these plans is unclear to me at this time, but if the County Council has the wherewithal to move forward with TOD without replacing parking this is a great move. If not, this change could put King County’s TOD ambitions up in the air.

Press release below:

Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin proposes Northgate access strategy
Matches pedestrian and bicycle access strategies with replacement parking facility

Seattle – Sound Transit Board Member and Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin will propose a coordinated access strategy for the Northgate Link Light Rail Station at the Sound Transit Capital Committee on Thursday, June 14, 1:30 p.m. at 401 South Jackson Street. The proposal will commit Sound Transit to:

  • Match up to $5 million in City investments in bicycle and pedestrian facilities around the Northgate station;
  • Commit up to $5 million as a 25 percent share in a bicycle/pedestrian bridge between the Northgate station and North Seattle Community College;
  • Agree that Sound Transit will fund park-and-ride facilities including a new 450 stall parking garage, preferably shared use. Private funding could be used to provide additional parking garage stalls and potentially free existing surface parking for future development.

    Continue reading “Richard Conlin to Propose Northgate Access Strategy”

More Zoning Authority for Neighborhoods?

Town Hall Meeting

Lately in Seattle there has been a lot of debate about how powerful neighborhoods really are when it comes to land use decisions in the city. No matter what position one takes on that issue state law and legal precedent are clear that local government–city and county councils–decides what happens with land use, not neighborhoods. But Kenneth Stahl advances an interesting legal argument in an article called, “Neighborhood Empowerment and the Future of the City,” suggesting that cities can and should delegate more authority to what he calls “neighborhood zoning districts.”

Stahl points out that cities have become less competitive with suburbs because land use patterns in cities are far more complex than in suburban cities. More people, more uses, more interest groups means more a more complicated and drawn out process. “Cities can level the playing field with suburbs,” Stahl argues, “by devolving municipal power to smaller, more homogenous subgroups within the city, such as neighborhoods.” Stahl makes a legal case that there is no reason why courts shouldn’t allow local governments to devolve zoning authority to neighborhoods.

According to Stahl the legal and economic principles behind the devolution of taxing authority to local and business improvement districts (LIDs and BIDs) are the same for devolving more power to neighborhoods over land use. The same legal theory used for allowing the West Seattle Junction Association to charge local business owners for signage and parking improvements should also allow the Junction to make land use decisions.

I don’t agree with Stahl on his premise about cities and suburbs. What has bedeviled growth in Seattle isn’t the homogeneity of land use patterns in the suburbs, but the lack of political will to overcome resistance to change by vested interests in the city. It’s probably surprising, however, that I am persuaded that giving more authority to neighborhoods might actually help this problem. Here’s some of my reasoning. Continue reading “More Zoning Authority for Neighborhoods?”

Bellevue East Link Study Session Report

by BERNIE HAYDEN

NE 6th Outdoor Station Concept (Sound Transit)

A Bellevue City Council Study Session was held Monday June 11th to discuss which cost savings alternatives to move forward pursuant to the the City Contingency of up to $60m. The steering committee, comprised of Bellevue and Sound Transit staff, presented the options it felt warranted further study. The Bellevue half of the Leadership Committee, made up Bellevue council members Wallace, Robertson and Stokes summarized the results of their recommendations, which were pretty much in line with the Steering Committee. The full City Council will vote next Monday, June 18th on what options to move forward and the ST board will do the same on June 28th.

In South Bellevue the option preferred for the Winters House was to shift Bellevue Way west and add a southbound center HOV lane. This would save an estimated $6-10m over a retained cut to preserve access to the Winters house. It has the side benefit of reducing impacts on the wetland buffer. It would involve cutting back into the hillside which has Surrey Downs residents concerned. Moving the Winters house was thought to be too risky and there were questions over excavation for the retained cut possibly causing structural damage to the historic home.

Along 112th the idea of closing SE 4th and extending SE 8th was deemed dead on arrival. The Leadership Committee is committed to looking at alternative neighborhood access and eliminating the retained cut under SE 4th with the eye on saving $5-9m. That seems counter to the new proposal, which is currently thought to be cost neutral, of using a 5′ deep retained cut and building an overpass for 112th Ave SE rather than the flyover for East Link. Both the refinement at the Winters House and along 112th improve light rail operations by minimizing elevation changes.

Downtown, the recommendation was to advance the stacked tunnel over the no mezzanine design and to advance the open air station on NE 6th. The cost savings for the stacked tunnel were double the range given for the no mezzanine; $8-13m vs $4-7m. It was also thought to reduce construction impact and result in station entrances less disruptive to traffic on 110th Ave NE. Personally, I thought the traffic calming feature of the reconfigured 110th were a plus for the no mezzanine design. Nobody mentioned the extra time it will take in vertical distance to access the lower platform or operational cost and unreliability of the extra sets of escalators. In contrast, a center platform would seem to be a large cost savings and improve operations.

The open air station on NE 6th was also recommended for further study. The cost savings could be $10-18m, but one has to question spending $320m on a tunnel and then moving the station outside and closer to the freeway. The other incentive is no traffic impact to 110th and less disruption than building an underground station. Keeping the East Main Station mitigates some of the lost walkshed of losing the station entrance south of NE 4th but at the expense of everyone in the Bellefield/Wilburton area. Other issues with the station on NE 6th are impacts to police operations and visitors parking. It also limits development of the Metro site at NE 6th and 112th Ave NE, which has been mentioned as a possible location for a new fire station. Hopefully the full Council will put this recommendation to bed next week before any more money is wasted on studies and engineering.

Reminder: 36th District Candidate Debate Tomorrow

Tomorrow night, Seattle Transit Blog is co-sponsoring a great candidate debate in probably the most exciting legislative district race in Washington! We just want to remind you to make time to come out – the topic, “How to Build a Healthy Urban Environment,” will definitely produce great answers and let the great, progressive, pro-transit candidates really shine.

We hope to see you tomorrow at the Queen Anne Community Center, from 7-8:30 pm.

Big Changes Coming to iPhone Transit Maps

iPhone Transit Map
iPhone Transit Map

Apple announced iOS 6 today, which replaces the built-in Google Maps with Apple’s own mapping solution.  While the upgrade will include such niceties as turn-by-turn directions and 3D city flyovers (cool!), transit directions will be conspicuously absent from the new operating system, due this fall.

For many people (myself included), transit directions are a key feature of Google Maps. Perhaps Apple decided that building up a competitor to Google Transit wasn’t worth the effort.  It’s also possible that the suburban-centric culture in Cupertino didn’t see the value in the service.  Maybe they simply didn’t have enough time.

Whatever the reason, it opens up a great opportunity for enterprising transit app developers.*  Apple says it will highlight transit apps from within the iOS Maps application. It’s unclear if this will include real-time arrival apps like OneBusAway, or just apps that provide actual transit directions.** Most apps seem to focus on the former, since that’s the data that transit agencies tend to provide via their GTFS feed. I’d love to hear from any developers in the comments about how difficult it would be to build an app that did the point-to-point transit directions as well as Google does.

* Speaking of which, it’s quite curious to me that no local news outlets have created a good transit app.  I open OBA several times per day, and it knows exactly what intersections in this city I live, work, and play.  Advertising gold, especially if you already have a locally-focused ad sales team sitting around.

** As of the time of this writing, I couldn’t find any apps that provided the latter for Seattle.

News Flash: Not All East Link Ideas Contentious

by BERNIE HAYDEN

wikimedia

At the Sound Transit (ST) open house in Bellevue on June 5th (materials here) ST handed a packet outlining the progress made to date toward final design. ST and the City classified the cost savings into three categories. The first and least controversial are deemed “Cost Savings Ideas Advanced for Further Engineering Review.” These generally will not affect the alignment or have any operational impact. While not “sexy” it’s useful in “keeping score” toward the $60 million City Contingency agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and ST.

Tunnel design and Station Optimization yielded three cost saving ideas. Utilizing a load bearing center wall can save $3m by reducing the roof structure requirements. Eliminating the Waterproofing Membrane System and allowing for routine drainage saves $2m. But I question the long term structural effects on porous concrete and structural steel. Reducing the mezzanine and platform size saves $3m. Presumably this item is moot since eliminating the mezzanine entirely seems to have the most traction and biggest savings.

Elevated guideway design elements total $16M in potential savings. Changing the Aerial Guideway Super-Structure to Precast Girder or Cast-In Place Box saves $8m. I’m not sure why this wasn’t the default and why the SR 520 segment is different. Geotechnical recommendations to optimize structural elements provides the other $8m in potential savings.

Replacing drainage structures with “low-impact development design elements” scores $2m in cost savings. I believe this comes from the Bellevue Transportation Commission and City staff design work on NE 15/16th which narrowed the street cross section from five lanes to two and made extensive use of drainage swales and pervious surfaces in lieu of the standard storm drains and retention ponds.

Perhaps not all of the ideas are totally without controversy. Expediting tunnel construction through additional road closures generates $13m in potential cost savings. Nobody is happy when their road gets closed but “living the dream” with all the current closures for 520 and the Bellevue Braids I cast my vote for more closures over a shorter period of time. Just get it over with already!

So, the score card for the category “Advanced for Further Engineering Review” adds up to $36m, not counting the $3m for reducing the mezzanine. The Executive Summary points out that engineering is still very preliminary, but even conservatively this amounts to at least $20m in savings. Still, I’m optimistic that through the Collaborative Design Process the tunnel is a done deal and there may even be money left for some “nice to have” elements.

Pierce Transit Likely to Go Back to Ballot

Photo by the Author

Now that its boundary revision process is complete – eliminating service and taxation for Buckley, Orting, Sumner, Bonney Lake, DuPont, the Key Peninsula, and swaths of unincorporated Pierce County – Pierce Transit (PT) will likely go back to voters this year to ask for its remaining sales tax authority.  (PT currently collects .6% sales tax, compared to .9% for Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit).  Newly excluded areas have long voted heavily against transit revenue, and the odds of a new ballot measure passing are much higher under the newly shrunk boundaries.  The new boundary is 30% smaller (292 sq mi vs 414) but retains 75% of the population (560k vs 750k).

At a public hearing last week, attendees expressed unanimous support in favor of returning to the ballot.  Since the failure of Proposition 1 last year, PT has reduced service by 33% (417k annual service hours vs 622k) and reduced staff by 18% (866 employees vs 1,054).  Most non-trunk service is now hourly and span of service is exceptionally poor, often ending by 6pm even in the densest areas.   Raising the sales tax to .9% would likely allow the smaller service area to return to previous levels of service, with most routes on 30-minute headways and operating until late at night.

It is worth noting that PT has a more impoverished ridership base than either Metro or ST, with the TNT reporting that 56% of riders make less than $20,000 a year.  Combined with very low densities and poor land use in Pierce County, this leaves Pierce Transit with an unfortunate incentive (or even mandate) to emphasize geographic coverage over frequency.

At the very least PT deserves the opportunity to collect sales tax at the regionally precedented level of .9%, as its residents do not deserve to be disproportionately disadvantaged relative to King, Snohomish, and Thurston (.8%) counties.  STB will support PT’s efforts should they officially decide to go back to ballot.