When it Comes to Polls, Framing is Everything

Photo by KDavidClark

With each passing day, the proposed transportation package from the House Democrats is looking more and more like the Roads & Transit measure that failed in 2007.  Both may go down in history as unique proposals that united both pro-transit and pro-road forces in opposition.  Anti-tax forces haven’t been giving the package any love either– Monday’s Elway Poll made it clear that the general public isn’t interested in paying higher gas tax and car-tab fees.

While any opposition to such a highway-centric package sounds good, it’s important to not take away too much from the poll.  It’s a no-brainer that no one actually likes paying more taxes.  But if you associate a benefit to the cost of tax increases, people tend to have a stronger willingness to yield.  Of course, that depends on what those benefits actually are and how you frame the question.

Let’s take a look at the Elway’s poll question (.pdf).  The wording leads by outlining the package’s potential benefits, and asks the respondent to prioritize accordingly:

The legislature is looking at some potential transportation improvements. Of course, transportation projects are expensive and take a long time to complete. So the question is where to spend taxpayer dollars. I am going to read a list of projects that could be included in this package. As you think about the state transportation system over the next 10 years, tell me whether you think each project should be a Top priority for state government, a High priority, Low or a Not a priority for state government:

  • Expand major highways around the state to reduce commuter congestion and increase freight mobility
  • Provide money to the state ferry system to upgrade and maintain the system and keep fares down
  • Repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges
  • Provide money to local mass transit systems

Continue reading “When it Comes to Polls, Framing is Everything”

Help Save the Tri-County Connectors

by JOE A. KUNZLER (“Avgeek Joe from Skagit County”)

Island Transit 411 Whidbey at layover.
Island Transit 411 Whidbey. Photo by author.

We have a situation that requires your attention in Northwest Washington State: namely, the Tri-County Connectors linking Skagit, Island and Whatcom Counties are at risk. Even the Skagit Transit express bus to and from Everett is at risk.

How can this be so? Especially when, according to this Island Transit fact sheet, over 350,000 trips were taken on the five Northwest Washington State county connector routes in 2012? My math indicates for the 5-day week that’s over 1,300 regular users of these routes, and ridership has grown almost every year since 2006, despite the recession.

Yet, the state transportation budget that will come out in a few weeks must include a $6 million per biennium grant for the tri-county connectors. Not as part of some transportation package going to the voters, but in the current no-new-revenue budget. Otherwise, come the end of June… no more Tri-County Connectors.

Arguably, that’s over 1,300 cars off the road. That’s creating capacity on currently existing roads, cutting harmful emissions, saving money that would have to be spent either on road repair or expensive efforts to expand road capacity. That’s also transit access to places in our region such as the Cascade Mall, Naval Outlying Field Coupeville, Bellingham Community College, Bellis Fair and more.

If we are truly one state, then we need to come together and demand that in the current transportation budget there is funding for the county connectors. This is a service that allows Northwest Washington State citizens – many of whom pay more in taxes than receive in services, plus live in that region for a multitude of reasons – to link up with the stellar Seattle area transit network.

Please look up contact the appropriate legislators on page 2 of the fact sheet. Also on that contact list is the entire State House & State Senate transportation committees. Although Rep. Dave Hayes has pledged that he will fight for funding both the Tri-County Connectors and the Everett Connector within existing revenue to protect these trips, until we have a transportation budget signed by Governor Jay Inslee, this is not a done deal.

News Roundup: Unconstitutional

Slack Action / Flickr

This is an open thread.

FRA Approves Point Defiance Bypass

permits.performance.gov
permits.performance.gov

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Monday approved the Point Defiance Bypass, allowing WSDOT to finish the design, begin construction in 2015, and potentially complete it in 2017.

The bypass, starting at Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square and rejoining the BNSF mainline at Nisqually, will reduce the travel time between Seattle and Portland from 3 hours and 30 minutes for Amtrak Cascades trains to 3 hours and 15 minutes. The time savings on the route comes from the decrease in overall mileage, increased speed, and improved reliability. The bypass also removes 5 minutes of padding that was needed due to the frequent interactions with freight traffic in the Nelson Bennett area. All passenger trains, including the Amtrak Coast Starlight, will move to Freighthouse Square, closing the old station currently in use.

This finding is open to appeal.  Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told The News Tribune on Monday that “the City Council will consider its options, including taking the project to court.” Mayor Anderson and the Lakewood City Council have a long history of opposing the project.

The bypass will allow the State to start 2 additional round trips between Seattle and Portland, assuming it resolves the uncertainty of funding for Amtrak Cascades.

Ballard Transit Expansion Study Open House

Ballard Corridor Study Area
Ballard Corridor Study Area

As you probably know, Sound Transit and SDOT are coming together to study the possibility of high-capacity transit between Downtown Seattle and Ballard. The two agencies will be holding an open house this Tuesday to discuss the project:

March 12, 2013
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Ballard High School Commons
1418 NW 65th St., Seattle

Head on over and see what they’re up to.  As Martin reported earlier this week, the Sound Transit board has directed staff to fund a number of corridor studies for a possible ST3 ballot measure in 2016. While this particular corridor study is technically funded separately from the rest of the potential ST3 corridors, the actual route, if constructed, would likely be part of an ST3 package.

Pierce Transit Open Houses This Week

Pierce Transit is hosting a series of open houses about September’s service cuts. The first of nine meetings is tomorrow afternoon in Lakewood:

Almost all Pierce Transit routes will be affected. The primary impacts of the proposed service reductions are:

Reduced local bus service:

WEEKDAYS

  • 36 routes operating 1250 daily trips
  • Limited service after 7:30PM
  • Limited service during mid-day

SATURDAYS

  • 25 routes operating 456 trips
  • Limited service after 7PM
  • Limited service during mid-day

SUNDAYS

  • 17 routes operating 271 trips
  • Limited service after 7PM
  • Limited service during mid-day

OTHER

  • Service will be eliminated on or around the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
  • Elimination of Route 62, and SHUTTLE, which serves Northeast Tacoma.
  • No restoration of special service to events like the Washington State Fair (Puyallup Fair).

SHUTTLE USERS: As per federal ADA regulations, SHUTTLE paratransit service for eligible people with disabilities operates during the same days and times as bus service. As bus service is reduced or eliminated, SHUTTLE service will also be reduced or eliminated.

The full meeting schedule is below the jump.

Continue reading “Pierce Transit Open Houses This Week”

Metro Hopes for Route 70 Electrification by June

Routes 36  and 70 in Pioneer Square
36-70

In mid-2010, when the east phase of the Mercer Corridor Project began construction, the trolleybus wires on Fairview used by Route 70 were removed, and the trolleybuses which have worked that route since 1997 were temporarily replaced with motorcoaches. Then last November, while Fairview itself was reconstructed, buses were detoured away from the heart of South Lake Union over to the far east side, on Eastlake. Finally, however, the eastern phase of the MCP is essentially done with Mercer and Fairview, and is moving on to the last major component, reconstructing Valley Street, which will not impact Route 70 (although it looks like it will impact Routes 40 and 62).

I asked Metro when we could expect to see Route 70 return to Fairview and re-electrified. Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer responded:

We’re still coordinating when the 70 etc. buses will return to Fairview, but know the city is aiming for March 9 weather dependent. The current schedule could see the 70 re-electrified about a month or so after buses are back on Fairview, putting in the April or May ballpark. I can share more details as the city schedule firms up, and we start restringing wires; [there will be a] period of testing once the wires are up, too, and that takes time.

Route 70 has been motorized since I moved to Seattle, so for me, it’ll be like a whole new trolleybus route; I’m looking forward to it. Trolleybuses have always appealed to my instincts as an engineer, delivering quiet, almost-fossil-fuel-free transit with a moderate, low-risk investment in overhead and substations.

When I last checked with Metro in December, trolleybus acquisition was proceeding as expected, with a supplier expected to be announced in late March.

More trolleybus and Metro news generally after the jump. Continue reading “Metro Hopes for Route 70 Electrification by June”

23rd Ave Open House

Open House photo by Zach
Open House photo by Zach

SDOT held an open house this Saturday at Garfield Community Center to discuss the upcoming repaving project on 23rd Ave. The background here is that SDOT, through several successful grant applications, has put together $20M (more than the $14M I’d previously reported) to turn what would have been a basic repaving project into a potentially much more significant series of improvements, including:

  • signal upgrades
  • transit signal priority
  • fiber optics
  • CCTV cameras
  • license plate readers
  • bus stop improvements
  • lighting improvements
  • sidewalk repair

With about 6,900 daily riders, 23rd Ave is the most important corridor between North and South Seattle outside of the downtown area, so what happens here is of vital importance to the transit network overall.  Buses are the primary non-car mode, and the need for them to remain fast and reliable is, according to SDOT staff, what’s likely to define what’s possible and what’s not.

The big decision is whether to rechannelize the street to three lanes from the current four lane configuration*.  SDOT as completed a basic traffic study which has shown that going down to three lanes through the entire corridor would cause significant backups at three intersections, resulting in unreliable transit travel.  A more detailed traffic study which may shed more light on this is currently underway, to be completed in April.

Much more after the jump.

Continue reading “23rd Ave Open House”

Doing Good Work in the Snoqualmie Valley

Bus Stop Sunset
Bus Stop Sunset. Flikr user Jeff Youngstrom.

There’s a nice post over at Metro Future Blog detailing the community outreach work Metro has been doing in the Snoqualmie Valley, a project that seems to be going genuinely smoothly. If you’re interested in the details, you should read it, but the penultimate paragraph illustrates the tone:

Lastly, the reason we enjoy being able to discuss these projects with the public is that we get the opportunity to run ideas by our current and prospective riders and see what they think, as well as hear about suggestions that never crossed our minds. For example, we heard that our flex time in Duvall would have excluded Duvall High School. An oversight on our part and something we are grateful someone has pointed out to us. We’re now able to discuss this option along with the list of other great questions/concerns/comments you have all brought up.

While I’m sure the restructure exercise in the Valley is genuinely less stressful and more agreeable than in Seattle, there’s a little more back story here that you won’t read on the Metro blog. People on the inside tell me that the person to thank for allowing these proposals to advance through the process relatively unscathed, particularly the truncation of Route 311 (riders will be required to transfer at Redmond TC), is the King County Council member for this district, Kathy Lambert.

As I (and everyone else who’s ever watched a Metro restructure process) predicted, the elimination of the commuter one-seat-ride into downtown Seattle caused protest among those Duvall riders who use that route, even though the number of people who use it past Woodinville does not warrant continued service under Metro’s guidelines. I’m told Ms. Lambert has gone in to bat for Metro in the face of opposition from upset constituents, arguing the success and effectiveness of the overall network trumps the convenience of the small minority of people for whom the status quo happens to work very well.

As a Seattleite, it’s a little galling to see this kind of backbone brought to bear on transit matters by elected officials: on our side of the lake, we mostly seem to have bad examples of elected officials squashing, or trying to squash, changes that are called for under the guidelines and which would, in fact, benefit their constituents overall. A former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was quoted as saying:

Just remember when you’re up there making those decisions, you don’t just represent the people who have the time to spend all night at your hearing. You represent everyone, including the vast majority of people who don’t know the meeting is going on and have no time or ability to be there.

I don’t know if Ms. Lambert has even heard of Seattle Transit Blog, or gives a fig about what Seattle transit wonks think of her, but in this case, and in the more high profile drama of the $20 Congestion Reduction Charge passage, she has been a friend indeed to transit, and I thank her for it.

Legislation Roundup

State Capitol Interior (wikimedia)

Now that many of the genuine no-hope bills have died their early death, here’s what’s still alive in Olympia that matters for transit and land use. Status is as of yesterday afternoon. Bills start out in the relevant committee, then go to Rules to await their turn for a floor vote.

Really Big Deals

Out of committee, awaiting floor vote

SB 5773 / HB 1953 applies specifically to Community Transit, and would allow up to 0.3% more in sales tax through 2018 given voter approval. This provision replaced a 1% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) with no time limit in an earlier version.

SB 5088 prevents C-Tran from forming a “high-capacity transit district” to vote on and pay taxes for light rail, forcing it to seek approval and taxation from the entire C-Tran service area.

HB 1959 / SB 5861 concerns two revenue sources: up to $40 for TBDs without a public vote; and a 1.5% MVET for King County, of which 60% must be for transit and 40% for roads, with no public vote. (Still in committee in the Senate)

SB 5793 / HB 1898: allows Pierce Transit to create an “enhanced transit zone” within its service area with higher taxes and better service, separating out precincts that are more strongly pro-transit. (Still in committee in the Senate)

Still in Committee

HB 1485 gives transportation benefit districts (TBDs) the power to levy a $40 vehicle license fee (instead of $20) without a public vote.

A source tells me all of the transit revenue bills may eventually be combined into one super-bill in each house. Some or all of these bills were sponsored by Reps. Liias, Moscoso, Stanford, Roberts, Dunshee, Sells, McCoy, Ryu, Fey, Sawyer, Fitzgibbon, Jinkins, Farrell, Pollet, Morrell, Kagi, Pedersen, Bergquist, Tarleton, and Cody in the House; and Sens. Harper, Eide, Shin, McAuliffe, Nelson, Frockt, Kline, Darneille, Conway, Murray, and Kohl-Welles.

HB 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957: The Clibborn plan (with lots of cosponsors) to raise the gas tax (good) and spend a strong majority of it on new highway projects (bad).

Also Relevant

Continue reading “Legislation Roundup”

Fight for Sane Bus Routes, Not More Trips on Insane Routes

Magnolia Map Excerpt

Today in the Seattle Times Traffic & Transit Blog, Mike Lindblom has a post about community activists in Magnolia, fighting to restore some late-night Route 24 trips to Magnolia:

Late service on Route 24 was cut in the countywide Sept. 29 service change. Metro restored one of those lost trips, leaving Sodo for Magnolia at 10:20 p.m., in its February 16 change.

Last week 30 people met with County Councilman Larry Phillips and Metro’s director of service development, Victor Obeso, in a Magnolia church and advocates say they gathered 500 petition signatures.

They want the 11:20 p.m., 12:20 p.m. and 1:20 a.m. trips from downtown Seattle restored.

While cutting these trips was probably the right thing to do given the current route structure, it was the wrong to do if Metro and the King County Council member for this area were interested in actually maximizing the ability to get around on transit, as opposed to minimizing the number of pissed-off people. The surprising thing about Route 24 is not that the late-night trips perform so badly, but that anyone rides the thing at all past Interbay.

Route 24 is one of the few non-streetcar routes that has never been changed since its introduction as a motorcoach by Seattle Municipal Railway in the ’40s: it has a bizarre zigzag structure that forces most riders in Magnolia to travel miles out of their way to get anywhere. The only two pockets of density in Magnolia served by the 24 are at the top and bottom of its segment on 34th Ave W (at Government and McGraw), neither of which are served very well; the section on West Viewmont is virtually unused, presumably because it’s surrounded almost exclusively by fabulously expensive, low-density housing.

Presumably for these reasons, Metro planners in September originally proposed axing the 28th and West Viewmont sections of the 24, and instead running the bus up 34th, to Gilman, and then to Ballard. Doing this would have provided far better service to downtown for the pockets of density in Magnolia, and given them a new option, to go to downtown Ballard without a car — an option I suspect many residents might have considered, given that downtown Ballard is precisely the kind of active, pedestrian-oriented, parking-constrained place that transit exists to serve.

Such a route would cost less to run than the current arrangement, and be better patronized; it would therefore likely not be subject to deletion under the Service Guidelines. The loss of coverage in West Viewmont (whose residents would keep commuter service on Route 19) is a tiny price to pay for this. It’s incomprehensible to me why the managers and elected officials in charge of Metro, who cannot fail to be aware of these facts, are not willing to stare down a small amount of organized opposition to do the right thing for the larger population they serve.

Sound Transit Board Accelerates ST3 Planning

The Board Deliberates (photo: Richard Conlin tweet)

Yesterday the Sound Transit Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to complete high capacity transit planning in time to allow a 2016 Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, if the local political winds are favorable and revenue authority is forthcoming from Olympia.

By 2014, ST staff is to have updated the 2005 Long-Range Plan. They will also deliver High-Capacity Transportation (HCT Corridor studies) as listed on p. 101 of the Draft 2013 Transit Improvement Plan:

  • Lynnwood- SW Everett Industrial Center Everett
  • Overlake Transit Center — Downtown Redmond
  • South Bellevue — Issaquah
  • Redondo/Star Lake — Tacoma
  • Redmond — Kirkland — U-District
  • U-District — Ballard — Downtown Seattle (Ballard — Downtown Segment budgeted separtely [sic] Project 809101)
  • Renton — Tukwila/SeaTac — Burien
  • Downtown Seattle — West Seattle- Burien

ST will decide on an actual ST3 project list from the above in 2015-6. This is all enabled by the Board’s decision to allocate funding for this work last December.

Transit Report Card: Reykjavik

by CHAD NEWTON

Straeto Bus in Reykjavik
Straeto Bus in Reykjavik. Wikimedia user Jóhann Heiðar Árnason.

Overall Grade: C-

I had the great opportunity to visit Iceland for a few days last week. I found a nation blessed with natural wonders, an evocative history and interesting food. The capital city of Reykjavik has a compact core with world-class shopping, cuisine and nightlife. But the city’s all-bus transit system, Straeto, (there are no trains on the entire island) could use some improvement.

Straeto operates as if they visited U.S. Sun Belt cities to learn best practices:

  • Confusing mess of zigzagging, partially redundant lines? Check.
  • 30 minutes or greater headways outside of peak hours? Check.
  • Off-street transit centers? Check.
  • Opaque and contradictory public information? Check
  • General public unaware or uninterested in how to use transit? Check.
  • Faster to walk 30 minutes in town instead of using transit? Check.

On the plus side, the rolling stock is nice. Fold-up bench seating on one side provides lots of open floor area for wheelchairs or strollers, as is typical for Europe.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Reykjavik”