Metro Adding Basic Facilities at Bus Stops

The Mulch Stop
Disembarking onto a sprinkler head is one of the many premium experiences King County Metro offers.

Over the last few months, I’ve been on a tear of complaining, both directly to Metro and on the blog, about substandard Metro facilities, perhaps originally motivated by the number of them on Metro’s Route 40, which is one of my new neighborhood’s core bus routes. I’ve had some success with this, but I’m sure the problems which affect my routes affect others too, so I want to share some examples, and get a list of suggestions from readers about where else such facilities exist.

By substandard, I don’t mean lacking premium features like bus bulbs and realtime arrival signs — desirable as those are, they’re expensive, and aren’t going to make sense at every stop — nor even shelters and benches, which are desirable and cheap and thus should be standard everywhere there’s room in the right-of-way. Rather I’m talking about basic functionality like signs which have the correct route numbers printed on them, an absence of overgrown hedges that render riders invisible, and concrete landing pads, so riders can board without walking through roadside landscaping, and wheelchair users can safely board at all.

Here are a few improvements in the works for Ballard and Fremont:

  • In June, the notorious Hedge Stop (#18140) on Leary at Ione will be relocated a block north on Leary to a sane location outside Ballard Landmark.
  • The new Route 40 stop eastbound on Leary at 11th Ave NW (#28255), currently just a post in a wet, grassy verge, will be properly reconstructed this summer. We’ve previously reported that a new stop is in the works eastbound at 8th Ave NW.
  • The “mulch and sprinkler head” stop on Westlake, just south of the Fremont bridge (#26850), pictured above, has also been put on the list for repaving, but may not make it through the design process in time for this summer’s paving season.
  • Stops #29217 and #28415 are going to get proper Metro bus signs, not the blank ones they have now.

I’m also told that the new Route 21 stop at 3rd & Lander (#99232), currently a post in a grass verge, is also in line to be upgraded.

Metro staff have been extremely responsive and informative when I have complained about these things, and I sincerely thank them for their work, but I can’t completely let the agency off the hook here. Some of these stops are new, so it’s understandable that they’re still a work in progress, but some of them should have been taken care of years if not decades ago, and it’s really kind of an outrage that they weren’t. What was the agency doing with its money back when it wasn’t broke and understaffed?

Lack of basic comforts and dignity at bus stops perpetuate the corrosive notion that transit riders — bus riders in particular — are second-class citizens. If our local and regional governments are to stand a chance at achieving the mode-share goals they have set themselves, if we are serious about providing an alternative to universal car ownership, this kind of prejudice needs to die, which implies that this kind of substandard facility must precede it in death.

Enough about the past; let’s find things to complain about today. I’m taking suggestions in the comments for other stops that have problems such as those described above, and I will take them up with Metro. I’ll put only one condition on suggestions: they need to be in places with existing sidewalk infrastructure, because adding proper new stops in areas without sidewalks is likely to be very expensive. Every urbanized part of the county should have sidewalks, but there’s no way they’re going to get built out of Metro’s stop improvement budget, that infrastructure needs to come from the responsible municipality.

King County Taking Comments on Metro Cuts

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In attempt to call attention to the human suffering that the legislature’s failure to authorize more transit taxes will cause, the King County Council is accepting testimony about that subject on May 14th:

A potential 17 percent reduction in Metro transit service due to a lack of sustainable revenue will be the topic of a special meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee:

      Tuesday, May 14
3:30 p.m. open house
4:00 p.m. public testimony
Union Station
401 South Jackson Street, Seattle

One can also comment online to lesser effect.

When discussing political tactics, it’s tempting to discuss “starving the beast” to force efficiencies through a round of steep cuts. While there are times that may be appropriate, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact on actual people cuts of this magnitude will have.

Another Public Forum on Microhousing

If you were unable to make the first meeting, there’s another public forum, this time on Capitol Hill and at an hour more amenable to those working a 9-5.  It’s tonight, May 6, at 6PM.  Details via Capitol Hill Seattle:

Micro-housing development discussion
Monday, May 6, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Seattle First Baptist Church
Fellowship Hall, 1111 Harvard Ave. (map)

Attending:

Seattle City Councilmembers and Council staff
Representatives from communities and neighborhoods
Representatives of micro-housing developers

Share your thoughts!

Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Studying Alternative Transportation

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With organizations like Seattle Transit Hikers out there, it may only have been a matter of time. The massive National Forest to the east is seeking ways to provide non-car access to its recreation areas, and they’re hearing from focus groups on Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s the flyer if you’re interested.

Much, much more after the jump.

Continue reading “Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Studying Alternative Transportation”

Triangle Transit: A Third Way

Durham Station via Triangle Transit website

A few weeks ago in an interview with Publicola mayoral candidate Sen. Ed Murray expressed support for a proposal that periodically comes into fashion with some transit observers:  just combine anything that is related to transit into one big super agency.  No more different fare structures, schedule books, or rules, no more route duplication, the end to one agency starving while another rakes in money. Transit Utopia.

As Martin argued years ago, merging the transit agencies of our region would be a horrible idea.  All of those points still stand, but number 5 more than any other.   The political landscape of our region means that instead of more investments being made in the core area, such a reorganization would result in money being siphoned away from our productive core services to prop up unproductive geographic/political coverage ones.  It would also result in years of added delay while we build a new agency that we don’t need instead of the transit network we do.  That is not to say that all the critiques of our current situation aren’t valid, or that we are in the best of all possible transit worlds, but that a merger would in no way build us the transit system we all want.

Below the fold is an example of a third way, suggested as a starting point for more discussion.

Continue reading “Triangle Transit: A Third Way”

Seattle Transit Hikers: Deception Pass this Saturday

Deception Pass – Wikimedia
Deception Pass – Wikimedia

Looking for a transit adventure this Saturday? The Seattle Transit Hikers are organizing a cheap, fun 8 AM — 6 PM loop around Whidbey Island, starting and ending in Seattle, and stopping at the pleasant and scenic Deception Pass State Park. Our own Zach Shaner wrote up a similar transit trip a couple of years ago, although note that his itinerary and direction are different (and might be out of date!). RSVP on the meetup page by 8 PM tonight.

The group has done some great-looking trips recently, and has more coming up. To name a few:

Explainer: 2014 Metro Budget Cuts

I sense a good deal of frustration out there with the news of potential cuts to Metro bus routes. We’ve covered the issue pretty extensively here on STB, but sometimes it’s useful to put it all together in FAQ form.

What is this about metro cutting routes next year?
King County Metro is facing a serious budget shortfall in 2014. This means that they’ll need to cut service by 17% to break even. 600,000 service hours will be cut.  65 routes would be deleted, and 86 would be reduced or revised. All in all, 2/3 of Metro routes would be affected.

Wait… didn’t we just do this two years ago?
Yep, but it was temporary. In 2011 King County passed a $20 “congestion reduction charge” on all vehicles registered in the county. This bought us $25 million a year as part of the deal that also ended the Ride Free Area, but it will expire in 2014.

How bad is it?
There’s a $60M gap in 2014, and a combined $1.2B between 2008, when the recession began, and 2015.

SalesTax-Chart1-490x333

Ok, that’s bad. Can’t they just, you know… trim the fat?
Well, they have been.  In 2008 they reduced operating expenses, gutted the capital fund (which pays for important stuff like running new trolleybus wire, etc.), and increased fares. That bought $30M.  It also arguably made the system more efficient. Then in 2011, they passed the CRC and got the unions to take a pay cut, saving tens of millions more.  WSDOT came through with $32M in mitigation money to deal with Viaduct headaches, but it also runs out in 2014… two years before the Viaduct opens. This mitigation money helps add additional trips to crowded West Seattle routes.  Riding in from West Seattle will suck even more when it goes away.  All told, Metro has cut $726M from the budget since 2009. There’s not much more fat. It’s pretty much all bone from here on out. Next step is to stop filling the tires on the buses (I’m kidding!). *

metro-budget-gap

Oh, and “cutting the fat” ain’t so easy if you’ve ever been to a community meeting where cuts were proposed.  People get angry, they call their Councilmembers, and Metro backs off. Everyone seems to think the fat is in some other neighborhood.

(All that aside, Seattle’s a growing city with a healthy economy and a low unemployment rate. Metro should be increasing service, not cutting it, as Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond argues here.)

What about raising money from the fare box?
They’ve done it multiple times.  There’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone. Back in 2006, when peak fares were just $1.50, Metro predicted fares would rise just 75 cents by 2016.  As it turns out, peak fares are already at $2.50 and will probably rise again soon.

Okay, how about all that money spent on light rail and streetcars?
Those were built by different agencies (Seattle DOT, Sound Transit) with different funding sources. Sound Transit has a diversified funding base, including a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax or MVET (it’s marked “RTA” — look for it when you renew your tabs… or don’t) along with a sales tax. That means Sound Transit can weather the recession a bit better.  Also, Sound Transit spends a lot of its money on capital projects like new light rail lines, which (a) can be spread out over more years if necessary, and (b) tend to get cheaper when there’s a recession and construction firms are hungry for work.

Okay fine, but what about the “Transit Now” tax we passed in 2006?
That was great! It got us RapidRide and a bunch of other stuff. But because it was a sales tax, it shrunk during the recession and ended up raising less than projected.  Since those funds were earmarked for RapidRide as the voters approved them, they can’t be moved into another bucket to save costs.

Wait a minute, this is craziness… Why are Metro’s finances in such bad shape to begin with?
Back in 1999, state voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-695, which would have gutted transit funding across the state by eliminating the state’s ability to charge an MVET.  I-695 was declared unconstitutional, but then-Governor Locke and the legislature were so scared of being run out of Olympia that they killed the MVET themselves the following year.  That blew a $500M hole in the state transportation budget. Here in King County, Metro lost an estimated $125M over the 2003-4 biennium, which we replaced by increasing the sales tax from 0.6% to 0.8% (and eventually to the legal maximum of 0.9% in 2006 with Transit Now). But there are two problems with a sales tax: it’s regressive, and it’s tied to the economy. Once the recession hit in 2008, everyone cut back on spending and sales tax revenues went in the toilet. It’s not just Metro: transit agencies all over the state, including the Washington State Ferries,  haven’t really made up for the money they lost after I-695 passed the MVET went away.

So what can we do about it?
Well, we can bring back MVET funding, at least here in King County. The thing about an MVET is that it’s progressive and predictable (versus a sales tax, which is regressive and volatile), since it’s based on the current value of all the cars in the county.  This would get us back to a healthy mix of tax revenue so that no one source can send the budget into a tailspin. The legislature is in special session right now and one of the items on the agenda would allow King County voters to vote on an MVET that would fund 60% transit and 40% roads. That’s right: the legislature is debating whether or not to give King County permission to tax ourselves, after taking that right away from us 12 years ago. Bruce recently noted that a 1% MVET ($100 on cars worth $10,000) would be sufficient to meet Metro’s needs. It wouldn’t hurt to call your legislator in support of this initiative.

Why should drivers subsidize buses?
Like I said, 40% of the MVET fees would go to roads. But folks like myself who own a car and ride the bus would pay into it and benefit from it as well.  Finally, it turns out that more transit options actually makes driving easier: by taking cars off the road, there’s less traffic for the cars that remain.  A study conducted during Los Angeles’ 2003 transit strike found that traffic during the strike increased by 47 percent on roads where there was a transit alternative.  Transit is a driver’s best friend.

*Update 5:50PM: As my colleague Matt Johnson recently wrote, roughly half the 17% in cuts would come from routes marked as having a “high potential for major reduction.” In the comments below, readers offer plenty of suggestions as to which routes should get the axe.

Wallingford’s Long Transit Nightmare Nearly Over

Route 16 Detour
Route 16 “Detour”

If you’re one of the many bus riders who wants to travel to Wallingford from Belltown or Downtown, but doesn’t like travelling in circles on often-hopelessly-gridlocked streets, Metro has finally taken pity on you: on May 18th, Route 16 will switch from 5th Ave N to a direct route from 3rd Ave to Aurora, just like Route 5. Lane reductions on Aurora associated with SR-99 tunnel construction will likely screw up traffic for several years, but the agency has told me that a public process to make the Aurora alignment permanent will start before construction is complete.

Route 16’s horrifyingly awful outbound routing was the reason I started writing for STB, and I can’t wait to dance on its grave.

News Roundup: More Than Snippy

Gordon Werner/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Action Alert: Micro-Housing Public Meeting May 6th

Next week on Monday May 6th, a second public meeting will be held to gather public feedback on micro-housing. Just five days from the event I have only now received official confirmation for the meeting.

Micro-housing is part of a larger set of solutions to increasing affordable housing options in Seattle and your voice of support needs to be heard. Micro-housing provides affordable market generated housing options in high opportunity neighborhoods close to high quality transit service. It lowers residents’ combined housing and transportation costs and provides a diverse housing choices in areas where they are most needed. Your voice will make a difference so please make time to attend and voice your support.

Meeting details below:

SEATTLE – City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen today confirmed that a second public meeting on micro-housing developments will be held. The meeting will be on May 6 at 6:00 p.m. at Seattle First Baptist Church on First Hill.

The first meeting was held in April in response to questions and concerns raised by residents of several Seattle neighborhoods where micro-housing units are being constructed.

The purpose of the second meeting is to hear from neighborhood representatives who will give their views and recommendations on the micro-housing projects.   Representatives of the developers who build micro-housing projects will be present to describe the projects and the market for this housing alternative and their response to concerns they are hearing from the community.

In addition to Councilmember Rasmussen co-sponsors of the meeting include Councilmembers Nick Licata, Sally J. Clark and Richard Conlin.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen stated: “A portion of the meeting will include an opportunity for the public to provide comments on what they have heard during the meeting and to provide recommendations on what, if any, regulations should be enacted for this unique type of housing.”

WHAT:           Micro-housing development discussion

WHEN:           Monday, May 6, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

WHERE:         Seattle First Baptist Church,  Fellowship Hall (downstairs), 1111 Harvard Ave. (on First Hill)

WHO:              Seattle City Councilmembers and Council staff

Representatives from communities and neighborhoods

Representatives of micro-housing developers

“I want to see more affordable housing built in Seattle along with our residential neighborhoods accommodating housing options that contribute to their character,” stated Councilmember Nick Licata, chair of the Council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee. “I think both objectives can be accomplished and I look forward to this forum providing an opportunity to hear suggestions on how to fulfill both.”

“I’ve visited some of these micro-units,” said Council President Sally J. Clark. “They provide decent, often attractive housing for a range of people who don’t need or want a lot of space. They’re also appearing in greater numbers and more rapidly than some in the surrounding neighborhood want. This forum can provide a good airing of people’s support, concerns and ideas for appropriate regulation.”

“Micro-housing can be an affordable option for people wanting to live close to work or urban amenities,” said Councilmember Richard Conlin, chair of the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee. “They’re good for the environment and they can be good for neighborhoods too if we can find ways to preserve their affordability while ensuring that these developments reflect both the letter and the spirit of our land use laws.  I look forward to working with stakeholders and the Executive to craft legislation to accomplish these goals.”

Continue reading “Action Alert: Micro-Housing Public Meeting May 6th”

SDOT Finalizes Broad Street BAT Lane Plan

Final Broad Street Plan
Final Broad Street Plan

The Seattle Department of Transportation has finalized its plan for a bus lane on Broad Street, a facility which will improve the speed and reliability of outbound trips on RapidRide D and Routes 1, 2, 13, 15X, 17X, 18X, 19, 24, and 33. We’ve written about this project several times (1, 2, 3) since its inception. In response to public feedback, including complaints about parking loss from adjacent retailers, a couple of components from were eliminated or reduced from the original plan: the bus lane will only be in effect from 7 AM to 7 PM (rather than at all times), and the eastbound bike lane originally proposed was eliminated.

One aspect of the plan has actually become more ambitious: both westbound and eastbound bus stops on Broad will be removed. In a previous post, I argued for this, as the stops in this segment are very close together, but in a response to my questions, Metro staff only agreed to consider removing the westbound stop. I’m not sure what changed Metro’s mind, but I’m certainly not going to complain. Both eastbound stops between Denny and 3rd will ultimately be replaced in favor of a single stop on Denny once SDOT completes the Denny trolleybus wire project. SDOT staff tell me that project just finished 90% design, and a public open house will be scheduled for June.

I’m little sad that the bus lane times were cut back, but congestion isn’t usually a problem on Broad St after 7 PM, so it seems like tolerable compromise. Similarly, the bike lane would have been nice, but the huge hill immediately west of 1st would have limited its patronage. One idea that occurred to me, which SDOT has promised to look in to, is extending the hours of the northbound bus lane and queue jump on 1st approaching Denny, just north of this map. Currently this only operates from 3-7 PM, but harmonizing its operation with the new lane on Broad St makes sense to me.