ST’s Budget Picture Worsens

Avgeek Joe/Flickr

ST’s total predicted revenue through 2023 dropped another 5%, as predicted 3.4% revenue growth for last year turned out to be 2.2%. South King was hit the hardest.

Here’s a handy table summarizing how total projected revenue picture has evolved since our 2010 report:

Subarea 2010 2012
North King -16.1% -19.6%
East King -26.3% -33.0%
South King -30.9% -40.7%
Snohomish -28.5% -32.4%
Pierce -25.8% -26.6%

The staff slide presentation identifies few risks to bond funding, but moderate risks to grants (thanks to the attitude of current congressional Republicans) and continued risks to tax receipts due to the still-fragile economy.

Unfortunately, the primary casualty of the revenue losses has been project reserves, so the plans aren’t terribly robust to further bad news. One option to close the gap is bonding. If the board decided to do this, it would bring the debt ratio above self-imposed agency policy, but still below many peer agencies. Other options are cutting system features, delaying completion, or going back to the legislature and voters for more money. However, at the moment there is no tangible impact on Sound Transit’s plans.

For the dreamers, though, this slide gives a little hope, below the jump:

Continue reading “ST’s Budget Picture Worsens”

Metro Makes Additional Service Change Tweaks

Photo by wings777

As Martin correctly pointed out on Saturday, one week is indeed too early to be jumping to conclusions about Metro’s Fall service change, especially since everything happened as we thought it would.  One week, however, was enough to convince Metro to make some tweaks to address the most serious overcrowding post-shakeup.

On top of the extra C Line trips that Martin already alluded to, Metro has also elected to remove the Eastgate Freeway Station as an afternoon eastbound stop for the 218 (Issaquah Highlands express), a change that will occur starting next Monday, the 15th.  The service change was originally meant to reduce passenger loads on the route by moving its companion, the 212 (Eastgate), to the surface.  Ironically, overcrowding worsened after many Eastgate riders remained rooted in the tunnel even as 218 trips were reduced:

This action by King County Metro Transit is an interim step to help ease overcrowding and provide more space for riders traveling beyond Eastgate to the Issaquah Highlands. In response to customer concerns, Metro recently reduced the number of Route 218 trips, added trips to Eastgate-bound Route 212 and moved that route out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to 2nd Avenue, locating it with other, similar Eastgate-bound service.

Despite the September 29 service revision, many passengers heading to Eastgate have continued to ride Route 218, forcing some riders to be passed by full buses, and further frustrating those riders heading beyond Eastgate to the Issaquah Highlands.

While the move is only interim as Metro researches other options, Issaquah Highlands riders will be glad to see their buses rid of leeching Eastgate folk.  Service adds, of course, are relatively easy to implement, which is why they’ve been the quickest fixes made since the shakeup.  But beyond minute tweaks, there remain looming issues, of which only time will tell how lasting their impacts might be.

46th District Transportation, Energy & Climate Debate

Seattle Transit Blog is proud to support a debate on transportation and energy policy.

Transportation, Energy, and Climate
Voter Education and 46th District Legislative Debate
When: Sunday, October 21st: 11:00am-3:00pm
Where: Third Place Books Commons – 17171 Bothell Way Northeast, Lake Forest Park, WA98155

11:00-1:00pm: Educational Presentations
1:00 – 2:30pm: 46th District Legislative Debate
2:30 – 3:00pm: Wrap up with Senator David Frockt

Position 1 – Sylvester Cann (D) vs. Gerry Pollet (D)
Position 2 – Jessyn Farrell (D) vs. Sarajane Siegfriedt (D)
State Senator – David Frockt is running unopposed

Coalition Members
Energy Transition Northwest, Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club, Washington Conservation Voters, Climate Solutions, Transportation Choices Coalition, Futurewise, Cascadia Center for Regional Development, Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, Northwest Biodiesel Network, Sustainable Northeast Seattle, Transportation for Washington, 350.Washington, Scallops, Friends of Third Place Commons, Northwest Energy Coalition, Sustainable Works, Washington Environmental Council, Seattle Transit Blog

Please RSVP for priority seating

 Third Place Books is served by ST 522 (among others) and right next to the lovely Burke-Gilman Trail.

Attending an event like this is a great way to advocate for better transportation policy.

South Lake Union Investment Pays Dividends

Photo by MSPdude

Friday’s news that Amazon is purchasing its main campus from Vulcan is one of many recent harbingers of fortune for South Lake Union and plenty proof that early investment in the neighborhood is now paying dividends.  The purchase comes to the tune of $1.16 billion, nearly half a billion more than the $700 million that it cost Vulcan to develop the complex.  The sizable return means investment for still more development in SLU, particularly now that private money is helping fund public infrastructure projects.

I’m a believer that the boon makes a fairly strong local case for rail investment– while we’ve heard about billions of dollars worth of development spurred on by rail in cities like Phoenix and Portland, South Lake Union presents us our own shining example of strong private returns on public investment.  As a result, Amazon is now chipping in to purchase a new streetcar for more frequent operations, while Denny Park is re-earning its reputation as a vibrant urban space.

The SLU case has given rail proponents a lot of leverage moving forward– the Amazon sale alone translates into millions in local taxes, solidifying a stronger tax base overall on top of the billions in private development.  Much of the credit should go where it is due: to the former mayorship of Greg Nickels, who championed the early visioning of the neighborhood’s future.  While Nickels took a lot of heat for his investment of political capital, it’s clear now that his efforts have paid off and paid off well.

Center City Cycle Tracks

After spending a few days in Montreal, with an extensive cycle track network and bike share system I’m more convinced than ever that the dense and densifying areas of Seattle needs a major investment in separated bicycle facilities. One interesting caveat about Montreal is that they use cycle tracks everywhere, even on low-volume residential streets as opposed to neighborhood greenways. If anyone knows why please chime in and let me know.

Let’s Not Jump To Conclusions


One week into the new Metro service concept, what have we learned?

  • Some people are disappointed with RapidRide, as  predicted a few weeks ago.
  • The opening week of downtown payment has caused delays, as predicted a few weeks ago.
  • Big service changes create both winners and losers, and those losers (and those who simply don’t like change) will complain, as observed in every governmental process ever.

There is no new information to inform a change in policy. Well, there is one mild surprise, anecdotes of RapidRide C demand above capacity. Fortunately, that has the most obvious remedy — adding buses — that Metro has already addressed, very much helped by the fact that RapidRide doesn’t have published schedules.

To abandon the plan, however, as Reagan Dunn suggested Thursday in reference to the ride free area, is premature. It makes sense for the King County Council and Metro to develop contingency plans if the problems don’t improve — although reinstating the RFA is not the choice I would make. Of course, the improvements I wanted to see in August I still want to see. Nevertheless, let’s give the changes an opportunity to work, and wait for the data about which service changes are putting riders in seats and which aren’t.

Sounder North Oversight Panel Report

The Sounder. Flikr user mgjefferies.
The Sounder. Flikr user mgjefferies.

Occasionally, a report drops into my lap which is so informative and well-written that I really have little to say about it, except that everyone should go and read it in its entirety. The Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel’s report on Sounder North is one of them, and it’s a pretty devastating evaluation of the north line as a regional mobility project:

COP members are very sympathetic to the sense of ownership, pride, and equity that Sounder North represents in Snohomish County. In a decade of development and operation, riders have grown to appreciate having the service and citizens have stated clearly that they value having both train and bus service as alternatives. These are real and meaningful values and COP shares them.

However, we believe that, in the long-term, the tax-payers and transit users of Snohomish County will not be well served if the high-cost Sounder North line continues to run well below capacity while the much lower-cost ST Express bus routes run overloaded with passengers standing in the aisles. At a certain point in the future, Sound Transit may have to come to terms with a reality that one of its services is not living up to a reasonable definition of viability.

The COP report subsequently flinches from discussing hard criteria for viability, presumably in deference to the vocal support of local politicians whose cities are served by Sounder.  Instead, it makes a number of suggestions towards cutting operating costs and improving ridership which strike me as reasonable, but unlikely to close the yawning gulf between the status quo and a defensible level of ridership and public subsidy, given the alternatives of improving today’s overcrowded bus service, or saving for a planned Link extension. To quantify that gap, ST’s Seattle-Everett express buses cost just over $5 per boarding, versus $32 for Sounder North.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Sounder North Oversight Panel Report”

News Roundup: Not Armageddon


This is an open thread.

An Evening with the Federal Transit Administrator

Peter Rogoff

Tuesday night, the Transportation Choices Coalition hosted its annual event, right in the midst of APTA’s yearly powwow and also the biggest local service change of modern times.  With national transit professionals descending upon the city in droves, TCC managed to snag a very high-ranking transit VIP for their keynote speaker– Federal Transit Administrator Pete Rogoff.  Flanked by Metro GM Kevin Desmond and Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Rogoff spoke about transit happenings at the federal level and their local implications.

Rogoff focused a large portion of his speech on the passage of MAP-21, the federal transportation bill that will be in effect for two years.  He praised the bill’s authorization, a process that began with a battle over whether or not transit could be even funded at the federal level.  According to Rogoff, MAP-21’s passage changed the discussion from “stripping” transit out of trust fund dollars to a consensus in favor of preserving funding for both roads and transit.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “An Evening with the Federal Transit Administrator”

Bellevue’s Maintenance Base


A Times article describes the Bellevue Council’s unhappiness with potential sites for Link operations and maintenance base in their city:

“It doesn’t make sense” to put a rail yard in what will be an upscale area, Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee said last week. City Council members have asked the staff to draft a letter to Sound Transit expressing the city’s concerns.

As background, ST2 is predicted to require 180 rail cars in total, and the Sodo facility can only accommodate 104. For various operational reasons, expansion of the current facility is not an option. By the end of 2020, ST will have taken delivery of enough vehicles to need the second facility open for storage.

Because a South King location is just too far from the North and East endpoints, ST is looking at four sites on the Eastside and one near Lynnwood. In the longer run, trains will span from Everett to Tacoma and Redmond with 3-minute headways in the core, and a third facility will be necessary.* The five sites under consideration are west of the Lynnwood Transit Center, between 120th Ave NE and the BNSF tracks, between 130th and 136th Avenues below SR 520, west of 148th Ave NE and north of NE 20th St, and between Northup Way and the Link line.

I have mixed feelings about this dispute.

Continue reading “Bellevue’s Maintenance Base”

Seattle Every 15 Minutes (or Better)


[UPDATED September 21, 2016] Want the complete network? Check out my Seattle Transit Map.

This is the update to my Seattle Frequent Transit Map that reflects the big Fall 2012 Metro service change. It presents a general overview of transit service in the city of Seattle that operates every 15 minutes or better during weekdays, from 6 am to 6 pm. Also included on the back is an evening frequent service map.

While the map retains its mostly monochromatic look from the previous edition, there are a few improvements:

  • Route numbers and lines should be easier to read and follow, especially in the downtown area. RapidRide lines get a thicker red line. And Link is still king.
  • Park areas and points of interest have been added, as is some of the street network for greater context. The streets also help readers visualize gaps in the frequent service network.
  • Slightly more descriptive frequent service guide. Link’s frequency is summarized graphically. Metro, Sound Transit, and OneBusAway contact info is now included.
  • Even with the expansion of frequent service into Ballard and West Seattle, the map now fits on a single sheet of standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper for easy printing.
  • It is now called the “every 15 minutes (or less) map”, in reference to Los Angeles’ map of the same name. I don’t care if you still call it the “frequent transit map”.
  • The “Evenings in Seattle” map was derived from the main map with lines removed for clarity. The night owl routes could be added in future revisions.

Your questions and comments are welcome.

We Could Use a FAR-free Zone

Panorama of 901 5th Ave (built 1974)

When you look at a building built downtown in the past half century and compare it to an old building, the largest change you’ll notice other than the materials used is how they fill up space.  Older buildings often are built from the sidewalk to the alley, from one property line to the other.  Yet newer buildings generally take up a small amount of land and are surrounded by plazas.  The reason for this was the introduction of Floor Area Ratios (FAR) in our building and land use codes.

FAR is simply the ratio of floor area to the area of the property.  A 2-story building built out the property lines would have a FAR of 2, as would a 4-story building built on half of the property or an 8-story building built on a quarter of the property.  The theory behind limiting FARs is that a city can keep a large amount of open space (limiting height, width, and/or depth of a building) while allowing an architect some freedom to design their building as they’d like.  The reason that open space is valued is to let in sunlight, and to give developers an incentive to give future employees room to enjoy this sunlight on their lunch breaks. Continue reading “We Could Use a FAR-free Zone”

Wheel Options Begins Today


Washington’s annual statewide commuter incentive campaign, Wheel Options, kicks off today.  The prizes this year are particularly generous, with many $100 gift cards, several hotel packages, and a grand prize trip to the lush, linguistically unique, and (to put it mildly) independently-minded Basque region of Spain.  All participants who log at least 6 non-driving trips in October will qualify for all prizes and will automatically receive a coupon for a free companion fare on Amtrak Cascades.

As its name suggests, RideshareOnline (RSO) has traditionally focused on matching commuters whose needs aren’t met by fixed-route transit, including carpoolers, vanpoolers, etc.  Those who are already dedicated transit commuters — likely most of our readership — may have had little use for RSO in the past.  But it has been expanding its reach and is now the primary tool through which incentive campaigns are implemented in our region.  Given the easy qualifying threshold for Wheel Options and the growing number of other incentive campaigns (such as Metro’s Rideshare Rewards), it is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with both Wheel Options and RideshareOnline.

If you already have an RSO account, you will use the same login and password for Wheel Options.  Registering as a new user through Wheel Options will also cross-register you in RSO, and for future campaigns you will be able to use the same login credentials.

UPDATE: According to Wheel Options’ Facebook page, high site traffic has temporarily disabled their calendaring features.  Stay tuned. 

UPDATE 2: Wheel Options’ calendar is up and running again. While they do not anticipate any further issues, technical support is available at

Disclaimer:  The authors are involved with Wheel Options as part of their employment.

Service Change & RFA Elimination Open Thread

Photo by Oran

This is the first weekday after Metro’s massive service change, said to be the largest one since the agency’s inception. On top of all that, there’s the added buzz of the RapidRide lines and potential chaos in the old Ride Free Area.

It’s presumably this afternoon that we really find out what short-term disorder, if any, will arise from the end of the RFA.

Share your experiences here.