The Walk from Seatac

While answering a different question of mine, ST spokesman Bruce Gray shared this interesting bit of news:

The Port has plans for a new hotel in the space between the station and the terminal where the old rental car service facility was located. As part of that construction, a new moving sidewalk could be built to help folks get from the terminal to our station.

I emphasize the word “could” — I’ll be digging into this possibility into the future — but anything to make connections easier is welcome.

However, I think the most recent STB comment thread on this subject illustrates a common pathology of internet commentary. The positions drifted to extremes: either the location of the station is a travesty, a clear manifestation of malice or incompetence; or, the placement is optimal, ideally suited for access to a new neighborhood in Seatac and a direct shot to South King County.

I submit to you that it is neither. Of course it would be better if the station were a short footbridge away from the terminal, like Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station. Even though Seatac’s development plans, or the aforementioned moving walkway, might mitigate that shortcoming, the mild inconvenience remains.

But it’s just that: a mild inconvenience for most people. A few minutes’ walk is a big deal for a transfer. Missing a connection to a bus that runs every 15 minutes – or more – due to an inefficient transfer (e.g. Mt. Baker) is a horrible feeling. However, we are conditioned to arrive early for flights, and the airport is not a transfer point in the conventional sense.

I do this walk all the time, and as Mr. Gray points out, I’m not alone: the station is the system’s second most popular, with 3 million visitors last year, the vast majority of which were using it for airport access. On the other hand, I tend to use the airlines at the North end of the terminals, and I travel light enough that I can use the airport subway to get to the other end if need be. Obviously there is some segment of the airport market for which that isn’t true, which is why improvements are worthwhile.

The rest of Gray’s remarks regarding station placement are below the jump.
Continue reading “The Walk from Seatac”

News Roundup: Patent Trolls


This is an open thread.

Queen Anne’s Unique Opportunity


Upper Queen Anne has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to substantially increase transit speeds, but it will have to push hard if it wants to make the opportunity a reality. One of the alternatives Sound Transit is considering for Ballard-Downtown light rail has a tunnel under the middle of Queen Anne Hill with a station near Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street. If this option, or some variation of it, is selected, it would result in a 7-10 minute travel time from Queen Anne to either downtown or Ballard. That’s at least twice as fast as the current downtown buses, and would enable a direct connection from Queen Anne Hill to Ballard.

Queen Anne was where my love for urban neighborhoods began, as a junior high kid in 1980. I had grown up in Bellevue in the land of hourly buses, the nearest supermarket a mile away, and nothing but houses and a few apartments in between. One day I encountered a friend whose family had moved away to Seattle. I followed him on Bus 2 to its terminus, and found another world. I was floored by the half-hourly buses, whisper-quiet trolleybuses reminiscent of streetcars, his apartment next to the bus stop, a grocery store a few blocks away, the ability to walk to his friends’ houses all over the hill, Seattle Center just fifteen minutes away (where the kids went on Friday and Saturday evenings), and the shops and restaurants of Queen Anne Avenue just six blocks away. I had never heard of “urbanism” or “walkability” or “transit-oriented development,” but I saw the concepts in action, and decided this was the kind of environmentI wanted to live in.

I never did live on Queen Anne, but in later years at various times I worked there, ate at the restaurants, shopped at the tea shop, visited a church, volunteered at the food bank, and attended house-based bible studies there — all on the bus. Nowadays I, and many other transit riders, tend to avoid living or shopping in upper Queen Anne due to the inconvenient transit options. Instead, we’ll choose to shop in Fremont or Northgate. That’s money we’re not spending in Queen Anne businesses, and cultural contacts that aren’t happening. A Queen Anne subway station that made it quick and easy to get to the top of the hill would change this situation dramatically.

Of course, a station on Queen Anne Hill would be one of most expensive stations on the Link network, requiring a tunnel even deeper than Beacon Hill’s. That’s where the voices of Queen Anne residents and stakeholders are critical. Do you want this station? How much do you want it? Do you want it enough to rally around it and tell Sound Transit and city officials that it’s important, and to tell them repeatedly until they listen? Because upper Queen Anne, unlike Ballard and Seattle Center, is not a must-have station.

If Sound Transit doesn’t hear loudly that a Queen Anne Hill station has widespread public support, it would be easy for the agency to save millions of dollars by simply omitting it and routing the line around the side of the hill. Not many stations present such a stark choice between cost and benefit. It would be very easy for the anti-growth voices to crowd out those who might favor a station but don’t speak up.

Queen Anne is a former streetcar suburb, with a walkable center and a lot of potential as an urban village. A rapid transit station would complete the picture by providing fast, frequent all-day access. This decision will affect not only the current generation, but future generations who will live, work and shop on Queen Anne. Future generations may wish we had built the station so that they could use it, much the same way many now wish we had built the 1972 subway. Will Queen Anne rally around the opportunity, or let it pass by?

Bad Policy is Bad Policy

With the demise of the State transportation package and local options along with it, transit agencies and advocates are now scrambling for a last-ditch effort to procure some kind of revenue before Metro cuts kick in next year.  I’m not entirely hopeful that this will happen, largely because the root problem is Olympia itself.  I’m in agreement with Matt on this, but there’s one talking point coming from Senator Rodney Tom which I think is particularly startling:

[Tom] insists that any new tax for Metro be tied to a state plan, rather than letting pro-transit, pro-tax King County voters go it alone.

“If you don’t link them, what happens is, once the transit crowd gets what they consider they want, the road package gets torpedoed, and vice versa,” he said.

Setting aside the clear snarkiness in that statement, this is bad policy for bad reasons, plain and simple.  The thinly veiled implication here is that the highway lobby needs the support of the “transit crowd,” or else road expansion measures would never pass.  It’s nothing more than a form of logrolling, bribery, and political maneuvering.  We saw it when Olympia demanded the marriage of roads and transit in the 2007 Prop. 1 measure, and we saw it again with the House transportation bill this time around.

What I find interesting is that by Tom’s own admission, separating roads and transit should be good policy.  If the “road package gets torpedoed,” that means that people don’t want more roads because they don’t want more roads, not because they don’t want transit.  Conversely, we’ve seen people vote for transit-only measures (ST2, Transit Now, etc.) because of the transit, and not because there were roads in the package to entice them.

Olympia Fails Again

The Washington State Capitol
The Washington State Capitol by aidaneus

On Friday the Senate declined to take up the House transportation package, meaning no local option this year for King County Metro. In a procedural vote to bring the measure to the floor, King County Senators Joe Fain (R-47), Steve Litzow (R-41), Andy Hill (R-45), Pam Roach (R-31), and Rodney Tom (D-48) voted no. There will be another chance next session to provide either direct funding or a new funding source for Metro to stave off impending service cuts, but in the meantime, staff resources at the agency will be directed to prepare for them. This means staff aren’t available to plan for much else, so the City of Seattle is funding a full time planner to assist Metro.

It’s important to remember that this entire situation was created by the legislature, in decision after decision after decision. It was the legislature that limited the Congestion Reduction Charge (which passed the KC Council with a supermajority) to only two years. It was the legislature that only provided Highway 99 construction mitigation money for half the length of construction disruptions. Both temporary funding sources expire in 2014, resulting in the current crisis. However, these are only issues due to an earlier and much larger attack on Metro: SB 6865. It wasn’t Tim Eyman that took away Metro’s stable funding, it was the legislature:

At the November 1999 election the voters approved Initiative 695 which replaced the 2.2 percent state tax and the $2.00 clean air excise tax with a maximum annual license fee of $30 per vehicle. Although the Initiative was subsequently declared unconstitutional, the Legislature repealed these state taxes and established the $30 vehicle license fee by enacting SB 6865, Chapter 1, 1st Special Session, Laws of 2000, which was effective on January 1, 2000.

In 1999 the state provided 23% of transit funding in Washington, today it provides only 2%. For a state that claims to be a progessive leader we are at the bottom of the rankings in terms of state support for transit (national average is 22%). For a party that claims to dislike big government it is the height of hypocrisy to block local governments from enacting the will of their voters when it comes to local services.

Option 9

Option 9

Last week, Sound Transit and the City of Seattle released eight options for rail from downtown to Ballard. When they presented these options, they said “mix and match” – don’t just take these as complete lines, consider each segment of each line and piece together what you’d really like to see. I wrote up a complex explanation of what a best case scenario might look like, but I got feedback that we really need a map.

Fortunately, an anonymous designer agreed to help, and voila – Option 9. The great thing about this map is that it also includes the study area’s urban centers and urban villages. These are where growth is expected to go in the next decades, so they’re a good indicator of what we should be connecting. So this map combines what we could do here, in Seattle, with what Sound Transit could build, to serve everything.

At the Ballard farmers market this Sunday, I got almost universal positive feedback about this map (and a huge sunburn). Let’s cover the frequently asked questions I got there:

Continue reading “Option 9”

Mike McGinn For Mayor


Seattle Transit Blog endorsements are primarily a function of a candidate’s transit and land use policies, and on those merits Mayor Mike McGinn is simply unassailable.

He has pushed for greater investment on all transit fronts. He initiated a badly needed update to the Transit Master Plan, sought to fund it through a $80 vehicle license fee, and used the TMP to open up the possibility of a Sound Transit 3 package in 2016 rather than 2020 or 2024. He has leveraged Seattle’s voracious appetite for transit to accelerate the entire region.

He has routinely produced the most aggressively pro-density proposals every time the subject arises. A city that enacted the Mayor’s proposals in full would create a better life for transit riders; more people, jobs, and activities well-served by transit; better public health and safer streets; greater housing supply and a more politically powerful Seattle; and a more environmentally sustainable future.

Of course, the Seattle City Council has not fully enacted the Mayor’s transit and land use proposals, often delaying and watering them down while not stating clear policy objections. Although critics suggest this means the Mayor is ineffective, this is a dynamic common to most Council-Mayor relationships. Moreover, we fail to see how electing a Mayor with a weaker pro-transit and pro-density reputation will increase the political potency of the positions we share.

Regarding those mayoral alternatives: Peter Steinbrueck, in addition to flirting with anti-rail rhetoric, displays strong anti-density instincts, consistently favoring replacement of a big building with a small building, and a small building with empty space. Councilmember Bruce Harrell has a poor density-and-transit voting record on the Council and continues to emphasize cheap and easy car access as a policy objective. We are hopeful that Senator Ed Murray would make a good mayor, but Olympia politics is so far to the right of Seattle that is difficult to discern where he stands on the real fault lines in City politics. He has not yet embraced the aggressively pro-transit and pro-density positions that would move us to abandon an incumbent with whom we agree almost totally.

Mayor McGinn’s first election victory was widely viewed as a fluke. He deserves an unambiguous mandate from the people of this City and a second term as Mayor.

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