Housing Panel Tomorrow

Smart Growth Seattle’s Roger Valdez (who has written quite a bit here) is going to be on a housing panel tomorrow night:

What’s missing from Seattle’s discussion about housing is the idea that people should have more choices about where they want to live in our city. That’s what Smart Growth Seattle is all about: increasing the supply of choices for where people live.

Our discussion about housing should be about increasing choices, from small, affordable apartments all the way to what we typically consider houses. In the end, what people want is a place to call “home,” whether they rent or own. This matters to everyone. When people oppose new places for people to live, they’re making it harder for everyone to find a way to be happy.

North District Council

May 1st, 7:00 p.m.- 8:30 PM

Lake City Library conference room

12501 28th Ave. NE

Lagos gets a Free Gondola System

They started last year, and plan to have their system running in 2015.  They’ll have 13 stations, 8 miles of travel, and expect 250,000 passengers per day at opening with a full capacity of over a million passengers per day.  It will be a privately funded system, paying for itself with farebox recovery.  Because of poor power reliability in Nigeria they’ll build two redundant generators at each station that needs power.  They’ll have cameras and intercoms in each of the 300 cabins.  The total cost of the system will be $500M, and fares will be between $1.28 and $1.92 per trip.

I’m not proposing we build such a large system here, and such a system would certainly cost more in Seattle than Lagos.  But surely a line or two connecting our subway system to areas of potential ridership couldn’t be that bad an idea.

Infographic from Trico Capital

(via The Gondola Project)

Metro Selects Columbia as Post-Viaduct Pathway

Main Street Transit Priority Mall Concept
The Pioneer Square transit mall we won’t get.

In 2016, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is closed and demolition begins, King County Metro will lose its primary conduit into downtown Seattle from West Seattle and southwest King County. While all post-Viaduct pathways will be significantly slower and less reliable, the agency has to figure out the best replacement according to some combination of speed, reliability, access to the city center, and ease of operation. After eliminating options deemed unworkable, the choice basically boiled down to variations on two themes: a waterfront pathway, following the surface Alaskan Way to Colman dock, then up the hill to 3rd Ave via some combination of Marion and Columbia; and a Pioneer Square pathway on some combination of Main and Washington.

As announced on the Metro Future Blog last week, the agency is proposing a two-way configuration on Columbia Street. Beyond the announcement, Metro has quite a bit of information up about the decision. There are some easily-digestible nuggets also on Metro Future about the pathways not chosen and likewise in this fact sheet, and a report which comprehensively analyses the four final alternatives. To get right to the bottom line, skip to PDF pages 67-69 for a tabular summary of the results. As far as I can tell, the report seems thorough and well written, with reasonable conclusions.

I’ve said my piece on this already, but for posterity: the two-way Main St pathway, pictured above, would have provided by far the best intermodal connectivity and access to the south end of downtown, and been almost immune from ferry traffic congestion, all for the ongoing cost of about a minute in travel time inbound, and three minutes outbound. The pathway would have been significantly more expensive to implement — Main Street completely rebuilt with wider sidewalks, custom paving and bus shelters — but it could have become a beautiful and functional gateway to one of the few truly urban places in Seattle, and provided year-round activation to the often-forlorn Occidental Mall. By contrast, Columbia is nothing more than a pipe for cars.

Unfortunately, the people with the most to gain from a Pioneer Square alignment fought the hardest against it, and when I discussed the alternatives with Metro staff some months ago, it was made clear that whatever the technical merits of this pathway, well-connected anti-bus NIMBYs had foreclosed that possibility; a Columbia pathway was almost a foregone conclusion. The question now is whether Seattle will give Metro the transit priority treatments needed to get buses reliably through the mess at Colman Dock.

ACTION ALERT: Ship Canal Crossing and Eastlake Study

Photo by Mike Bjork/Flikr
Link over the Duwamish – Photo by Mike Bjork/Flickr

On Wednesday May 1st, starting at 9:30am (if possible sign in at 8:30 to ensure a spot) the Seattle City Council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee will be taking public testimony on the Mayor’s supplemental budget, including study money for a new Ship Canal Crossing and the University District to South Lake Union transit corridor from the Transit Master Plan.

The Ship Canal Crossing study is key to putting solid numbers to the results of the City/Sound Transit Downtown to Ballard HCT study.  Besides that, a new crossing is a needed project in its own right (see Bruce’s great outside the box proposal).  The Council has previously stated its desire to start the Eastlake study this year but recently some members have started pulling back.

Both of these projects are needed.  We have the money, the Council just needs to follow through on its prior commitments and allow the Mayor to fund them.  The more shovel ready projects we have, the better able we are to compete when federal dollars come available.

Come out Wednesday and publicly show your support for moving transit in this city forward.  If you can’t attend in person, be sure to submit your comments via email before May 1st.  The Government Performance and Finance Committee is made up of Tim Burgess (chair), Nick Licata, Sally Clark and Mike O’Brien but it’s a good idea to cc the rest of the Council as well.

Public Hearing Tomorrow on E, F Lines, I-90, and More

Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.
Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.

Tomorrow afternoon, the King County Transportation, Environment and Economy Committee (TEEC) will host a fairly important public hearing on a whole bunch of proposed Metro service changes for Fall of this year and a few upcoming ones next year.  While this isn’t going to be the palooza that preceded the massive Fall 2012 shakeup, there are some fairly significant countywide service proposals on the docket, including implementation of the E and F Lines, I-90 revisions, and the Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery project– Bruce has covered just about all of these.

Here’s the rough breakdown of routes that the TEEC will take public comment on:

Fall 2013

  • South King revisions:
    • Convert the 155 to DART service
    • Revise the routing of the 909 DART to better serve Renton Technical College and Renton Housing Authority
    • Extend the 140 to serve the Landing, presumably to build up the market for the F Line
  • Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery:
    • Convert the 209 into a peak-only route
    • Implement a new 208 between North Bend and Issaquah
    • Shorten the 224 to operate only between Duvall and Redmond
    • Implement a new Snoqualmie Intra-Valley shuttle
    • Shorten the 311 to operate only between Seattle and Woodinville
  • I-90 corridor improvements:
    • Reroute the 210 to serve Eastgate P&R
    • Delete the 211’s South Bellevue P&R deviation (wahoo!)
    • Delete the 215’s Issaquah TC deviation
    • Revise the 216 routing to serve Issaquah Highlands instead of North Issaquah

Spring 2014

  • Implement the E Line
    • Delete the 358

Summer 2014

  • Implement the F Line
    • Delete the 140
    • Delete the 110

The public hearing will be held tomorrow, April 30th from 4pm to 5pm at the King County Council Chambers.  There will also be an open house preceding the hearing at 3:30pm, where you can get a detailed description of each proposed change.  The TEEC will pass on its recommendations to the full county council, which is expected to vote on the changes in May.

Monday: Interbay Rezoning Community Meeting

Proposed Interbay Rezone
Proposed Interbay Rezone

On Monday, April 29th, from 5-7 PM at Q Cafe, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development will hold a community open house to obtain feedback on their proposal to rezone a portion of Interbay:

For the past six months, city planners have been studying possibilities for the future of Interbay. Metro has introduced Rapid Ride frequent transit, and new apartments and offices are under construction in the area. Newcomers, ranging from small craft distiller Sound Spirits to large retailer Petco, have joined long-standing businesses like GM Nameplate and Keller Supply to become part of the business community. And more change is likely.

Some background: the public process for this rezone has been underway for some time, and of the original three concepts — an urban village, an industrial area, and a “local production district” — the choice appears to have been winnowed to down to some variation on the third. You’re probably wondering what a local production district is, so here’s the blurb from the DPD concept:

Industrial lands develop in ways that support growing opportunities for locally-produced, customized, specialized, small lot production. […] Integrates retail and production uses. Small parcels accommodate independent businesses, and large parcel offers centralized management of campus-like environment.

What this translates to in policy is a rezone from Industrial General (IG), which is what most people would think of as industrial (e.g. much of SODO, the Ballard docks) to Industrial Commercial (IC). The best example of IC zoning that I know of is the area of Ballard just northwest of 15th & Leary, which hosts an eclectic and growing mix of microbreweries (which retail on-site), car mechanics, bike shops, bars and other businesses, all housed in a jumble of buildings of various vintage and quality. This is, I believe, what DPD is aiming for in the part of Interbay west of 15th Ave NW. One minor code change, to create a neighborhood retail area at Dravus & 14th, is also proposed.

Ship Canal Connector
Ship Canal Connector. Map from Our Interbay.

At this point, the urban village concept having been rejected, this rezone doesn’t seem to hold out the possibility of increasing housing availability in any meaningful way, rather it’s mostly about allowing more productive non-residential use of a swath of the city that’s well-served by transit, which seems like a good idea in as far as it goes.

One transportation investment in this area that strikes me as forehead-slappingly obvious, and would aid the success of the proposed local production district, is to connect the recently-built Ship Canal Trail to Thorndyke, via a short section of trail, on existing public right-of-way underneath the Emerson St ramp, as shown on the map at right. Today, the trail passes within a hundred yards of the proposed rezone area, but the only safe and sane way for a bicyclist to get into the area is by detouring more than a mile through Magnolia. Anything DPD could do to move this connection forward would be highly desirable.

The proposed changes seem unlikely to be controversial, but it’s always good to have pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-density comments so DPD’s public feedback isn’t all just whining about parking. If you can’t attend Monday’s meeting, take the online survey here. Finally, if you’re interested in Ballard zoning, a similar rezone process will begin in May for the 15th & Market area of Ballard, an area now dominated by very car-oriented development, so I’ll try to keep an eye out for that.

ST Board Rubber-Stamps Bellevue Decision

The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.
NE 6th Station

Yesterday the Sound Transit Board unanimously approved the Bellevue Council’s recommendation for cost savings, including numerous noise mitigation projects but a relatively poor site for the downtown station. I’ve said my piece on this subject, but here are some explanations from Board members with solid urbanist credentials:

Seattle Councilmember Richard Conlin: “Fundamentally it’s because this keeps the process moving without throwing it back into more confusion, and recognizes the good work that Claudia did in getting the $5 million for ped improvements, ensuring that ST will not be asked to pay for the HOV lane, and getting this to be required approval for the light rail line so that we do not have to fear further litigation or delay from Bellevue. Also, the ST ten minute walk statistics showed that the losses were minor for moving to the 6th avenue station and there was no measurable ridership loss.”

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn: “The design and cost savings were a compromise with Bellevue that moves the project forward.”

Bellevue Councilmember Claudia Balducci did not offer a comment in time for publication.

SDOT Proposes Expanding Bus Zones in Fremont


The Seattle Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating two small loading zones and a handful of parking spots in order to extend the very busy pair of bus zones in downtown Fremont to cover essentially their entire respective block faces, as shown on the map above. We’ve written at length before about the specific problems at these stops (along with some other transit problems on Leary between Fremont and Ballard) but the letter from Metro succinctly states the case:

The need for these revisions is driven by an increase in transit service and ridership in the area as well as interest in improving general traffic flow along the block. Since September 2012, transit service to these bus stops has increased from about 8 buses an hour to 15 buses per hour during the peak, greatly increasing the likelihood of concurrent bus arrivals at both northbound and southbound bus stops. Since two large buses can’t fully pull to the curb at either the northbound or southbound bus stops, buses often have to block a general purpose travel lane until the space is cleared. This causes delays to riders and to drivers that get stuck behind the waiting buses. Similarly, restricting parking along the block will allow buses to move through intersections without having to wait for vehicle queues from the traffic signal to clear.

Over 1000 riders use these bus stops each day; we believe these revisions will provide a great benefit to them as well as general purpose traffic.

If you’re someone who uses these stops and you want to comment on this proposed change, email your comment to Jonathan.Dong@seattle.gov by May 3rd. Absent supportive comments from riders, the public feedback might well just be grumbling about parking loss from adjacent businesses, so if this will benefit you, be sure to make your voice heard.

More Answers from Car2Go

Ballard Car2Go

I talked on the phone to Car2Go CEO Nick Cole a couple of weeks ago, to follow up on our last interview, and relay some of your questions; apologies for the delay in getting this published. I did ask if car2go could share heat maps, or some other graphic of Seattle’s demand, but they declined. They did, however, point out a video from South By Southwest showing car2go usage in Austin one weekend, which while not official, is apparently accurate.

Bruce: Everyone seems to agree the car2go refueling process is terrible for users. Do you plan to make any changes to it?

Nick: Refueling is a necessary evil, of course. Unlike competitors, car2go only requests (not requires) that drivers refill the car below a certain fuel level, so most users will be able to avoid it if they wish. Essentially, we crowdsource refueling: for example, there are apps [e.g. free2go] which show users cars that are eligible for the refueling bonus; this is much cheaper for us than paying someone to go out and refill cars. The current bonus seems to provide an adequate incentive to keep the cars fueled, so there are no plans to change it.

One common request is for the option to buy down the insurance deductible; $1,000 is more liability than many people would like to carry. For example, ZipCar allows users to do this on a monthly or per-trip basis. Are you guys planning to offer this?

Yes, this is something we want to offer. We are talking to our insurance company now, and we hope to offer something by the end of the year.

Another is for the ability to drive in other countries, e.g. I’d like to be able to drive in Vancouver or London with my Seattle membership. Is this something you could offer?

Again, this is another thing we want to offer, and we’re working with our legal team to make it happen. car2go is a global company, and we want car2go to be globally seamless. Keep in mind, though, It’s quite a lot of work: we have to solve more than just the US-Canada problem, we also have to solve Germany-UK, Canada-France, Austria-US, etc.

More after the jump. Continue reading “More Answers from Car2Go”

Real-Time Arrival and Link

Oran’s Mockup of Real Time Arrival (Flickr)

Back in November, Bruce bashed RapidRide for having neither a published schedule, nor real-time arrival board, nor real support in OneBusAway:

I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect Metro to deliver this service at a level of quality that befits a premium, flagship service. The status quo of no schedule and no OneBusAway on the C & D Lines — more than six weeks after the start of service — is an intolerable embarrassment to the agency and is corroding the RapidRide brand.

All these points are valid, and thankfully Metro has corrected the situation. But that just calls into relief the outrage that Link, a few years older and with an order of magnitude more capital investment, still has nothing but an onsite two minute warning.

Fortunately,  a new research project provides some hope that ST will find a solution in the next few years. Last July the Sound Transit Board appropriated funds to a new research & technology program known as “Regional Data Services.” Yesterday I spoke with Michael Berman, the Program Supervisor, who told me the prospects of getting what we’ve been waiting for all this time.

All below the jump.

Continue reading “Real-Time Arrival and Link”

News Roundup: Little Treatise

Metro’s latest bunker on wheels (zargoman/Flickr)

This is an open thread.

Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements

Photo by DWHonan

Over the last couple of weeks, the Puyallup City Council has been in talks with Sound Transit over potential access improvements to Puyallup Station.  Like many of its South Line counterparts, the station is heavily auto-oriented despite being situated in a fairly quaint and walkable downtown. As a result, growth in Sounder ridership has greatly increased the pressure on nearby commuter lots, all of which are already at-capacity on the weekdays.

At the same time, the November failure of Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 and the recent curtailing of local transit service have continued to dwindle multimodal access options.  Many commuters are now relying on the Red Lot, a secondary lot on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which is served by PT Sounder feeder routes 400 and 495.

Continue reading “Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements”

Ed Murray Throws Seattle Under the Train

Publicola today has one of their fantastic “one question” pieces – this time for mayoral candidate Ed Murray, on his view on Sound Transit’s subarea equity policy. Murray says it should be eliminated.

As a quick bit of background, subarea equity is a policy in which Sound Transit is split into five subareas – and money collected in a subarea must be spent in that subarea. This means money collected in Seattle essentially stays in Seattle, money collected on the eastside stays on the eastside.

Subarea equity originally existed because suburban legislators, in creating Sound Transit, wanted to make sure that suburban money didn’t end up spent in Seattle. As a result, Link implementation was at first slower. But now that Sound Transit 2 is passed, the North King subarea’s “spine” is fully funded. Most of the political pressure on Sound Transit is now to expand to Tacoma, Everett, and Redmond, and most of the board votes are outside Seattle.

In a Sound Transit 3 package, subarea equity is paramount to ensuring that we get a new line in Seattle – it ensures that Seattle’s contribution stays in the city, and political pressure doesn’t move money out to the ends of the lines.

Murray claims that his reason for wanting to remove subarea equity would be to focus transit investment in Seattle – but the outcome of removing it would be the opposite. As a transit advocate who wants Seattle to have more grade separated transit, this is scary because it’s a direct threat to a new line in the city, and it’s scary because a mayoral candidate should have a better grasp of the issues.

Bellevue Makes its Cost Savings Picks

The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.
The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.

Last night, the Bellevue city council slogged through what may be its last big East Link planning decision ever, and ended at a unanimous endorsement of its preferred cost savings options.  Before I get to exactly which specific picks the council made, it’s worth mentioning that this is effectively only a recommendation and isn’t a binding action.  The final alignment decision still rests in the hands of the Sound Transit Board, which is expected to vote on the matter this coming Thursday.

Ultimately, the council approved three major alignment segments:

  • Retained cut alignment side-running along Bellevue Way with no savings.  A cheaper alternative would have brought the alignment to at-grade, added a new HOV lane, and pushed the entire roadway west.  This was ultimately canned after residents balked.
  • Road-over-rail crossing of 112th Ave SE and an at-grade crossing of SE 4th limited to emergency vehicle access only.  The SE 4th crossing saves in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 million.
  • Open downtown station at NE 6th, producing $19 to $33 million in savings.  We’ve opposed this option since its conception and our stance hasn’t changed.  Although I’ll give ST and Bellevue staff credit for doing their best to improve the design, the station remains hugely inferior to its 110th Ave counterpart, for all the reasons Martin alluded to last week.  As a concession to picking the NE 6th station, the council did approve an amendment which would authorize spending $5 million of the savings to improve the walkway between the station and the transit center.

In total, the cost savings don’t even end up anywhere close to the $60 million target the City was hoping to reach, which leaves anywhere from $23 to $39 million unaccounted for.  The remaining difference will ultimately have to be paid out in cash in order for Bellevue to fund its share of the downtown tunnel.

The next best thing for transit advocates to do is to make your opinion known at the Sound Transit Board meeting this coming Thursday, at which point the Board will likely seal East Link’s fate before launching the project into final design.  The meeting will be held from 1:30-4pm in the Ruth Fisher Board Room at Union Station.  Public comments are solicited near the beginning so it’s important to show up on time if you plan on testifying.

Puget Sound Bike Share Partners with Alta Planning

Bixi Bikes
Bixi Bikes. Flikr user manskilo.

At noon today, at the South Lake Union Discovery Center, Puget Sound Bike Share will hold a press event to formally announce their choice of operating partner for the Seattle-area bike share, whose roll-out is expected to begin next year. Two other local transportation agency heads will be on-hand, including Peter Hahn from SDOT, and Metro’s Kevin Desmond. From the PR:

Puget Sound Bike Share, a nonprofit partnership of public and private organizations, announced today that it has selected Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share as its operator/vendor. Alta will work with PSBS to plan, launch and sustain a regional bike share network beginning with approximately 500 bikes and 50 stations in Seattle and eventually expanding into other areas of the Puget Sound region. One of the most experienced bike share companies in North America, Alta is the vendor/operator behind the highly successful Capital Bike Share in Washington D.C. and Boston’s Hubway. In the coming months, Alta will launch Citibike in New York City, the largest bike share network in the nation, as well as systems in Chicago, Vancouver, B.C., Portland and San Francisco.

The selection of Alta isn’t a great surprise to those of us who’ve watched the bikeshare movement expand in this country. The US market is dominated by two players: Alta and B-Cycle, and most larger or coastal cities seem to end up choosing Alta. The difference to users is primarily in the details of the bikes and docking stations: Alta’s equipment is designed by Bixi of Montreal, whose eponymous original system has served that city since 2009, while B-Cycle is partnership of bike manufacturer Trek with other companies, most well known for the successful Denver B-Cycle program. Both systems work well, although (completely anecdotally) most people I know who’ve ridden both found Bixi slightly more polished.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to Holly Houser, executive director of PSBS, and I relayed some of your questions from yesterday. After the jump, a summary of our conversation. Continue reading “Puget Sound Bike Share Partners with Alta Planning”

Context of the 2012 Metro Service Guidelines Report

[Note: Moved up due to the all time-sensitive stuff this morning.]
route key

On Wednesday April 10th Metro met with planners and staff from the cities of King County to go over progress on the Strategic Plan Update and to better explain the recently released 2012 Service Guidelines Report and its implications.  Considering the 17% cut illustration Metro released with the Service Guidelines Report, that part of the agenda understandably dominated the meeting.  Metro also announced that starting this fall the publication of its Service Guidelines will move forward half a year.  Spring data will be released the following fall.

The majority of the meeting was spent on how to read the Service Guidelines Report.  It’s important to note that the route tables in the report look at two separate but related sets of factors:

Corridor Analysis: 1. Productivity  2. Social Equity  3. Geographic Value  4. Ridership  5. Peak Route Evaluation;


Route Performance Analysis  1. Rides/Platform Hour  2. Passenger Miles/Platform Miles  3. Overcrowding  4. On-time Performance

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Context of the 2012 Metro Service Guidelines Report”

Shadows Over Lake Union Park

shadowsAs we reported two weeks ago, the principal stated reason for the Seattle Council’s rejection of 240′ heights right along Lake Union were the shadows they would cast on Lake Union Park.

The images above are from Via Architecture director Matt Roewe’s presentation to the City Council prior to the vote. There are lots of interesting renderings in this presentation of various visual impacts of these buildings, but you can see the estimated shadows of 240′ towers throughout the year, and judge for yourself if this was worth forgoing more residents in the city, and more revenue through both developer height bonuses and additional economic activity.

Questions for Puget Sound Bike Share

Boris Bikes at Waterloo Station
Boris Bikes at Waterloo Station. Flikr user Jack999.

I suspect most readers know what bike share is by now, but if you don’t, go read the wiki page or take a gander at the websites for Denver B-Cycle or Capital Bikeshare. Tomorrow, Puget Sound Bike Share is holding a press event to announce the selection of an operator for the system they plan to roll out in Seattle starting next year, and they’ve kindly offered to answer my questions today.

So, what questions do you have for Puget Sound Bike Share? Keep in mind that there’s no point asking low-level or operational questions, like the location of specific bikeshare stations, as those things will not have been decided yet.

I need the questions by 1 PM.

ACTION ALERT: Downtown Bellevue


Today’s Times has a helpful reminder ($) that the fate of the Downtown Bellevue Link station will likely be decided this week. Bellevue’s Council will decide on its favored alternative tomorrow (Monday), which influences the Sound Transit Board’s decision on Thursday.

The process has placed a lot of weight on short-term construction impacts and noise issues to a few homes along the line, and little to the impact on thousands of future riders, every day, over the decades (centuries?) that may find that transit doesn’t work well for them due to a station design that doesn’t care about effective transfers and moves the station away from most of the activity centers in Bellevue.

Now is the time, especially if you’re a Bellevue resident, to let your Council know that the latter set of issues is the important one – particularly when the savings will be no more than $33m,or just over 1% of the cost of an East Link project whose primary purpose is to serve Downtown Bellevue. Do it today.

If you don’t live in Bellevue but have a stake in what’s going on there, your best bet is to contact the Sound Transit board members that happen to represent you. Everyone in King County votes for Dow Constantine, and if you’re in Seattle, Mike McGinn, Richard Conlin, and perhaps Joe McDermott or Larry Phillips represent you as well.

Commenting below on this is all well and good, but nothing works like constituent mail or phone calls. Even if you think that East Link is not the best use of resources out there, it’s in almost everyone’s interest that the line be as effective in moving people as possible.

Go write that email, then come back and read some additional thoughts after the jump.

Continue reading “ACTION ALERT: Downtown Bellevue”