Fremont Bridge (wikimedia)

On Monday, at the full City Council meeting, all the cards were laid out on the table, and the Ship Canal Crossing Study didn’t quite have a flush.

The study will, if funded, build on the work being done in the Ballard to Downtown Rail Study to make sure any new infrastructure serves everyone. It will start with the options for transit crossings, figure out how they’ll work with the existing bridges, where bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure should be, and where cars should go.

In order for this study to give answers that the city needs in time for Bridging the Gap and Sound Transit 3, it needs to start at the beginning of 2014. It takes three to four months after the council approves funding for a project for the scope to be written, bid on, and the contract awarded, so the funding has to come well before the beginning of 2014 – really, now.

So on Monday, council member O’Brien ran an amendment to the first quarter supplemental budget to fund the study starting now, instead of in 2015, where it’s currently scheduled.

After a long debate, three other council members stepped up: Conlin, who’s been a good friend to transit for some time; Bagshaw, who supports bicycling infrastructure (and this would be a biggie); and Harrell, who put mayoral politics aside to support this critical study. Thank you to all three of them, and of course to O’Brien for running the amendment.

The other five, though, had other ideas. I can’t speak to Burgess’ or Godden’s motivations. On Facebook last night, Clark indicated she hadn’t gotten a briefing on the crossing – this is understandable if it’s the case, as this was previously just before the Government Performance and Finance Committee, but she’s a member of that committee, so I’m surprised. I’m following up to find out who’s been briefed.

The two who are especially frustrating are Licata and Rasmussen.

Licata, the same day as the amendment, ran an insert in the Seattle Times with one of the worst false premises I’ve ever seen in Seattle politics. On Metro, it says: “We must not reduce its service in order to build major new rail projects.” This is unreal – in no universe is Metro’s funding shortfall related to rail. The worst part about a campaign message like this is that it makes people less able to understand what’s going on with transit funding – and because they’ll waste their time on a fake battle, it makes getting Metro revenue harder. It’s completely irresponsible on Licata’s part.

According to one source, Rasmussen has been briefed more than once on the ship canal crossing and the importance of the timeline. Unfortunately, he decided that it was worth risking rail to Ballard to add a little bit more funding to the Fauntleroy Green Boulevard project – a street reconfiguration that doesn’t even include bike lanes.

This may have been the last chance to have the ship canal crossing study done early enough that it could influence BtG or ST3. I plan to get more details from SDOT about the shortest possible timeline for the work, and whether it could still provide guidance before being entirely complete. I’ll report back on a path forward in the next few weeks.

Update: Sally Clark was briefed by SDOT and the Mayor’s staff on this project on May 2nd.

41 Replies to “Thanks to City Council, Ship Canal Crossing Could Now Miss BtG and ST3”

  1. “This is unreal – in no universe is Metro’s funding shortfall related to rail.”
    At least not in the Puget Sound, where ST was born by Metro, operated by Metro, and competes for the same tax dollars as Metro, and in the bigger arena both agencies compete for taxation authority from our legislative bodies against all the other priorities the state must address.
    So other than that, I guess you’re right.

    1. Sound Transit didn’t get the MVET that was taken away from Metro and causing these cuts today. Nor is anyone actively reducing Metro’s authority now. There is no argument that Metro service is being reduced “in order to build new rail projects”.

      I understand that you’re not a fan of rail, but going down this path hurts everyone, especially bus supporters, because it misinforms voters and activists about what to do to help Metro.

      1. Actually I’m a big fan of rail when it can perform better than buses it replaces and do it for less subsidy for more riders. That’s efficient! If the rail built fails that basic test, then I’m not your cheerleader.
        BTW, pissing off council members for legitimate concerns is probably more harmful to your effort Ben, than my occasional rant against wasteful practices.
        “It’s completely irresponsible on Licata’s part…”
        Maybe replacing $5 bus rides with $25 train rides is …. Hmmm…. what’s the word …. irresponsible.

      2. Nice use of North Sounder to create a straw man. Mic, you’re hurting buses with this.

      3. I absolutely loathe Nic Licata, but how is he wrong in the sense that funding for all transit is finite? It all comes from sales taxes, no one is creating a separate income stream to fund and operate rail. Seems like 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

      4. Funding for transit is only as finite as our representatives allow it to be, and as much as the public is willing to pay. So far, the latter’s cup has not run dry…it’s the former that has been setting limits. I can’t ever remember a transit (bus and/or rail) only initiative not gaining majority support in King County, or really ever being that close.

      5. Taking $1 away from Sound Transit or City of Seattle spending on streetcars does not give that dollar to Metro. Conversely spending $1 on Sound Transit or City of Seattle streetcars does not take that $1 from Metro.

        Sound Transit and Metro are both currently maxed out on taxing authority. In theory voters might go “Enough!” if asked to fund Metro to the level it would be without I-695 and ST3 but we don’t know for sure as we don’t have specific proposals on the table with specific taxes.

        In addition the Ship Canal Crossing study isn’t necessarily about rail or even transit. Cars, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians all need better ways of crossing the ship canal as well as transit. The solution may very well involve building a new auto crossing such as an underpass at 1st or 3rd Ave NW.

      6. Jon Cracolici (sp?) said something the other day at the Ballard HCT Open House that seemed a nice summation of my thoughts.

        “Every dollar comes from the voter.” There is no ‘Transit Pie’ where if I want money for X I have take it from Y. For each one I have to go to the voter. Sound Transit no more takes away money from Metro than a Library Levy takes away money from Schools. No voter goes “Well I already gave money for books, my book quota has been reached for the year.”

        Anyone who tries to tell you different is trying to sell you something.

    2. Bus service is never going to be reliable as long as it’s stuck in the same roads that are clogged with cars as it’s always been. And once you’ve paid the capitol cost, to build a separated busway, there’s not that much additional cost to make it a train and, usually, such capitol costs are only justified on lines that need the extra capacity of a train anyway.

      That’s not to say there haven’t been any stupid rail projects that provided zero mobility advantages over buses – there have (e.g. South Lake Union Streetcar, First Hill Streetcar, etc.). Even Tacoma Link used to be vastly inferior to Pierce Transit local buses in terms of frequency through its area, until Pierce Transit started making massive service cuts.

      But I don’t think that’s what Nick is arguing about. Rather, he is arguing that the money that is being spent to build Link to Northgate or could be spent to build Link to Ballard would be better on paying Metro to add trips to the same old fleet of buses that Metro has been running forever. The problem, of course, is that, except for people traveling in the middle of the night, simply throwing more buses at the problem will matter much less in terms of overall travel time and reliability than providing transit a dedicated route that is separated from traffic.

      1. asdf, if we upgraded the SLU streetcar to more like a rainier valley level of separation, and took that through downtown and to Fremont, would you like it more?

      2. @Ben I personally would like to see street cars upgraded to have exclusive ROW (which they should have had in the first place). Unfortunately, we are still building lines (First Hill) that are not exclusive ROW.

        I am in favor of fighting to make that happen, but we do have somewhat limited resources on what to fight for at the moment. I would rather focus on fighting for all future projects not being shared ROW (or for systems where that isn’t possible by design).

        We can worry about replacing bad design choices after we make sure that such silly choices won’t be made again.

        On a slightly different note, does anyone know why shared lanes was thought to be a good idea in the first place? It seems to me like a pretty poor replacement for a fully grade separated light rail station that first hill lost in exchange for this street car that is currently being built.

      3. Charles, we should discuss the history of that. The First Hill station would have essentially cost $1.1 Billion – the soil there is so bad it’s hugely high risk. We didn’t have that kind of money.

        On “future projects” for streetcars, it may be that the most politically easy thing to do is to build the downtown streetcar connector in its own lanes and upgrade the SLU streetcar at the same time.

        The reason shared lanes happen is not that they were “thought to be a good idea” – it’s that the strong opposition to losing lanes is strong.

      4. As regards the South Lake Union streetcar, which I took frequently when I worked in SELU, what slows is down most is not sharing the lane with motor vehicles, but the endless traffic lights. The streetcar doesn’t appear to have any preferential treatment at these lights–and those [red lights] on Mercer are interminably long.

      5. It actually has priority at most intersections – I think 14. But if it gets caught behind cars, it can go out of sync for a whole cycle, seemingly.

      6. Lightning is right. I only use the streetcar occasionally, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it “stuck in traffic”. Certainly not like Denny Way where the 8 gets severely stuck in traffic. What infuriates me is that it has stations every two blocks and gets caught behind every single stoplight in between. Its “signal priority” is so ineffective that you need a millisecond stopwatch to measure any benefit.

      7. I walk the length of Westlake Ave twice daily. Yesterday I saw a lady in an SUV trying to parallel park with a cell phone in her left hand. This would only be mildly irritating if it hadn’t been for the Streetcar waiting for her to do it over and over again.

  2. So… all we have to do is brief Clark and revote?

    The other four didn’t surprise me, but I was concerned to see Clark in with the no votes. She’s kind of a swing vote for transit, but generally falls on the right side.

  3. Thanks for your work on this one and other related matters, Ben. Any plans to run for Seattle City or County Council? If not, anybody else you think should run?

    Mark Dublin

    1. I won’t rule out the possibility of city council. But I wouldn’t win on transit – there are a lot of other things I care about that I’d need to understand better before running.

      There are other people who I think should run for council – we don’t have enough women, and I know two who are considering runs in 2015.

      1. We need some new forward thinking young blood on the council. Between the fossils (Godden and Licata), the coward….or closet conservative (Clark), the conservative (Burgess), and the hasn’t got a clue (Rassmussen), our ability to take serious steps forward in improving public transportation is severely compromised.

  4. In the meantime, is there anything us constituents can do to resolve this situation short of voting people out next time around?

      1. Ben, I will definitely shoot off some emails. One thing I can’t make out from the article or comments is: was this a final vote on this matter, no other votes will happen on this matter in the short to long term and now other options need to be considered, or was this just a simple no vote “for now” and it could come up again tomorrow, next week, next year or whenever (with the idea that it would need to be approved soon for it to be of any worth in the near future)?

      2. It’s a “for now”, and I need to do more work to understand the timeline, but it might not be available again until September.

  5. What’s Nick’s plan? Raid ST funding to run neighborhood milk runs? on buses that are too packed and can’t come often enough?

    The two ads juxtaposed together have all the earmarks of a John Fox alternate reality piece. (Just put up bizarre requirements on new development and, voila, nothing new gets built inside Seattle, which makes Fox’s crowd heppy.)

    Nick may mistake his victory over the Cathy Allen creation who ran against him last time as a mandate against allowing new development and against high-capacity transit. I, for one, was simply voting against Cathy Allen. Now, Cathy’s latest client/sucker is running on a polar opposite platform as her previous recruit. If Peter comes in a distant fourth, that will make Fox’s agenda look as unpopular as it really is.

    1. As far as I can tell he is trying to put together a coalition of John Fox types and Steinbrueck voters, on the premise that THE BIG BAD TRAIN is coming to force us all to live in $1500/month aPodments — something which each group thinks is bad for different reasons.

      It’s incredibly disappointing, as he has been in general in the last few years. When he started on the council he was a fresh and innovative voice. Not anymore.

  6. I especially like this part of the anti-rail Licata ad;

    ” Over 80% of Seattle’stransit riders use the Metro bus system.”

    No shit. It’s pretty hard to use something that doesn’t exist.

  7. I’m not too worried about this – it’s all just politics.

    It was pretty clear that MO’B was just trying to throw the mayor a lifeline. McGinn really doesn’t have much to campaign on in the transpo department except bike lanes and studies, and this was just one more study to create the illusion of progress before the election. I think the council was right to delay it until later. And I don’t think the delay will have much of an impact on ST3 anyhow.

    That said, I haven’t seen my ballot yet, but are we voting on district representation this round? Because if so, I would expect it will become harder to pass studies like this under district representation. I.e., why would the councilperson representing Fauntleroy be inclined to vote for this north-end study when voting against it will mean more investment in their district’s greenway project?

    1. This impacts ST3 because it means the city doesn’t have a plan for crossing configuration, so when ST builds, they won’t consider bicycles and pedestrians.

      And it impacts Bridging the Gap more. If we don’t have a comprehensive plan for crossing configuration, it means Ballard Bridge updates might not be part of the BtG conversation.

    2. You have to study something before you can build it, like how an architect needs to draw blueprints before a construction crew can build a house. Except that a light rail line is a lot more complex than a house and needs a lot more study. Plus the EIS process adds another layer of studies. All these studies are prerequisites to building the lines. The more studies that the city funds now, the lower the price in ST3 will be, and the sooner it can open. If you’re like me and think it should have opened yesterday, or really twenty years ago, then you don’t want any more delays, so get those studies rolling..

    3. ST always considers the impact on other modes when developing their plans. In fact, they are required to. Does that mean that they give bike and ped improvements equal weight with rail/bus improvements? Of course not, that is not their primary focus, and nor should it be.

      Besides, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a new crossing that includes LR/SC combined with bike ped without also providing some sort of increased SOV car access. Politically it just won’t fly, so I’d rather keep ST relatively unencumbered and hopefully focused on a hi-capacity, hi-reliability LR only crossing (hopefully tunneled).

      And, yes, it is obvious to even the most casual observer that you need to develop plans before you actually build something. But that doesn’t mean that it is wise to spend money on plans that don’t make sense or that have about zero chance of ever happening.

      And it certainly doesn’t mean that you need to rush to develop plans on an artificial schedule driven by a mayor who is going into an election with support that is somewhere south of the Mendoza Line. That is pure politics, and politics usually makes for poor transportation planning.

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