Extra Cascades Train to Bellingham Concludes

With a temporary Skagit Bridge now in place, WSDOT discontinued the extra Cascades round trip to VancouverBellingham. The last trip was June 19th.

“Amtrak, Sound Transit and BNSF stepped up in the hours after the bridge collapse to help WSDOT quickly offer another mobility option for the traveling public,” said Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. “I am grateful for these efforts, and that this partnership came together at a critical moment to find solutions for Washingtonians.”

Gus Melonas, BNSF Railway regional director of public affairs said, “BNSF was pleased to help provide assistance for travelers during this crisis situation.”

WSDOT spokesperson Laura Kingman told me the highest ridership of the round trip on any day was 55. She added that if the volume had been above 500, they could have run the trains longer.

I asked Ms. Kingman to reflect on lessons learned from the experience:

What we already know is that it takes time to build ridership because it takes humans time (and motivation) to change their habits. We like our routines. Our WSDOT highway engineers did a great job tailoring the detours to meet demand and people may also have chosen to delay non-urgent travel which kept volumes and delays down. Without significant delays, people were not motivated to use alternative transportation.

DPD to Double Required Parking for aPodments

Micro-housing project, photo from DPD
Micro-housing development, photo from DPD

Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development has published recommendations regarding how micro-housing should be regulated.  The changes include:

  • Double required parking from 1 space per 8 micros (up to 8 micros per “unit”) to 1 parking space per 4 micros.
  • New requirement for bike parking: 1 space per 4 micros.
  • Potentially adding design review by setting design review levels based on square footage rather than number of units.
  • Prohibits new construction and major renovation of single family homes that include micro dwelling units with bathrooms

This fourth point is particularly strange.  Single family homes presumably will still be able to rent out up to 8 rooms, as currently allowed by code.  Therefore it appears to only outlaw adding bathrooms to single family homes.  The trouble of course is deciding what is a micro and what is just a bedroom with a bathroom.  They do add a requirement that “micro dwelling units are to be indicated and noted on plans and permits”, which seems to leave it up to the developer whether you’re building a micro-unit or just a bedroom with a bathroom.

I understand DPD’s desire to keep control over this new building style, but the best way to make micro-housing affordable is to keep regulations light.  Adding parking and design review will add cost to these projects, which will result in fewer units being built.

Transit and the Mayors Race: It’s Only Gotten Worse

Photo via PubliCola

Three months ago I shared Tom Fucoloro’s lament that “right now, the nervous pack of challengers is playing it “safe” and letting McGinn run away with the label as the most progressive and inspiring candidate on transportation issues.” Unfortunately, since I wrote that piece the situation has only gotten worse.

Tim Burgess, who is generally a friend of the kind of transit system and infrastructure improvements this blog supports, has dropped out.

Although Peter Steinbrueck told Martin he supported Link and ST3, when in front of his lesser Seattle base he stated his opposition to spending city money on studying Downtown to Ballard Light Rail.

And then when Bruce Harrell finally broke his silence on transit issues, it was to call for more parking at Rainier Valley Link stations.

Right now it appears the only McGinn challenger who isn’t openly hostile to the ideals of this blog and our readership is Senator Murray – although his constant framing of two highway expansion bills and the 99 tunnel as his greatest transportation achievements is worrying.

As a transit/livable city supporter first and a McGinn supporter second, it is disconcerting that my main issues are only being championed by one candidate.

NOTE:  I am not on the STB editorial board.  The opinions expressed above are solely my own.

Alternatives For Ballard

A Subway To Queen Anne?
A Subway To Queen Anne?

Tonight will be our first chance to comment on alternatives (PDF) from Downtown to Ballard. The first thing I want to say is that none of the eight options are perfect – and that’s okay. While the handout at tonight’s meeting (PDF) will ask people to “pick an option”, SDOT and Sound Transit pointed out yesterday that these are “mix and match”. For any given part of the corridor, there are many options, and they were arranged into eight examples that represent different levels of service and cost. They offer a range of outcomes in the evaluation matrix, which I highly recommend perusing, as it also shows how each option serves the various urban villages and centers. Four of the options go through Interbay, and four through Fremont. The handout link above has a great page with all eight together. I’d say open that up and have a look. I know a lot of people looked at these last night – thanks everyone for the great twitter conversation!

And there’s something here finally in writing:

Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate. If the Ballard rail line used a separate parallel tunnel to enter or exit Downtown Seattle, underground walkways could connect passengers to the DSTT.

So, let’s have a quick look at each option. Open your maps! :) Continue reading “Alternatives For Ballard”

HB 1954 Fails in Special Session

[UPDATE by Martin, 3:08pm: they flipped a vote and passed the Transportation Bill ($) 51-41 today. Now it’s off to the considerably more hostile Senate.]

House Bill 1954, the $10B transportation package that Martin detailed previously, failed to garner the 50 votes required for passage. This bill would have provided the necessary “local option” authority, allowing King County Metro to ask voters for the necessary funds to return the agency to long-term fiscal health. It would have also funded a lot of new highway expansion, raised the gas tax, and, most controversially, continued to fund the Columbia River Crossing.  From the AP:

The package, which had already faced likely resistance in the Senate, included $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including state Route 167, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and a replacement bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. It also included more than $1 billion for maintenance of highways and bridges.

I understand the need for political coalitions and all, but the alliance between pro-transit and pro-highway legislators has always struck me as particularly problematic. It’s like saying to an alcoholic, “sure, you can get a new liver, but only if you agree to continue drinking.” Surely there has to be a better coalition with which to partner, but I haven’t yet figured out what it would be.

Today’s Headlines On Tukwila

Highline Times: Ground broken on permanent Tukwila commuter train station

Puget Sound Business Journal: Work starts Monday on permanent Tukwila Sounder Station

Seattle Times:  A new $46m train stop being built at Tukwila

Tukwila Reporter: Work is under way to build new Sounder rail station in Tukwila

Most of these point out permanence, use the strong word “station”, and don’t showcase cost.

One of them is not like the others. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.

Draft Waterfront Streetcar Study Released

Terse cynical version of story:

Breaking: Study finds that buses are cheaper to run on the waterfront than streetcars. Metro not asked whether bus route 99 was a hit, or whether electric buses would be quickly value engineered into regular diesels.

Slightly longer and less biased version:

Waterfront Seattle, Parametrix, and LTK Engineering Services have produced a set of documents that provide a detailed analysis of what it would take to reinstate the Benson Waterfront Trolley as well as a complete comparison of two classic trolley options, a modern streetcar option, and two bus options.

Continue reading “Draft Waterfront Streetcar Study Released”

News Roundup: Human Development Index


This is an open thread.

We Shouldn’t Build More Park and Rides

Tukwila Int’l Blvd Park and Ride (by Oran Viriyincy)

After a great phone call yesterday afternoon, I realized that this is a good time to write a little more about park and rides.

In general, free parking is bad. Don Shoup’s paper (linked) is excellent and hasn’t been successfully challenged. His work has influenced parking policies in many cities, leading to improved traffic and improved economic activity with reduced emissions – basically, great stuff.

However, for transit stations outside Seattle, there seems to be a disconnect. While cities are implementing priced parking and increasingly re-purposing street parking for bicycle, transit and pedestrian infrastructure, transit agencies are still catching up. In 2008, Sound Transit had many parking garage and surface lot expansions in the Sound Transit 2 measure. Today, they’re looking at other station access options, but it’s still taken as a given by many transit supporters that park and rides are good. I used to be one of these, but now I’m not, and I want to explain why.

We often view ridership as an end goal of a transit system – it’s the metric we measure in the short term, and it’s a good indicator we’re on the right track, but getting riders on a train isn’t why we build transit. We build it for its positive impact on our economy, and because it increases quality of life, mostly as a direct result of more people walking to their destinations and fewer people driving. Sound Transit was created because the Puget Sound Regional Council – then the Puget Sound Council of Governments – adopted a policy for linking growth to transportation. Their 1990 Vision 2020, which said we needed a regional transportation body, and now their Vision 2040, are about managing growth – we’re building transit to create compact development, not to its own end.

So are we meeting those goals with park and rides? Continue reading “We Shouldn’t Build More Park and Rides”

SDOT Seeks Comments on Aurora BAT Lanes

Aurora BAT Lane Profile

The Seattle Department of Transportation is seeking public feedback on its proposal to add peak-period, peak-direction bidirectional Business Access and Transit lanes to Aurora Avenue, between 38th St and 115th St. These BAT lanes will connect with the existing full-time BAT lanes on Aurora, in both directions between 115th St and 145th St (and extending north throughout Shoreline), and southbound between Roy St and the Aurora Bridge.

The proposal is part of a package of minor improvements for Aurora, that includes a few blocks of new sidewalk, bus stop upgrades, transit signal priority, and signal retiming, which together will improve safety for pedestrians and travel times for all vehicles. If this proposal is implemented, Metro’s forthcoming RapidRide E service will, in the peak, enjoy an almost continuous transit lane from its northern terminal at Aurora Village, to the north edge of downtown Seattle.

Readers who’ve previously taken a ride in the Seattle Transit Lane Rodeo may have have an attack of Luna Park Café deja vu when reading the fine print of this proposal: the southbound BAT lane between 77th and 72nd is “pending evaluation of implementation options”. Businesses elsewhere on Aurora mostly have their own off-street surface parking, but on this older strip (which notably includes Beth’s Cafe), businesses are quite dependent on public parking, and it’s not clear whether parking or transit will be prioritized here.

If you’re a person who uses Aurora Avenue, you should submit feedback on this proposal through this survey.

Lynnwood Public Meeting on Light Rail Environmental Planning

A Sound Transit and City of Lynnwood community outreach meeting regarding current environmental evaluations occurs tonight, June 25, at Meadowdale High School Great Hall from 7 to 8:45 p.m. The meeting will focus on the proposed alignments and stations. Community members will have a chance to submit their thoughts and concerns and receive progress reports so far on the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Screenshot 2013-06-24 at 3.39.17 PM

Mike Orr’s coverage of the Shoreline version is here.

Jarrett Walker Looking for Web Developer

If you’re a freelance web programmer looking for the chance to do good work for transit, here’s your chance:

My firm Jarrett Walker + Associates is looking for quick assistance in designing a web-based tool, designed to sit on a transit agency or project website, that will help citizens think through some transit planning choices and suggest priorities.  It requires the user to select different types of network for different parts of a city, and cover the whole city within a fixed budget of service.

We need the product in a month.  Our budget is not to exceed $9000 but we would love it to be a bit lower.

This job is likely to be suited to a small, low-overhead web programmer who can do it quickly, efficiently, and yet creatively.  It could lead to a future relationship assisting us with more tools of this type, as the need arises often in our planning projects.

Everything is explained in our simple Request for Proposals, along with two attachments referenced in it.  (All materials are copyright Jarrett Walker+Associates and should not be reproduced for other purposes.)  All you need to do is reply with a quick letter.

If our reader surveys are to be believed, STB’s audience is chock-a-block with software engineers and other denizens of the I.T. industry, so I’m hopeful there’s someone out there who can help, or knows someone who can. Please forward to the original Human Transit post to anyone who might be interested and qualified.

Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 2 of 2

Screenshot 2013-06-20 at 10.57.14 AM

Part 1 of this series focused on infastructure improvements in the works for Southcenter.  This post will focus on the very ambitious and complex proposed revision to the Southcenter-Tukwila Urban Center’s Comprehensive Plan Element recently completed by the Tukwila Planning Commission staff and a consultant, concentrating on zoning and the street grid. A copy from October 2012 can be found here.  Highlights of the plan include:

Screenshot 2013-06-14 at 1.38.13 PM
Click to Enlarge
  1. Locating a “large percentage of the City’s future housing needs” in the urban center, in order “to preserve our existing residential neighborhoods”, encouraged to be within “walking distance of the Sounder commuter rail/Amtrak station” or the bus transit center.
  2. Flexible zoning regulations for residential, retail and light industrial, per district, with development of regulations for appropriate building heights. (The Kent Reporter covered some possible developments in this arena earlier.)
  3. Expansion of residential areas.
  4. Incentives for “providing a variety of different types of open spaces (e.g., plazas, parks, public & private)”.
  5. And finally, anchored between the upgraded bus transit center on Andover Park West and the Sounder commuter rail station, a new Transit Oriented Development neighborhood will sit, as seen above.

Such an ambitious urban redesign requires a new street plan for Southcenter, broadening the current travel and adding bike lanes while also expanding public frontage as seen below.

Screenshot 2013-06-14 at 1.22.44 PM

The current “Street Tree” road layout will need revisions to accomplish such goals, stated Lynn Miranda, project manager for the Southcenter Plan. The plan focuses regulations and investment regarding siting of new buildings and parking lots on and around Baker Boulevard, and the northern part of the Southcenter area.

Screenshot 2013-06-14 at 1.50.14 PM

Continue reading “Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 2 of 2”

Want a Subway? Comment at the Ballard Rail Open House!

Thanks to Mayor McGinn’s work collaborating with Sound Transit for the Ballard Rail Study, we now have alternatives for rail to Ballard!

Four alternatives for High Capacity Transit (Sound Transit) and four for rapid streetcar (Seattle DOT) will be unveiled on Thursday, June 27th, from 5-7pm, at the Ballard High School Commons.

From what I’ve heard, you’ll like what you see. We’ve been told the HCT alternatives include a 2nd Ave underground alignment, through Belltown, Uptown, and under Queen Anne hill. If that alternative gets through the initial screening, that opens up amazing opportunities – we could build a line fast enough to continue on to Northgate and Lake City (and beyond), and we could even work to automate it!

We’ll get more information on the alternatives at a press briefing on Wednesday, but for now, I’d just like to ask you to make the time to come, and be ready to submit comments at the meeting. Please RSVP on Facebook or by emailing me. I’ll see you there!

Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 1 of 2

Screenshot 2013-06-20 at 10.57.14 AM

The city of Tukwila and its partners are committed to transforming Southcenter into an area more friendly to bus transit, commuter rail, bicylists and pedestrians, envisioning a truly urban center of varied neighborhoods.  One of the centerpieces of this plan is the conversion of Baker Boulevard into a complete street, anchored by a new pedestrian bridge over the Green River. The bridge would connect the new Sounder/Amtrak station that breaks ground Monday to a new Transit Center at Andover Park West and Baker Boulevard (in front of Southcenter Mall).

The new bridge, Transit Center and street makeover are all separate projects that will help lay the groundwork for the development of a new transit-oriented neighborhood.  According to Lynn Miranda, project manager of the overarching Southcenter Plan, 30% of the design for the pedestrian bridge is completed, and she expects the 60% design milestone in late summer or early fall. The NEPA/SEPA process starts in a few weeks.

“The design is anticipated to be completed by March 2014,” Miranda said. “Tukwila received a grant of approximately $4.6m which will be available starting July 1 to apply toward right-of-way acquisition and construction. Our application was for a 4 year project, and at this point the project is in the starting slot for a future award of $2.27m in the 2015-2017 biennium.”

Continue reading “Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 1 of 2”

State Revenue Forecast Increase and Metro’s Shortfall

Image from Publicola
Image from Publicola

For an agency like Metro that has been forced to largely fund itself by sales tax the recent State revenue forecast revision could have significant ramifications.  About half of the State’s revenue comes from sales tax so an increase in state revenue generally means an increase in sales tax revenue.  With that in mind I contacted the County inquiring about their projections and Metro’s shortfall.  Here’s David Reich, King County’s chief economist:

The county has its own models for forecasting revenues. Transit gets revenue from various sources including bus fares, sales tax receipts, property taxes, the congestion relief charge, intergovernmental transfers and others. Any impacts to metro’s financial situation would depend on the sum of all these factors (along with updated expenditures). We do forecast metro sales and property taxes in March, July and August.

It is too soon to know if these values will be revised up for the July forecast. Generally speaking, economic conditions are not worse than when the March forecast was done. The July forecast should be available July 24.

STB will check back at the end of July but in the mean time I have done some VERY ROUGH back of the envelope number crunching.  Digging into the State’s numbers (pages 27 and 28), the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council projects the Department of Revenue will collect an additional $112.8 million this biennium.  For the 2013-2015 biennium the State projection increased $101.2 million.  Since sales tax is half of state revenue I cut those numbers in half.  Using Martin’s estimate that Metro’s sales tax revenue is about 5.6%* of the state total, that would amount to $3.2m extra this biennium and $2.8m** extra for the 2013-2015 one, so $6m total additional sales tax revenue for Metro.

With Metro’s total 2015 budget gap at $60m that would come out to about 10% of the shortfall.  So a little less bone and muscle cutting and if a tax package does pass it’d be a little more new service and less back-filling old service.

Now, it could be that the factors that caused the State to revise their forecast upwards were already incorporated into the County’s March estimate, so there will be no change.  On the other hand it could be that since Seattle and King County are leading the economic recovery our tax receipts will grow faster than the State’s.  There are really too many factors involved for anything but the clumsiest of estimates.  I look forward to seeing the real numbers next month.

* His 5.6% number is based on the 2012 State sales tax estimate of $7.241 billion and 2013-14 Metro budget’s 2012 sales tax estimate of $402.9m.

** The State projections show a ‘non economic changes’ debit of $55 in the 2013-2015 biennium.  If this debit doesn’t effect Metro’s revenue then that comes out to an additional $1.5m for that period, for a total of $7.5m.  Or about 12.5% of the $60m shortfall.

Federal Way Link Planning



Sound Transit has come up with five route alternatives for the Federal Way Link extension and is taking public comments. I attended an open house Wednesday in Federal Way; there will be a second open house June 26th in Des Moines. In September the ST board will choose which alternatives to study in the EIS, and in early 2015 it will select a preferred alternative. The study area is from South 200th Street (Angle Lake station) to 320th (Federal Way Transit Center). Construction to 240th is funded in ST2. Construction further south would require additional funding, presumably in an ST3 vote. The alignments under consideration are:

  1. I-5 Mixed West Side ($1.5 billion). Elevated and at-grade along the freeway.
  2. I-5 Mixed West/Median ($1.6 billion). Elevated and at-grade along the freeway.
  3. SR 99 Elevated Median ($1.8 billion). Elevated in the middle of Pacific Highway.
  4. 30th Elevated West Side ($1.8 billion). Elevated on a minor street to 240th, then switching to one of the other alignments to 320th.
  5. SR 99 Hybrid ($1.8 billion). Elevated along Pacific Highway, crossing over the street several times. The north part would be in the median, 240th on the west side, 272nd on the east side. Then it would switch to the west side again and then cross east to the FWTC.

Ridership (23,000 riders) and travel time (14-15 minutes) are the same for all alternatives. This allows us to calculate a Westlake – Federal Way travel time of 55 minutes. That’s based on the existing travel time from Westlake To SeaTac (38 minutes), plus two minutes to cover the gap to 200th. For comparison, the 577/578 express bus is 37 minutes, give or take traffic conditions on I-5 and in the transit tunnel.

Seven stations are being considered, at 216th, 240th, 260th, 272nd, 288th, Dash Point Road, and 320th. ST2 envisioned only three stations (240th, 272nd, and 320th), but the others were added after public input. That doesn’t mean all these stations will necessarily be built, but some of them might.

Continue reading “Federal Way Link Planning”

News Roundup: So Expensive

Sound Transit

This is an open thread.