Sound Transit Funds Ballard Planning Partnership

One Option For Ballard to Downtown

As part of partnership more than a year in the making, on Thursday the Sound Transit board approved $2 million in funding to study rail transit connecting downtown to Ballard. This is joined by up to $800,000 from the City of Seattle. Sound Transit’s funding will go to study of modes in exclusive right of way, like Link, and the City funding will consider streetcar options, although the funding will be together in one contract. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated there’s no need to study buses further in this corridor.

The last time this corridor was studied, there was no updated Transit Master Plan, nor was there a Seattle Streetcar, so the outcomes will likely be different. The cost-effectiveness of extending the existing streetcar to Fremont and Ballard in its own right of way will be higher, and because of new development, the Interbay corridor will likely also look even better for more completely grade separated rail.

This planning will inform rail in both corridors, so regardless of exactly how the study work shakes out, it’s going to be beneficial for fast rail through Belltown, Uptown and Interbay, and slower rail through SLU, Westlake and Fremont.

During the board meeting, board member Paul Roberts (Everett city council) voiced concerns about Seattle “going it alone”. Before considering further projects, he said, we need to ‘finish the spine’, and build light rail to Everett. Most of the board, though, recognizes that in order to build to Everett, we need projects in Seattle in the next Sound Transit package – due not only to the need for Seattle’s high pro-transit voter turnout, but also because subarea equity requires that the revenue in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas goes to fund projects in that subarea. You can’t build in Everett without building in Seattle, Federal Way, Redmond (and maybe Issaquah), and Tacoma as well.

With that in mind, this makes a lot of sense. The more planning work (and even design and engineering) that can be out of the way, the shorter the timeframe can be for Sound Transit 3, and the better it will fare at the polls.

As for Seattle actually funding major rail construction by ourselves – that’s honestly unlikely. There’s need for rail transit throughout our region, and Seattle has plenty of smaller transit projects that very much need to be funded, like connecting our two streetcar lines together, improving our electric trolley bus system, and rebuilding our road infrastructure to prioritize transit. We’ll definitely help accelerate Sound Transit, but the grassroots groups who support transit expansion in Seattle want to do it in partnership with the region, not by ourselves.

Through-Route Sounder North?

Photo by Sound Transit

Most of Sounder’s North Line problems are well-known and structural: its would-be walkshed is comprised of half ocean and half cliffs, transit connections are poor, parking availability is poorer still, frequency is severely limited and codified by contract agreement with BNSF, and mudslides knock out service a couple dozen days per year.  Given these rather severe odds, the service garners just over 1,000 daily riders.  While the North Line’s high costs and poor performance have been all over the news lately (Seattle Times, STB, etc) , all indications are that the line will continue to operate indefinitely.  Sound Transit recently leased 5 years of additional Edmonds parking and is proceeding with long-term station enhancements, and on Thursday the mayors of Everett, Mukilteo, and Edmonds offered their unequivocal support (emphases mine):

Our service along the shore of Puget Sound offers the nation’s most beautiful commute…We strongly disagree with [the Citizen Oversight Panel’s] suggestion of reducing Sounder service to pay for more buses on I-5. Our communities have made a tremendous long-term investment in Sounder. We will not stand for reducing service. A number of vocal Sounder opponents, many of whom live nowhere near Snohomish County, have tried to skew the COP’s report to suggest the service might be subject to outright elimination. That will never happen.

So if the service is to continue, can it be improved without ‘throwing money at it’?   What sort of operational enhancements (if any) could increase ridership at no or little cost?  One possibility after the jump. Continue reading “Through-Route Sounder North?”

Foot Ferry Update

Spirit of Kingston at Colman Dock
Spirit of Kingston at Colman Dock. Photo by Oran.

A while ago, I wrote about the Port of Port Townsend’s attempt to use a federal grant to start a financially self-sustaining foot ferry service between Port Townsend and Seattle. Sadly, the effort has come to naught, as the PT Leader reports:

During the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting, Executive Director Larry Crockett recommended that the $1.3 million Federal Transit Authority grant, awarded in 2010, be returned in its entirety. The money could have only been spent on a passenger-only ferry (POF), a project which Crockett has said is not supported by rider interest in Jefferson County.

“I’ve come to the conclusion we’re so small as a community,” Crockett said, adding the population figures for the City of Port Townsend barely qualifies it as a city compared to some metropolitan areas.

“This is not the right time for a passenger ferry,” he said. “I think this was a concept that needed to be explored, I think the port manned up and did that to best of our ability.”

Essentially, the federal grant would not have provided enough money to build a small but comfortable passenger ferry suitable for this crossing, and no such boats were readily available for purchase or lease. The only remaining option, transferring the currently-unused Spirit of Kingston commuter ferry from the Port of Kingston, was deemed not viable, as that boat would be far too large and costly to operate without very significant ongoing subsidy. The Port was also unable to identify local funds required to match the federal grant.

This ferry link could have made Port Townsend much more accessible to Seattlites, especially those without cars, and it’s disappointing to see it fall through. Still, it seems like the Port made the right call here: I’d rather public agencies take calculated risks with a solid chance of success, rather than roll the dice on high-risk projects which seem quite likely to end in spectacular failure. I hope the idea doesn’t die completely, as I suspect that in some form, this ferry link (possibly seasonal) could be viable with minimal subsidy, and would be a real asset to the communities it connected.

There is a silver lining, as mentioned by the Leader and discussed in more depth by KPLU: King County Ferry District may be able to acquire the Spirit of Kingston for free, to be used as a spare on the West Seattle and Vashon water taxi routes, making them much less subject to cancellation when Rachel Marie or Melissa Ann are out of service.

There are More than Two Sides to Small Lots

The Seattle Planning Commission held a panel debate this Wednesday featuring two sides: the developers v. the neighbors, with a Planning Commission representative in the middle.

The Issue

Over the past year there’s been construction of single family homes on small lot sizes, using loopholes in Seattle’s land use code. Because our building codes were written for certain minimum lot sizes, many of these homes have smaller than usual setbacks, and often feel like they’re quite tall (though technically built to the same height allowed for other homes). Also, because these small lots were at one time pieces of other lots they are sometimes located in what would normally be a back yard. The result can be a tall home built in a back yard with little setback, which understandably generated neighbor complaints. Last month this resulted in emergency legislation to end small lot construction until permanent rules could be put in place. Wednesday’s discussion was the next step in creating permanent rules.

The Panelists

On the developer’s side, Michael Ravenscroft (actually a realtor) described a vision of busy neighborhoods, dense neighborhoods, and continued housing construction. He argued that single family construction is needed drastically, and because of limiting codes very few homes have been built in Seattle.

In the middle, architect Brad Khouri advocated for diversity of structures in our neighborhood. He wants something supportive of the growth that’s happening in Seattle, and wants to find some room for affordability.

On the neighbor’s side, John Taylor explained that we buy homes rather than rent them because we want predictability, to control our house and to some extent control our neighbors. He believes standards should be well understood and not change. He used quite a few anti-development talking points (“out of character”, “open space”, “blocks light”), and implied that there should be a strict minimum of 2,500sf lot size in Seattle.

The Compromise
Continue reading “There are More than Two Sides to Small Lots”

Transit Information Systems: Schedules and Headways

Following up on Bruce’s post several weeks ago about the side effects of not having a schedule for RapidRide, I want to share information I collected for my masters research paper. The paper is structured around a survey of transit information in 24 cities, mostly in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. While my research touches on all aspects of transit information, I wanted to pull out the relevant information about transit schedules to inform this discussion.

The table below contains relevant schedule and service information for the routes in the 24 cities I decided to include in the survey. I purposefully included a range of service types from local bus to subway.  The table below is sorted by minimum service headway and includes other service related information that impacts service reliability.

Glossary: Headway (time between vehicles), Tabular Schedule (metro’s current design), Clockface Schedule (arrival times repeat every hour at the same minute), ROW A (grade separate), ROW B (exclusive but at grade), ROW C (mixed flow), POP (proof of payment), PAYE (pay as you enter), PAYL (pas as you leave)

Scanning the table a few things jump out: Continue reading “Transit Information Systems: Schedules and Headways”

The RapidRide Punchlist

RapidRide C/D inbound on Seneca
RapidRide C/D inbound on Seneca

Those of us who live on the D Line have had plenty of opportunity to catalog anecdotally all the enhanced features that were (and largely still are) missing at launch, features which, along with stop reduction, would operate to make RapidRide D faster and more reliable than the 15 local it replaced. I’ve obtained from Metro a list of all outstanding capital projects related to all the in-service RapidRide lines, along with the estimated completion times.

First, note that this list excludes capital work in the downtown Seattle area; that was discussed in an op-ed by Metro GM Desmond. Essentially, in downtown, Metro made a high-pain high-gain tradeoff to delay installing ORCA readers and real-time displays until Seattle finished installing its own fiber network on 3rd Ave in the second quarter of 2013. This saves a tremendous amount of money (by avoiding digging up the street at Metro’s expense), but, of course, downtown Seattle is exactly the place where off-board payment and other enhanced features are most desperately needed. In this post I’m going to focus on deficiencies elsewhere.

Note that in this discussion, I’m going to count opposite-direction paired stops separately, rather than together, as riders usually do. So the northbound and southbound stops at 3rd & Cedar count as two stops, even though I’d typically speak of the two together as “the stop outside my apartment.” Also, a few of these things may already fixed, as most of my information is probably a couple of weeks old by now.

After the jump, we go Line-by-Line. Continue reading “The RapidRide Punchlist”

News Roundup: Something to Hate

Gordon Werner/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Tomorrow: Ask For Density in South Lake Union

The Basic Recommendation

One of the more interesting discussions I think we have here is one of density. Where do we allow growth, and how much? What kind of public amenities should have to come with new density, how much affordable housing, what kind of investment in common space, and what kind of requirements should there be on design?

Personally, I’m interested in allowing a great deal, because I see the alternatives as worse for both affordability and the environment. If we don’t build enough new housing to keep up with the demand from new residents, it pushes costs up for all housing, all the way down to the poorest of us. If we don’t allow density, our growth will come at the edges, worsening congestion and pressure on our transportation system, and contributing to climate change.

South Lake Union is possibly the perfect place to allow large increases in density. It has very few existing residents outside of those who have come in very recent development, far fewer than any other neighborhood in the city, so change there has the lowest impact on existing communities. It is directly adjacent to downtown, meaning new residents are most likely to walk or take transit to work, and with expansion of the streetcar through downtown, that will only be a stronger argument.

Tomorrow evening, the city council will take public comments on approving the recommendations from the city’s Department of Planning and Development. These are, at the root, taller buildings, but there’s lots more in the full plan (PDF), which is really worth a look before being critical. It limits exactly where towers can be and how many.

Comments are at City Hall tomorrow in council chambers, run from 5:30 to probably 6:30, and you must sign up to comment before 5:30 to be called. I urge you to comment in favor of the recommendation – it protects the small part of South Lake Union with older residential, and makes more room for downtown to grow. It would help us be more prosperous and sustainable, and make all of our investments in transit infrastructure more efficient.

Public Hearing
South Lake Union Proposed Rezone Legislation

November 14, 2012
5:30 p.m.
City Council Chambers
2nd floor, Seattle City Hall
600 Fourth Avenue

View the public notice for hearing details.

PSRC Funding for Pierce County


The Puget Sound Regional Council largely serves as a conduit for allocating federal funds. With all the grim news in Pierce County, it’s a small consolation that the latest chunk of funding is $481,000 to Pierce County, replacement for aging vanpools and completion of preliminary engineering for Tacoma Link. You can comment on these uses from November 8th to December 6th:

How to make a comment:
Mail: Puget Sound Regional Council
ATTN: Kelly McGourty
1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500
Seattle, Washington 98104-1035
In Person: December 6 at PSRC offices, 1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500, Seattle

A New Senate Transportation Committee Chair

Tracey Eide

[RSS readers: A previous version of this post was prematurely posted.  See below for the most updated version.]

One bit of good news to come out of the election was a strong showing from pro-transit legislative candidates, particularly those we endorsed.  The more surprising of these, which was actually more of an anti-endorsement than anything, was the defeat of Senator Mary Margaret Haugen by her Republican opponent, Barbara Bailey.  As we outlined in our endorsement, the promotion of a new Senate Transportation Committee chair from a Haugen defeat gave us more to cheer about than anything in Bailey’s transportation platform.

Many commenters rightfully expressed the concern that losing Haugen in the Senate could eradicate a Democratic majority, a risk we were willing to take given the previous majority’s lukewarm attitude towards transit.  At any rate, those fears were allayed after Democratic control was maintained by commanding victories from other Senate candidates, including pro-transit standouts like Jessyn Farrell, Marko Liias, Jake Fey, among others.

Haugen’s defeat means that the current vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Tracey Eide, will most likely be elevated to chair, a position that can make the difference between transit legislation passing and failing.  While Senator Eide doesn’t share the same pro-transit credentials as some of peers, her track-record for legislation friendly to transit advocates has been solid.  Most recently, she’s made tangible commitments to light rail expansion southward, even as her fellow South King County legislators cried foul.

While Senator Eide has her work cut out for her, she’s proven to be a reliable vote for transit, and an even more valuable one now given a likely promotion to Transportation Committee chair.  We have reason to be optimistic moving forward– but it will take commitment on all sides of the State government to get Olympia back into the picture.

Pierce Transit Update

Old City Hall, Tacoma (Wikimedia)

[UPDATE 9:50pm: Tonight’s drop grew the margin to 716 votes. 211 ballots came in today.]

As of Sunday evening, the margin is down to 695 votes, in favor of a NO. The auditor says the ballots received are starting to drop to a trickle, with only 341 received yesterday. But the margin is 0.36%, small enough to trigger an automatic machine recount. [UPDATE: A commenter points out that the linked rule may not apply to local measures. I’ve sent an email to the Pierce County auditor to find out. See the correction.]

Chris Karnes at Tacoma Tomorrow has the city-by-city breakdown of numbers through Friday. Tacoma and the relatively prosperous places near the water are the ones leading on this issue. It’s also interesting to me that Joint Base Lewis-McChord is breaking against the measure given that the on-post shopping options aren’t subject to sales tax, and given how strongly it went for Sound Transit 2 in 2008.

Our Priorities For Jay Inslee

Governor-Elect Inslee

Following on my personal values and vision of a better future, and our first overall call on Governor-elect Inslee to lead with his own environmental values, here is our view of the top priorities for improving our transportation system to become more sustainable:

  • First and foremost, Inslee should hire a director for the state Department of Transportation who will put climate change reduction first, not highway expansion. The head of DOT has many roles, including a seat on the Sound Transit board. We need a transportation leader who will think long term and progressively, someone like New York City’s Janette Sadik-Khan. SDOT director Peter Hahn might be a good choice here, or Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz – not a politician, but a professional with good political understanding and a willingness to push the envelope. We have state law already requiring emissions reduction – we need a leader to demand it. There are almost always better options on the table than what DOT chooses now.
  • He should ensure Amtrak Cascades operations are safely funded, and use this opportunity to make service better. Let’s pick a seat on our smartphone when we buy a ticket, not get one assigned in a long line before boarding. Let’s better fund King Street Station’s progress and make it a great regional hub. Let’s push hard on the capital improvements that will get the service running more often and faster – improvements that have already led to hundreds of millions in federal funding, and would win us more.
  • He should ask for the development of a real rail plan for the state – with true high speed rail for the Seattle-Portland corridor, and with possibilities to connect cities outside Puget Sound with service too. What would it take to actually run electric rail in the Northwest? We need to know so we can fight for it. 110mph diesel trains aren’t good enough for our future.
  • He should push to require local comprehensive plans actually meet climate reduction targets. Cities and counties shouldn’t be allowed to build more suburban subdivisions unless they’re reducing those emissions somewhere else. California already does this. Our local emissions need to trend down, not up. Continue reading “Our Priorities For Jay Inslee”

Federal Way Transit Extension Survey

Federal Way Transit Extension Study Area

Sound Transit has a 6-minute survey they would like you to take. More information below.

Sound Transit is kicking off the process for working with South King County communities on options for extending high-capacity transit service. The effort will help shape alternatives for building high capacity transit from South 200th Street to Kent/Des Moines, as well as a shovel-ready plan for reaching the heart of Federal Way.

This is the public’s first chance to weigh in on this key regional project. There are several ways to give feedback, by attending and upcoming open house, or by taking our survey by Monday, Nov. 19.

Over the next year, Sound Transit will analyze alternatives to expand high capacity transit from the future light rail station at S. 200th Street in the City of SeaTac to the Federal Way Transit Center.

This project is known as the Federal Way Transit Extension. Right now, Sound Transit is in the early scoping phase of the project and is seeking public input on what alternatives should be studied. This is your first opportunity to comment and become involved in this project. This survey should take approximately six minutes to complete.

Election Update: Pierce Transit is Close

Although most races are now decided, major media outlets have not called the governor’s race despite a consistent but narrow lead for Jay Inslee. I’m personally not much interested in spinning the statistics and am content to wait for everyone to be satisfied that the result is correct, but others apparently feel differently.

Far closer, however, is the Pierce Transit race, which means to raise sales taxes to add service rather than impose drastic cuts. Last night’s results show the no side ahead by 915 votes (50.28% no) with perhaps 80,000 ballots yet to be counted. Chris Karnes at Tacoma Tomorrow is analyzing the race exhaustively– including breakdowns by district – and has declared it too close to call.

An optimist would say we’d win those two, I-1185 will be ruled unconstitutional, C-Tran is in a whole different metropolitan area, and so it was a clean sweep (save for Sen. Steve Litzow and minor annexation measures) for STB’s endorsement slate. A pessimist might say that the Pierce Transit measure may be the only one to have a clear and concrete effect on Puget Sound transit riders, and a loss there would dwarf the importance of everything else.

What We Need from Our New Governor

Yesterday, I read a short piece in the Stranger that calls on Jay Inslee, governor-elect, to push hard in a few places he hasn’t yet shown much leadership. Part of their last section really caught my attention:

Use your power to push for mass transit that makes sense in the biggest county in the state—King County. It happens to be the county that just elected you, and it also happens to be the place where you can make a significant contribution to your real passion: environmental stewardship.

We’ve just spent eight years with a governor who’s been unwilling to lead on transit. She’s put forward road and highway expansion projects, but she has done no more than the bare minimum to support transit.

Jay Inslee ran as an environmental candidate. He’s talked a lot about green jobs and renewable energy, and worked in Congress to help promote both. But at home, the greenest jobs we can possibly create are those that build transit. And the most damaging jobs we can create are those expanding our highways, literally paving the way for climate change.

Jay Inslee’s values tell me he should be a leader on both transit and land use. How he was elected, and the people elected around him this week – like Jessyn Farrell and Jake Fey – tell me the voters want him to lead on transit too.

He’s not going to do it alone – we need to tell him what we want. Personally, I want a transportation package that fixes existing roads and bridges, builds bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure wherever it makes those repairs, and funds transit – a lot of it. What we found in 2007 with the failure of Roads and Transit is that people in Puget Sound don’t want more or bigger highways – and polling since then (and that whole 2008 Sound Transit 2 blowout) shows that there are two things we all agree on: we want to fix our aging infrastructure, and we want to build more transit.

If we’re going to have a dent in climate change, the package needs to be *mostly* transit – and mostly electric transit. It needs to fund Amtrak Cascades so we can get service levels up to a point where we can argue to electrify it. It needs to give Sound Transit enough revenue to speed up their projects and get ready for more. And it needs to keep our buses funded, and give local governments funding to make capital improvements so they’re more efficient.

Maybe it should tie some of these goals to land use, to encourage our agencies and governments to zone in order to make transit, walking and biking more successful. But regardless, it should not fund projects that will increase our emissions – only projects that will decrease them while improving our economy.

So to the governor-elect, I say: I want to see you lead with your values. Don’t support projects that make our future worse. If you need our help, ask, and we’ll be there to support you.

News Roundup: Queue Jump

Stephan J. Cox / Flickr

This is an open thread.