News Roundup: Empty Space

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This is an open thread.

Lynnwood City Center Project

Screenshot 2013-07-19 at 12.02.23 AM

Lynnwood is revitalizing its city center, hoping to establish a true downtown anchored by the future Lynnwood Link Station.  Commuters might become Lynnwood city center customers, while expansion of apartments offers homes for those who want to live near the station. The Link station will sit just to the southwest of the red Priority 2 area (see below), but Lynnwood is pushing for improvements to existing street plans and transit access sooner rather than later.

Screenshot 2013-07-10 at 5.41.58 PM

The Priority 1 blue circle contains darker dots indicating a primary focus on improving transportation in that street grid at those particular spots, though the color key is confusing.

There are four primary road and amenity projects in downtown:

Continue reading “Lynnwood City Center Project”

Evaluating the Mayoral Candidates on Metro

By now, it’s pretty clear that there are only four legitimate contenders vying to move on to the general election for the mayoral race. While we’re generally familiar with a lot of their broad-brush positions on transit, attitudes on more specific issues, like Metro funding, have remained somewhat of a mystery. Luckily, Thanh Tan at the Seattle Times has compiled a nice table which summarizes how the candidates stack up against each other on addressing the Metro deficit.

The answers are all strung together from minute-long responses in a KCTS debate (11:46-20:45), so I’d be hesitant to assess any of the candidates solely on the basis of their responses here. Although most of them are rhetorically supportive of transit anyway, what matters are the positions that set a candidate apart from the standard pro-transit boilerplate answers.

Interestingly enough, McGinn and Steinbrueck were probably the most unified in their remarks. Both shared similar attitudes on the necessity of new revenue and the impact of transit cuts. They were also equally vague about the specifics on new revenue, though Steinbrueck seemed much more willing to directly blame the Legislature for Metro’s woes.

Murray, unsurprisingly, was quick to deflect blame away from Olympia and seemed much more optimistic about a near-term solution for Metro. Given the hardline stance from Senate Republicans toward transit, I’m sure Murray knows what’s realistic and what’s not, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he were simply using his optimism as a campaign tactic.

Bruce Harrell veered away from the Metro shortfall completely and instead spent his time talking about the failed 2011 Prop. 1 measure. The $60 VLF wouldn’t have purchased any service hours for Metro anyway, so I’m unsure what Harrell was hoping to accomplish with his tangent. Nonetheless, any non-mention of Metro’s shortfall could be an ominous indication as to where his priorities would lie as mayor.

Metro’s Cashless Plan

At the end of June, paper ticketbooks were no longer sold in King County. Metro is innovating in its approach to handling payments, slowly moving forward with a plan to implement cashless fares. The conceptual transit plan from March 2012 and an April 2012 plan to widen ORCA access both address cashless fares, with “The ultimate goal is to reduce or eliminate even off-board cash transactions…”

Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee is also moving forward, according to an excellent summary of their recommendations by Brent White.

The conceptual transit plan summarizes rider habits and backgrounds with data from a 2010 survey in order to provide some background: Screenshot 2013-07-17 at 8.14.19 AM Screenshot 2013-07-17 at 8.24.25 AM Accordingly, the plan lays out an agenda of marketing, promotion, and increased access to alternate forms of payment. Incentives include differing fare structures, waiving of fees for cashless payments, free transfers for cashless payment, expansion of ORCA vending locations to retail, and more. The plan also considers the socioeconomic diversity of the population Metro serves, with community partnerships and discount programs targeting specific areas.

Continue reading “Metro’s Cashless Plan”

TRU Takes Hard Line; Electeds Pin Blame on Sen. Tom

The Seattle Transit Riders Union held a WtF, Olympia? rally last Saturday afternoon. Elected officials who spoke included County Executive Dow Constantine, Mayor Mike McGinn, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D – 36th District – northwest Seattle), and State Representative Gael Tarleton (D – 36th District).

Mayor McGinn described how a coalition of mayors presented a united front for transit funding, including Mayor Skip Priest (R – Federal Way). However, when the mayor talked with a Senate Republican leader, who he did not name, he was told, “We want Seattle to starve until we get what we want.”

Sen. Kohl-Welles said the votes were there in the Senate to pass the transportation package (House Bill 1954), but that leadership would not allow it to come up for a vote. In a telling sign that transit advocates did not have a presence in Olympia, the senator said “I wish you were down here with us.” She offered that “There is hope the governor will call a special session.”

City Council Candidate Kshama Sawant also spoke. She called for an income tax on millionaires to help fund transit and other human services.

Speakers from a few other organizations expressed their solidarity with TRU. A few TRU members told their stories. A couple dozen gold-t-shirt-clad members worked the crowd, collecting testimonials on how people would be affected by cuts to Metro bus service. Some of those testimonials were read before being dropped into a cardboard bus that is slated to be delivered to Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D – Medina). Each mention of Sen. Tom’s name elicited booes from the crowd.

Among the decorations were several cardboard tombstones, including one stating “No cuts”. Others listed Seattle bus routes on the chopping block, including the 19, the 27, and the 7 Express.

ST Board Approves Northgate Link Tunneling Contract & Other Items

Sound Transit

The Sound Transit Board of Directors met this Thursday afternoon and took action on several big items. Video is available here. Supporting materials are available here.

Northgate Tunneling Contract

The highlight of the meeting was the approval of a $440 million contract for the tunneling from University of Washington Station to Northgate Station.

Before the meeting, there was some doubt that the Board would act on the contract, due to a protest from losing bidder Traylor/Frontier-Kemper.  That all ended when ST CEO Joni Earl announced that she had received a letter from TFK the previous day that they would not pursue a rebid.

Despite TFK clearing the path, there was still protest from a couple truckers who had some harsh things to say about ST’s record on minority subcontracting.  Elton Mason, owner of Washington State Trucking, complained that the winning bidder, JCM Northlink LLC, had used questionable and decertified subcontractors in its bid.  Elton said he sent a letter to ST a week ago with his concerns, and has now filed a complaint with the Federal Transit Administration.

Eli Mason, Vice President of the Minority Contractors Association, echoed the concerns about decertified contractors.

Though it wasn’t mentioned by name, Grady Excavating, a prodigious recipient of contracts under the state’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, was kicked out of the minority-contracting program over a year ago.

When the item for the contract approval came up, staff went through how the subcontracting process was working for Northgate Link.  In particular, no actual minority percentage goals have been set on the overall project, as agency rules required that the disparity study from University Link be completed first.  That study is due to the Board in a few months.  Minority contracting goals are then set for each contract, but can vary from contract to contract.  Federal regulations call for an overall minority subcontracting goal for the project.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “ST Board Approves Northgate Link Tunneling Contract & Other Items”

Transit Riders Union to Protest Olympia Inaction Saturday

The Seattle Transit Riders Union will be having a rally this Saturday to protest the state legislature’s failure to give King County Metro Transit any new funding options to stave off deep cuts in bus service. It will be at noon at City Hall Park, the grassy area just south of the King County Courthouse.  This is the WTF? Olympia Rally that was scheduled for a wees ago but postponed.  WTF as in, “Where’s the Funding?”:

“The failure of the State Senate to pass a transit funding option for King County is irresponsible and unacceptable,” says Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the all-volunteer Transit Riders Union. “How are we supposed to get to work, school, or to look for a job? How are disabled people, seniors and students supposed to get around? Our legislature failed all of us: not only will bus riders lose service, traffic congestion will get worse, and the economy and the environment will suffer too.” […]

In this legislative session, bills that would have improved the quality of life for workers, students, immigrants, women, bus riders – for all of us – struggled to make it through but failed, because an obstructionist bloc of Republicans and turncoat Democrats betrayed us. We’re fed up, and we know many others are too – so it’s time to get organized!

KC Revenue Forecast Released – Good News for Metro

Transit Sales TaxAs promised last month, here is the July 2013 Economic and Revenue Forecast from the Office of Economic and Financial Analysis.  I am NOT an economist but it appears the news is quite good.  2013, 14, 15, and 16 Transit Sales Tax estimates have been revised upwards.  If I have done my math correctly that comes out to about $7.9m additional revenues in 2014, $6.0m in 2015 and $7.6m in 2016 (I don’t know how to estimate this year’s additional income).  Certainly not enough to cover Metro’s $60m a year shortfall, but it does mean there is the potential for a little less bone cutting.  Assuming of course I did my math correctly.

I’ve attached my spreadsheet.  The numbers come from slide 28 (Transit Sales Tax Forecast) of the March Forecast and slide 29 (Transit Sales Tax Forecast) of the July Forecast.

Pierce Transit Backs Away from Edge

Late last night word started spreading on Twitter that Pierce Transit was cancelling ALL of their planned 28% service cuts and most of the planned 84 layoffs.   It appears that so far this is NOT a mistimed April Fools prank; from the Tacoma News Tribune:

Pierce Transit said Wednesday it intends to cancel a 28-percent cut in service hours that had been planned for Sept. 29 and maintain current operations because of increased sales tax revenue.

The agency also said it intends to forego eliminating nearly all of the 84 positions that had been slated to be cut in the fall.

The turnabout is due to an 11-percent increase in sales tax revenue during the first four months of this year, said Chief Executive Officer Lynne Griffith.

While certainly great news, it is important to keep in mind that these would have been just the latest series of devastating cuts to PT, the agency will need to ADD at least 35% more hours just to get back to pre-recession service levels.  We are currently looking into the details of this rapid turnaround, expect a more in depth post in the future.

News Roundup: Public Comment Everywhere

Sound Transit Rider Stories

Sound Transit is collecting rider stories now through the end of the week on their social media channels. Got a good story you can share in a Tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram pic?  Follow Sound Transit on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and use the hashtag #riderstory to share it. They’ll be re-posting the best and might even contact you about a future video series.

Turnback to be Added at IDS for East Link – Buses Removed from Tunnel in 2019

In order to improve the movement of East Link vehicles to the Operation and Maintenance Facility (OMF) at SODO and operational flexibility in general Sound Transit staff have sent to the Board a proposed Contract Amendment to the East Link Final Design calling for a turnback track at International District/Chinatown Station.  The work is to take place in 2019 and will require the closure of the DSTT for 10 weekends and one whole week.  In addition:

Once the turn-back track facility is constructed joint operations with buses in the tunnel will no longer be feasible.

So there you have it folks.  The arguments over when buses will be removed from the tunnel could possibly be put to rest at this Thursday’s Board Meeting.   Shame that a center platform isn’t planned to be installed during the construction downtime.  As Martin said in the past:

Center platforms are highly desirable at termini and at train-to-train transfer points, for obvious reasons.  As the only currently planned transfer point, I’m hopeful that Chinatown/ID Station will get a center platform between now and 2020 to facilitate transfers from South to East and vice versa.

It wouldn’t necessarily require a complete reconfiguration.  While Sound Transit hasn’t studied the issue in depth the initial problems don’t seem insurmountable.

UPDATE 1, from ST Spokesperson Bruce GrayWhile the staff report “anticipates” the work being done in 2019, that date is not set in stone. We’re looking at 2019 because it allows us to have it done in time for the final Northgate systems work and testing before opening, but the date is still somewhat flexible. This is a final design contract, not construction. The main point is that the work needs to be done before Northgate opens in order to have the least impact on the riding public.  Sound Transit will continue coordinating this work with KCM, the City of Seattle and WSDOT. For now, we don’t have a date certain. Arriving at that decision will follow a lot more joint work with our partners.

UPDATE 2:  After Brent sent an email to the entire Sound Transit Board on this contract and the possibility of a central platform in the future, ST Boardmember (and Seattle City Councilmember) Richard Conlin quickly responded and said he would look into it.

2013 Primary Endorsements

Dow Constantine

King County Executive: incumbent Dow Constantine emerged four years ago from a strong field. He has governed with such proficiency and diplomacy that he has not drawn a serious challenger for this incredibly important position. He has gradually steered Metro towards a better set of policies, although there is a long way to go. His appointments to the Sound Transit Board have been basically sound.

King County Council District 1: Rod Dembowski impressed us in the scuffle to be appointed to this seat last year, and he has not disappointed in office. Although his time there has been short, he already chairs the Regional Transit Committee and is bringing organizational energy to it.

King County Council District 9Shari Song or Reagan Dunn. Reagan Dunn has been an active and productive voice in the fight to reform Metro’s route structure, eager to make Metro’s dollars go farther by eliminating ineffective service such as the infamous Route 42. While the Council probably needs more route-reform yes votes than revenue yes-votes, we can’t bring ourselves to endorse a Councilmember who will likely oppose more resources for transit. Shari Song will support more revenue, but hasn’t given us any indication that she brings any particular transportation expertise or correct positions on Metro reform.

Seattle Mayor: STB has already endorsed Mike McGinn for mayor.

Richard Conlin

Seattle Council Position 2: Richard Conlin has been the most consistent voice for the public good of density on the council while his colleagues serve neighborhood special interests.

Seattle Council Position 8: Mike O’Brien hasn’t been as deeply involved in transportation issues as we thought he might, but he remains a fairly reliable vote for better transit, less emphasis on cars, and more housing in Seattle.

Bellevue City Council 4: Steve Kasner presents the strongest challenge to incumbent Kevin Wallace, who not only delayed East Link planning with wacky proposals like the Vision Line, but is now claiming credit for creating a collaborative compromise. With more community leadership experience, Kasner is also not likely to carry all the conflict-of-interest baggage that Wallace is knee-deep in when it comes to light rail.

Bellevue City Council 6: Lynne Robinson makes for a worthy opponent against Don Davidson, who presided over much of the council’s shenanigans when it was fighting Sound Transit. Robinson has earned endorsements from all three of the council’s pro-rail minority and has supported keeping East Link accessible to neighborhoods and employment centers.

Mukilteo Mayor: We can’t imagine that transit is a very big issue in Mukilteo, and in an outlying suburb alternative transportation often means bikes. Jennifer Gregorson earned Cascade Bicycle Club’s endorsement and has a recent Urban Planning degree from UW. These are excellent indicators of a leader ready to enact environmentally sensitive policies.

STB’s Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Bruce Nourish, and Sherwin Lee.

LIFOAC Issues Recommendations, Unwittingly Supports ORCAzation

King County Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee has now issued its report and recommendations.

A general fare restructure proposal that may include some action on these recommendations is expected to go the county council in the next couple months.

At a recent forum sponsored by the Transportation Choices Coalition, a couple of committee members – Kate Joncas of the Downtown Seattle Association, and Alison Eisinger from the Seattle Coalition on Homelessness – were joined by Metro project director Doug Hodson to discuss the recommendations.

The recommendations, some of the discussion from the panel, and analysis, are below the fold.

Continue reading “LIFOAC Issues Recommendations, Unwittingly Supports ORCAzation”

Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits

Tukwila Int'l Blvd. Station
Tukwila International Boulevard Station, by l0st2

Paid P&R parking is getting its nose under the tent at Sound Transit.

In its meeting last Thursday, the Operations and Administration Committee of the ST Board voted to recommend that the full Board approve a parking pilot program. The Board is expected to vote in favor at its Thursday meeting. The pilot is described in this draft board motion which was attached to the agenda for the committee meeting.

By far the most noteworthy component of the pilot program is paid parking permits, which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning. This is a first in the Puget Sound area. ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following four ST-operated P&R facilities for permit holders:

  • Tukwila International Boulevard Station
  • Issaquah Transit Center
  • Sumner Station
  • Mukilteo Station

This is fantastic news. Details below the jump.
Continue reading “Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits”

East African Transportation and Housing Survey

SCSTukwilaSeaTacThis March the Somali Community Services Coalition, with the PSRC’s Growing Transit Communities Partnership, released a paper titled Equity for All on the Housing and Transportation situation for East Africans in South King County.  It’s the result of 100 in-person surveys of East African families living in apartment complexes located near the Tukwila and SeaTac Link stations.

The housing picture is pretty bleak.  Most East African families are paying too much of their income to live in housing too small for their needs.  Also interviews with landlords and managers found that Link has increased the demand for these apartments resulting in lower availability and higher rents.

Transportation is more mixed.  While 40% of those surveyed used something other than driving alone for the majority of their trips a significant portion of the population (60%) has never used public transportation.  However it appears there is a pretty cheap way to decrease that number:

Increase oral outreach about public transit, including the light rail, buses, and ride programs:  Survey results suggest that many East Africans do not utilize public transportation.  Survey results also reveal that 48% of individuals learn about resources and services available in their community via word of mouth. More oral outreach and education must take place in order for the East African community to maximize their use of public transportation and other transportation resources, such as the Hyde Shuttle. This is especially important for seniors and individuals with disabilities, who qualify for transportation assistance but may not be benefiting from it.

While not mentioned in the report I have to wonder if the large family size is not a deterrent to transit usage as well.  If you need to get 5 or 6 people somewhere a used minivan may very well be more economical than transit.

Charts and the full transportation section excerpted below the fold:

Continue reading “East African Transportation and Housing Survey”

Car2Go Expanding Again

Car2Go Promo Photo

Just 7 months since entering the Seattle carsharing market with 350 cars, and just 4 months after expanding to 430 cars due to unprecedented demand, Car2Go announced this week that it is again expanding. By mid-August the Car2Go fleet will number 500 cars, 43% larger than the next largest U.S. city (Washington DC – 350), and edging out Vancouver BC (450) for the largest fleet in North America. (See STB’s previous reporting on Car2Go here, here, and here, and our comparison between Zipcar and Car2Go here.)

Don’t expect any further expansions in the near future, however. The Seattle Municipal Code (11.23.160, B) caps free-floating carsharing permits at 500 annually, so Car2Go will be unable to expand again without new council legislation.

McGinn Recommends Rejection of West Seattle Project

Less than three weeks after we declared him “unassailable,” Mayor McGinn does something that one can certainly assail:

I understand that the developers of 4755 Fauntleroy Way South located in West Seattle have made a request to vacate the alley as part of their development proposal. Pursuant to the City of Seattle’s Street Vacation Policies, last amended in 2009, it is up to the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation to transmit a recommendation to the City Council regarding the alley vacation request…

In this instance it is difficult to see how the alley vacation proposal meets our public benefit standards when it does not support equitable economic development as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans. It is the position of the executive that because this project is not in the public interest, we will not forward a recommendation to approve this alley vacation request to the City Council at this time.

West Seattle Blog has an excellent review of the proposal’s context. The issue here is that the developer requires use of the publicly owned alley in the project, giving the city leverage. The mayor’s office notes that the anchor tenant, Whole Foods, pays “significantly lower than other similar businesses.” It also believes that the “large footprint,” orientation of the project, and use of the proposed “midblock connector” by trucks degrade the pedestrian environment.

Mayoral spokesman Robert Cruickshank says that “we are not saying this development can never happen” and “we continue to support new density,” but that the project did not meet the standard “when it comes to ceding City-owned property.” I asked him what it would take to change the recommendation. “We’re not going to dictate terms,” he said, but “we would support a Community Benefit Agreement, similar to what exists at the proposed Sonics Arena… We hope [the walkability issues] are addressed, but doing so alone won’t be sufficient.”

From this it seems clear to me that the mayor’s office is looking for assurances on the relative wage and/or benefit levels of employees at this site. That’s certainly consistent with McGinn’s progressive record, it seems this isn’t a underhanded way to kill the project, and getting a good price for city property is absolutely appropriate.

That said, I’m personally quite hesitant to tax density — thus deterring something with widespread public goods — to achieve unrelated societal objectives. In South Lake Union the Council did this to meet its affordable housing goals, and in both cases this is something that reasonable people of good intent can disagree on. I confess to having no idea what the socially optimal minimum wages and benefits are, but in any case barring new marketplace entrants is a costly and ineffective way to enforce them. If there’s a minimum standard in this city, enshrine it in law; to apply it inconsistently via planning tools is bad for competition, does nothing for the unemployed or those currently making minimum wage, and if it kills the project will do untold environmental, fiscal, and economic damage.