May 2013 ST Ridership Report: Birthday Edition

The Central Subway Tunnel Boring Machine cake by Eric Fischer
The Central Subway Tunnel Boring Machine cake by Eric Fischer

How many of you were riding Link on this day in 2009?  From the ST Press Release:

Sound Transit’s Link light rail celebrates its fourth birthday today amid continued strong ridership growth and record-setting trends this summer. The line has carried more than 30 million riders since it opened to the public on July 18, 2009.

Link has seen double-digit annual ridership growth since opening and averaged almost 32,000 weekday boardings in June, a 14% increase over June, 2012. Link also saw its busiest day ever when it carried more than 38,000 riders on Tuesday, June 11.

Great news to share on a birthday!  While a bunch of wonks like us can debate anything to death, I think we can all agree that Link is leaps and bounds better than any service this area has ever had.

Four years from now we’ll be a year past U-Link opening and only four more years to the opening of North Link.  That itself is exciting to think about. Here’s to the next four years and the next forty!

The below numbers come from the normal monthly ridership report for May but the charts underneath the fold include June estimates for Link.

May’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 27,428/23,844/17,412, changes of +3.1%, +4.1%, and +9.3% respectively over May 2012. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 7.7%.  Tacoma Link ridership declined 3.2%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 6.2%.

Continue reading “May 2013 ST Ridership Report: Birthday Edition”

Link Excuse of the Week: Beacon Hill Walkabout


Community Arts group ROCKiT and the Beacon Hill Merchant’s Association are teaming up to provide a packed afternoon of music, arts, and culture this Saturday, July 20th.  Stepping out of Beacon Hill Station there will be maps as well as red balloons marking the paths to different event areas.  There will be live music from 4pm-9pm, a Bite of Beacon event at Stevens Triangle Park (4:30 until gone) as well as specials at nine participating restaurants, and a scavenger hunt.

For all the details, see the event’s webpage.

See past Link EotWs here.  If you know of a community event along Link that our readers would be interested in, please contact us.

News Roundup: Developers


This is an open thread.

Thanks to City Council, Ship Canal Crossing Could Now Miss BtG and ST3

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.

Transit Riders to Olympia: WTF?!

UPDATE: Seattle Transit Riders Union’s Katie Wilson tells me that “WTF” rally will likely be moved to a different day, due to a separate, large public event which will occur at the Federal Building at the same time. I’ll add more information here when I get it. — Bruce

STRU @ Pride
STRU @ Pride

This Saturday at noon, the Seattle Transit Riders Union is hosting a rally at City Hall Park, to protest the failure of the Washington State Legislature to provide King County Metro with a local revenue option to stave off possibly the largest round of cuts — 17% of Metro service — in the agency’s history. Speakers include King County Council Member Larry Phillips, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and District 46 Representative Jessyn Farrell. The theme is “WTF, Olympia?” — 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!

City Hall Park is at 3rd Ave & Yesler, right by Pioneer Square Station. I’ll be there, and I suggest that if you’re interested in a stable, sustainable funding source for Metro, you be there too.

To City Council: Fund the Ship Canal Crossing Study!

This weekend, we learned that Councilmember Mike O’Brien will be introducing an amendment to the budget at 2:00 today to move the Ship Canal Crossing study from 2015 back to 2014.

This study is key for both Bridging the Gap’s renewal in 2015 and for a potential Sound Transit 3 in 2016. For Bridging the Gap, as the Ballard Bridge is high on the list of SDOT’s priorities, having a plan for configuring the ship canal crossings is key to making the right investments for repair or replacement. For Sound Transit 3, we need to be sure SDOT has the right data to ensure Sound Transit’s next line works well with existing traffic and transit service, and potentially serves bicycles and pedestrians, whether it’s a bridge or an undercrossing.

ST3’s project list may be locked down early in 2015, as the legislature needs to provide them authority, and any Sound Transit proposal must go through a state expert review panel before it goes to the voters. Bridging the Gap will probably be assembled in early 2015 to go before voters in November of that year. To be ready, a year plus long study must happen soon to be complete before BtG or ST3 are put together.

With both SLU and Ballard growing quickly, no matter what your priorities – cars, transit, bicycles, pedestrians – this study is a key piece in serving everyone. Delaying the crossing study could lead to missing high priority transit projects, or wasting money on fixes that turn out to be temporary.

Tukwila International Boulevard Transformation

Tukwila’s transformation into a full-fledged urban center is charging full steam ahead. The major components of the effort roughly divvy up into the construction of Tukwila Village, and transformation of Tukwila International Boulevard (TIB) into a true transportation corridor with improved safety, sidewalks, and transit access.

Specifically: increased access to the new light rail station; reduction of Tukwila’s crime rate; and revitalizing the neighborhood around South 144th St. and TIB by adding a library, a police resource center, plaza/park, and residential/retail spaces.

The recent First Quarter Update  relates what progress has occurred:

1: The Transportation Corridors Comp Plan element will refocus on TIB, when reviewed in 2014, with further updates. The various committees executing the overall Comp Plan will work on its elements from April-July 2013, with the city council considering possible changes from August to October.

Tukwila Village Location

In addition, a public safety-oriented sidewalk policy will be established. Most recently, the city of Tukwila also approved an ordinance (login may be required for access to the ordinance text) for acquisition of up to 7 properties along TIB, including condemnation if necessary.

“We are indeed completing our appraisals and will start negotiations with the property owners in the next few weeks,” said Derek Speck, Tukwila economic development administrator. “This summer we will go to council for direction in terms of what the city would do with the properties once we’ve acquired them.”

Continue reading “Tukwila International Boulevard Transformation”

What’s in Store For Tukwila Station & RapidRide F

Tukwila Station site plan

Last month, Sound Transit broke ground on a long-awaited permanent Sounder station at Tukwila. Currently, the temporary station makes for a pitiful stop for Amtrak riders and the thousand or so commuters who make connections to nearby worksites.  The project will construct permanent platforms, rebuild the park-and-ride, and create a new bus loop. Coupled with the impending F Line implementation and lot of surrounding greenfield, an optimist might envision bright TOD prospects in the station area’s future.

Among the many improvements:

The new facility, with a total budget of $46 million, will include two 600-foot-long platforms, two new passenger shelters, improvements to the underpass connecting the two platforms, and a bus transit area supporting better access to King County Metro Transit services, including the future Rapid Ride F line. Parking for transit users will nearly double from 208 to 390 stalls, and a plaza, improved walkways and lighting will offer better pedestrian access to the station. The facility will also house four electrical charging stations, and bicycle storage will increase from 27 to 76 spaces.

The F Line (faint red) won't be able to continue west along Strander until Segment 2b is funded by Tukwila
The F Line (faint red) won’t be able to continue west along Strander until Segment 2b is funded by Tukwila (click to enlarge)

By my reading of the Tukwila Station and RapidRide plans, it sounds like the F Line will be coming off of the SW 27th/Strander Blvd extension, into the station via a new access road, dropping off at the bus loop, and circulating back to Strander via the West Valley Highway. According to some Metro planners I talked to, it’s not really being considered a deviation for the time being since the Renton-funded segment of the 27th/Strander project won’t connect all the way to the West Valley Highway.

Once Tukwila gathers enough funding to complete its segment of the roadway extension, however, the routing becomes unnecessarily circuitous, at least during non-Sounder hours when there won’t be a train or bus to connect to, nor any nearby destinations to serve. A deviation is more tolerable in the peak when the benefit for connecting riders will outweigh the cost for through-riders. However, I suspect Metro wants to avoid having multiple route patterns for a frequent branded service like RapidRide.

The Beauty of car2go Parkspots & Transit

Parkspots outside Olympic Village Canada Line station in Vancouver
Parkspots outside Olympic Village Canada Line station in Vancouver

One of the things that makes car sharing so advantageous is its ability to be seamlessly part of a car-free individual’s multimodal network. If transit doesn’t run at a certain time or doesn’t serve a certain place, car share can be used to fill those gaps, particularly when walking or biking aren’t feasible.  car2go parkspots are a perfect example of this: designated spaces reserved only for car2go vehicles which are located at strategic points across a city, like hospitals, transit stations, etc.

car2go Vancouver has this down already– I was pleasantly surprised to discover a few parkspots outside the Olympic Village Canada Line station while waiting for a bus to Granville Island last week.  At hours when connecting bus service isn’t available, car2go would be a great alternative.  In addition to Olympic Village, car2go also leases spaces in a private lot right outside Broadway-City Hall and provides nearly 60 other parkspots across the Vancouver home area.

Seattle, on the other hand, has zero parkspots in its home area.  Whether that’s a byproduct of car2go Seattle’s relative newness or some other constraint, I’m not entirely sure.  At any rate, implementing parkspots would seem to be the next logical step of investment for the company, especially given the recent expansion of the home area, which now includes Mount Baker and Columbia City stations.

[UPDATE: Some of our more attentive commenters point out that Seattle and Vancouver have considerably different parking rules, hence the reason for parkspots in the latter.  While I’m not suggesting a city-wide implementation, I think parkspots could be useful in Link station areas and other major transit hubs, where the whole point of RPZs is to discourage hide-and-riders.]

Losing Bidder Attacks Sound Transit

Yesterday morning, I read a confusing story ($) about a bug in the Sound Transit bid system, and how a contractor was using it as a reason to ask for a rebid of the North Link tunnel contract.

During the bidding process, communications are sometimes made to bidders about changes. In this case, nine days before the bid window closed, Sound Transit posted a change to the schedule on which contract payments are made – they would no longer withhold 5% of payment until the end of construction. Payments on these projects are often doled out on a schedule anyway, so this just shifts that schedule a little.

There was a glitch in eBid, where notification of this document likely wasn’t emailed to most contractors. They still could see it appear in their dashboard, they just didn’t get a notification.

The low bid for the contract, at $440 million, came from JCM. Shortly after, Traylor Frontier-Kemper, the same contractor that discriminated against African-American workers on the University Link tunnel contract, requested that the bid process should be restarted due to the bug. Continue reading “Losing Bidder Attacks Sound Transit”

Dissents of the Day: Ed Murray

Commenter “railcan” illustrates what can happen when your humble correspondent only really started paying attention in 2007…

“The results were terrible” This is a very short-sighted view. I don’t expect everyone on this blog to have a long memory, but Ed can credibly make the claim to be one of the people with foresight who helped save Sound Transit at its greatest moment of peril. Sure the agency turned itself around with good leadership at the local level and strong support from Patty Murray in DC. But at its darkest moments, Ed Murray saved ST by killing every attempt in Olympia to gut the agency in 2001-2004 as chair of the House Committee. He was mano-a-mano against the Kemper crowd in a very lonely fight when ST had zero friends in Oly. Jim Horn sent a bunch of anti-ST bills out of the Senate when ST was trying to convince FTA to restore federal funding for Link. Ed buried every one of them. You don’t always get a lot of credit for playing defense, but it is not a stretch to say that without him, we may well not have the Link system you see today.

And former State Rep. (and STB all-star) Geoff Simpson:

Ed Murray has done more to provide funds for transit in this state than any single person has ever done to my knowledge. I served with him as his vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee from 2003-2007. It doesn’t take much research to find the genesis of the State’s Regional Mobility Grant program. It was Murray’s 2005 legislation, HB 2124 ( It’s provided $143.5 million since 2006, which has leveraged a lot of other funding – not sure any single person in state history can match that. That bill just barely scratches the surface of Murray’s transit credentials. Some of it can be attributed to behind the scenes efforts, like the First Hill Streetcar. I know for a fact that Murray himself made that happen. Ed Murray has probably forgotten about more of his personal transit successes than all of his opponents have actually delivered, combined. I won’t take any shots at the current mayor or his ability to get things done, but at least get your facts straight about Murray.

For reference, the “Congestion Relief Charge” was supposed to generate about $27m a year entirely for King County, vs. about $20m a year statewide since 2006. It’s not transformative, but it is a bill that has helped transit while not attached to huge highway spending, and has funded King County projects like Route 120 improvements, Brickyard P&R expansion, and  the South Lake Union Streetcar.

News Roundup: Does It Matter?

This is an open thread.

Ed Murray and Uncertainty


In this interview with Capitol Hill Seattle Sen. Murray expresses some surprise his pro-transit credentials are in doubt:

Murray tells CHS he is genuinely baffled by some transportation advocates like writers at the Seattle Transit Blog who question his commitment to pro-density rapid transit and insisted his time in Olympia only bolsters his ability to get more done.

To be clear, interviewer Bryan Cohen told me he drew the inference to STB, and we did not come up by name in the interview. Nevertheless, I think there are some interesting points to be made:

1. It would be foolish to claim Sen. Murray is fundamentally anti-transit. However, “pro-transit” is merely the entry point to the race. In Olympia, even the idea that we shouldn’t gut bus service is controversial. In Seattle city races, every candidate rhetorically supports more Metro funding, supports light rail and Sound Transit, supports the streetcar network in the Transit Master Plan, and thinks the city should accept more density.

Where they differ is in priorities. In practice, streetcars may fall well below road maintenance, bus bulbs, and even low taxes as areas of emphasis. Bike or transit lanes can’t run afoul of customer parking for businesses. Density may be nice, but not if it offends neighborhood activists, casts shadows, or violates decades-old neighborhood plans. This is the true fault line in Seattle politics, and Ed Murray’s long and good fight against radical right-wing politics in the legislature tells us little about where he stands on these struggles.

2. In the aforementioned battles, Mike McGinn has consistently dismissed these excuses for inaction in defense of our future. A Mayor Murray might or might not do the same; he certainly hasn’t said much on the subject, including declining my offer for an interview. I certainly understand the impulse to not get pinned down on policy specifics in a primary, and the secondary importance of reaching STB readers. This is not an attack on Ed Murray. It’s a recognition of Mike McGinn’s solid record on transportation and land use.

3. A crucial argument of the Murray campaign is that he would get better results for Seattle in Olympia. I would not to presume to understand how things work in the legislature, but from my layman’s perspective the record is poor. The last truly transformative transit bill to come out of the legislature was the Regional Transit Authority that authorized Sound Transit in 1990. Since then, Olympia has let Community Transit go over the cliff and kept Metro afloat with temporary authority, and had minor transit spending attached to giant highway bills. I would not blame Sen. Murray for all that has gone wrong in the legislature, nor credit him with what little has gone right. This is not a question of his “commitment,” or doubt that Mayor McGinn has a had a tough relationship with some key figures in the capital. However, the very real constraints that stymied Ed Murray the senior Senator are likely to stymie Ed Murray the mayor.

Washington State: Best in Nation Rural Highways

Urban Highways we’re 23nd.  Bridges 32nd.

Washington ranks 1st in rural interstate pavement condition, 8th in fatality rate, 14th in urban interstate congestion, 23rd in urban interstate pavement condition, and 32nd in deficient bridges.

The Reason Foundation‘s (Libertarian Thinktank) full report here, Washington’s report here.

In related news, Governor Jay Inslee is considering a 3rd Special Session this fall to try and pass a Transportation Package.

Sound Transit Board Meeting: Tacoma Fares, Budget Tweaking

The Sound Transit Board meeting on June 27 covered several important issues:

1. Presentation of a report analyzing a potential fare on Tacoma Link.

The policy report looked at fares up to $2.00, and determined a $0.75 fee would generate more than enough revenue to cover collection costs. Unprofitable fare collection is one of the ST criteria for free service that Tacoma Link no longer meets.

Screenshot 2013-07-05 at 8.56.59 PM

The report estimated ridership would drop 19%, from 83,000 to 67,000 per month with the recommended fare of 75 cents. After subtracting operating costs of collection, Sound Transit would net $12,000 per month. It’d take approximately 58 months for that revenue to also cover the costs of installing fare collection methods and means, which were estimated at $709,000.

The higher fee structures outlined in the table above would take less time, but also impact rider volume. Judging by the overall reaction during the meeting, the Sound Transit board will wait to deliver a final verdict until the next few steps in the process, which consist of pricing model refinements, with special attention to low-income populations, and community outreach.

Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma mayor, stated this process will integrate with Tacoma’s reevaluation of fares and parking, while Joni Earl, chief executive officer of Sound Transit, added that outreach to stakeholders would begin right away given the board’s response. So overall it appears the final verdict is yet to come.

2. Closeout of a total of 19 small projects worth $294m, all delivered a total of $11.5m under budget. Also the Lakewood Layover is transitioning to operations, a total of approximately $3.5m under budget.

3. A staff report and resolution that would “amend the Adopted 2013 Lifetime Budget for the Sounder ST2 Fleet Expansion project from $16,296,000 to $49,530,000” as well as “the Adopted 2013 Annual Budget for the project from $4,196,000 to $15,196,000 to provide funding to purchase nine Sounder passenger vehicles.”

According to the report, the extra vehicles are necessary for additional trips due to service expansion and rider growth. The report does not explain what exactly deviates from the ST2 plan; I have an email in to Sound Transit about this question.

Another interesting note in the fiscal information section of the staff report hints that the extra strain on the Pierce subarea financial capacity (where the extra $20.9m necessary in bonds will come from) may require revision of other current plans as well:

“In addition, the issuance of $20.9 million of additional bonds will reduce the agency’s net debt service coverage, which is already forecast to be below the board’s 1.5 x coverage policy minimum. Through the program realignment, staff is monitoring agency costs and revenues, and reporting quarterly to the Board…To offset the $20.9 million of additional costs, staff will present options to the Board by the end of the first quarter of 2014 for capital and operating costs savings within the Pierce subarea, including options for reducing the scope of the ST2 Sounder maintenance base project.”

However, perhaps it’ll be worth it. The 9 coaches will expand the 14 locomotives, 40 coaches, and 18 cab cars that currently compose the Sounder fleet. Purchased from Bombardier, the coaches would be fully compatible with the current trains, and serve on the South Sounder line. This build-out of the Sound Move program, on the Sounder South and North Lines, allows for another one peak direction trip in September on the South line. 2016 and 2017 will see 3 more trips eventually added.

Making Seattle Taxis Greener and More Useful




Council President Sally Clark convened a new committee this year with Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien to consider changes to the Taxi and For Hire regulations. Seattle is proving itself to be a forward-thinking city by trying to adapt to radical changes in the personal transportation market caused by technological innovation (apps) and by antiquated regulations that predate the current council.

As STB has pointed out in the past, taxis are one component of a sustainable transportation ecosystem. The demand generators, including the hotel and nightlife industry, testified about the need for more options. Seattle ranks very low in taxis per capita. We are currently at 0.36, even lower than our neighbor Portland at 0.71.

The council has commissioned an independent study to see if there is demand for more taxis. I suspect that study will prove what most Seattle and King County residents already know: there are not enough taxis in this city. Assuming the study shows there is demand, I would suggest the following changes to move our city in a greener direction:

Eliminate “Deadheading”

Continue reading “Making Seattle Taxis Greener and More Useful”