ACTION ALERT: Give Public Testimony on Republican Transportation Proposal, Thursday 1:30PM, Olympia

The Washington State Capitol
The Washington State Capitol by aidaneus/Flickr

If you want your voice heard by our legislature, then this Thursday please go down to Olympia and give public testimony in front of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Sightline yesterday did a great write-up on how the bill’s priorities are almost completely opposite of what the public wants.  Getting funding priorities in line with the actual people’s priorities would be a good start.  Some other possible comments you could bring up:  Direct funding for transit.  Local funding being councilmanic instead of requiring a public vote.  Increased funding authority for Sound Transit.

Agenda.  Links to relevant documents. Location:

Senate Hearing Rm 4
J.A. Cherberg Building
Olympia, WA

Leaving 2nd and Washington on the 9:31 ST 594 and connecting at the Tacoma Dome to the 10:37 IT 603 (15 minutes to transfer) will get you to Olympia at 11:34. Plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and get signed in for testimony. If you plan on heading to Olympia, coordinate with Ben who’ll be down there for Seattle Transit Blog at 206-683-7810.

CORRECTION: Sawant Wins

Kshama Sawant

As most of you already know, despite us calling the election for Richard Conlin like all the other major outlets, Kshama Sawant overtook him in the late ballots to win a late, surprising victory. I’ve updated the original post.

I expect Ms. Sawant to focus largely on economic issues in office, and in keeping with our narrow issue focus I will spare you my thoughts on that. We are, however, losing a very strong legislator on land use and environmental issues, and it’s uncertain who will head the critical land use committee or serve on the Sound Transit Board. Mr. Conlin was always responsive to our concerns and seemed to share a lot of principles with most of the staff at STB. Richard Conlin, we will miss you.

In other news since we last discussed results, Nathan Schlicher has lost his bid for State Senate, giving the Republican-dominated majority a margin of 2. The only race that is still seriously in doubt is Bellevue City Council Seat 4, where incumbent Kevin Wallace leads our pick, Steve Kasner, by 217 votes (0.75%), as of Saturday evening, with no discernible trend. That contest appears headed for a recount.

A Closer Look at Metro’s Cuts: Eastside

Metro Route 246
Quite an unusual sight on the 246. By SolDuc Photography.

This is the second of two posts diving deeper into the service cuts Metro proposed a couple of weeks ago.  The first post looked into the method underlying the Seattle madness, and concluded that Metro’s willingness to do substantive restructures rather than just slicing frequency was admirable, although the cuts would still hurt riders badly.  This post will focus on the Eastside, where the restructures are not as extensive, but are still interesting enough to warrant a closer look.  (South King County, Metro’s other major service area, has fairly straightforward service cuts that, while horrible for many riders, aren’t all that surprising or revealing.)

As with the Seattle proposals, Metro planning staff deserves an enormous amount of credit for preparing a carefully-thought-out package in a very short time.  It would be wonderful to see what they could do with increased resources and a political mandate to improve the network.  Details are below the jump.

Continue reading “A Closer Look at Metro’s Cuts: Eastside”

If We had a Billion Dollars

Jennifer Langston, Sightline Daily:

Earlier this year, the US House of Representatives—a body that has shut down the government over health care reform, taken a hatchet to food stamps, opposed regulating greenhouse gases, and held immigration legislation hostage—still managed to support a federal transportation bill that devoted roughly 20 percent of its funding to transit + bikes + walking and 80 percent to roads.

How much worse could the road-heavy transportation package being floated by the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus in a state like Washington possibly be? The $12.3 billion package that surfaced this week would spend less than 2 percent of that on transit and improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.

Transit advocates have been so beaten down by the political environment in Olympia that it’s easy to forget just how messed up the transportation budget is.  In a sane world, Olympia would be spending billions on transit.  Up north, the provincial government of British Columbia is committing $4.75B to transit funding by 2020.  Currently, though, transit funding in the state is either paid for by the localities themselves or comes running our way in tennis shoes from the other Washington.

Instead of just begging for the right to tax ourselves, any transportation bill ought to include, say, $2-3B for transit.  As David Goldstien recently argued, we have more leverage here than we might think.  So what projects? I’m familiar with the perennial pet project list of the roads lobby – the CRC, the Cross Base Highway, SR-167, what have you – but what would $2B in transit funding at the state level look like?  What are our priorities? What are the capital needs of Ben Franklin Transit in the Tri-Cities? How about Okanogan or Grays Harbor?

In the comments, tell me what you’d build with $2-3B in state funds to improve transit mobility statewide.  And you can’t blow it all on high-speed rail between Seattle and Portland. Too easy, and doesn’t spread the wealth enough.  We need a thousand projects that span dozens of districts so they’re harder  to kill. Both capital and operating revenue is fine.  Source material might include the Seattle Transit Master Plan (total cost for all priority corridors: $1B), the House 2013-2015 Transportation Budget & Funding Proposals, the State Rail Plan, or the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.  Or suggest a framework like Transportation for Washington’s. Or if a list already exists, send it my way!

It’s our money, what do we want to spend it on?

RapidRide E’s Fare Rules are Insane

Recently, a friend send me an excerpt of Metro’s rules for fare collection and enforcement for Rapid E:

E Line Fare Rules

I have some free advice for Metro management: this is insane, and the complexity and confusion it will create for your staff and passengers, and the discouragement from using ORCA, will vastly outweigh the whatever paltry benefit the zone fares could provide.

Here’s what’s actually going to happen in the real world:

  1. Virtually everyone with an ORCA card will pay whatever fare happens to be associated with whatever reader they tap.
  2. After a few weeks (or less) of flailing, fare enforcers and drivers will stop wasting their time trying to enforce these unworkable rules and just check that everyone (a) has paid something and (b) isn’t lighting up joints or drinking 40s in the back of the bus. (Let’s be real here, this is Aurora).

Real leadership from Metro would involve management acknowledging this reality, telling the King County Council that the current zone system is archaic and unworkable in this context, and that the council needs to do one of three things as part of the E Line deployment: abolish the zone fare system, make an exception for the E Line, or fund a truly smart transit card system complete system of off-board readers that can handle tap-on and tap-off seamlessly.

UPDATE: Clarified the “truly smart transit card system” remark. ORCA itself can handle tap-on tap-off, Metro’s deployment of it can’t. Apologies for the error. — Bruce

Improving the 131 and 132 Using Fewer Platform Hours

Since nearly the dawn of time, South Park has been served by a pair of painfully scoliated, hourly routes, the 131 and 132. South Park came out one of the huge winners in the October 2012 route restructure, getting half-hourly service on a more direct version of the 132. In exchange, the 131 ceased serving South Park, and instead now makes a beeline down 4th Ave S to Highland Park and White Center, and has advanced to half-hourly all-day service. I cannot stop thanking Metro for this fantastic restructure. Neither, apparently, can the riders, who have filled these two routes quite fully during peak and on event nights, and have had load factors well above 0.5 on nearly every trip I’ve taken off-peak on either bus.

In my experience, the northbound 132 has done a fabulous job in on-time performance, albeit occasionally leaving stops early, and quite frequently holding up at stops to let the schedule catch up. Southbound is another story, but that’s what happens to the second half of a coupled route going through downtown. The 131 and 132 were originally planned to provide 15-minute interlined headway on 4th Ave S. That has turned out to be a fantasy, with southbound 131s and 132s showing up at random times.

The new-and-improved 131 and 132 are now under the gun, with Metro putting out one of the weirdest parts of its Plan B service restructure proposal that includes using route numbers 131 and 132 at night for “shuttles” that bear little resemblance to the daytime routing.

I’d like to suggest how this lemon of a proposal for the mutilation of the 131 and 132 could be turned into lemonade, and an improved experience for riders on these routes, while helping to reduce platform hours.

My proposal is simple: De-couple the 131 and 132, and start both routes from the proximity of International District/Chinatown Station.

Reasoning is below the jump.
Continue reading “Improving the 131 and 132 Using Fewer Platform Hours”

News Roundup: At Least Once

MT 48 turns onto Pacific - I
WhenEliseSings/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Lynnwood Extension Mini-Update

by MIKE ORR

MAP_Lynnwood-Link_402x663Sound Transit released a summary of public comments on the Lynnwood Link extension. The Board will vote November 21st on a preferred alignment and stations, assuming the staff finalize a recommendation next week.

The report does not include the text of the comments, but it has a count of those supporting or opposing particular segments or stations on page 8. Overall project support was 60 to 2. I wrote an article during the comment period supporting alternatives A5 (at-grade Northgate to Shoreline with stations at 130th, 145th, and 185th); B2A or B4A (east side Mountlake Terrace station with or without a 220th station); and C2 (Lynnwood station on west side of transit center). So how does that compare with the comments? 130th was the most-supported station, with 35 supporters. 145th and 155th tied for second, with 25 supporters each. The other stations each got 15 or less positive comments. Negative comments were highest for 145th (12); much fewer or zero for the other stations.

However, comments on the segments have a different distribution, so some people seem to have indirectly supported stations in their segment choices. In segment “A” (Northgate to Shoreline), alternative A1 got the most support (18 comments; at-grade 145th and 185th, no 130th station). My favorite A5 came in second (10), tying with A10 (like A5 but elevated). In segment “B” (Mountlake Terrace), segment B2A, one of my favorites, came in first (14 supporters; with 220th station). Opposition to any of the “A” and “B” alternatives was negligible.

Segment “C” (Lynnwood) got the most comments by far. This alignment is all up in the air given the outpouring of opposition to impacting Scriber Lake Park, and Lynnwood’s publishing its own alternative (C3M). My favorite alternative C1 (north side station) got 58 supporters and 21 opponents. C2 (west side station) got 3 supporters and 19 opponents. C3 (P&R station), the least walkable, got 73 supporters and 4 opponents. Additionally, a
petition opposing C1 and C2 got 1800 physical signatures and an unspecified number of electronic signatures, and a petition supporting C3 got 28 signatures.

Judging from the media reports at the time, most of the preference for C3 is to avoid impacting Scriber Lake Park, rather than specifically to be close to the P&R and freeway. Lynnwood’s preferred alternative puts the station on the east side of the transit center rather than next to the freeway, and would be closer to the bus bays. Lynnwood’s emerging downtown is expected to be mostly northeast of the station. C1 would be adjacent to this, while the other alternatives would add 2-4 blocks of walking. All alternatives would all be within walking distance of the park and the Interurban Trail.

Sound Transit Studying More Stations for the South Corridor Extension

south_corridor_infill

Councilmember (for now) Richard Conlin, writing this week on his blog:

The Sound Transit Board has identified the light rail alignment and station alternatives to be studied in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the extension of light rail to Federal Way. The Board advanced two alternatives for the alignment, one following I-5 and one on SR99. A final alignment choice could also be a hybrid of the two. The most significant decision, however, was to add two possible stations at South 216th and South 260th Streets, each of which would offer significant opportunities for Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

You should read Mike Orr’s analysis of the various alignments between Angle Lake and Federal Way if you want to get a good sense of the options on the table. Sound Transit’s summary presentation is here (PDF). It’s important to note that these proposed infill stations, estimated at about $40M each, are not currently funded as part of ST2. However, they need to be included in the EIS to even have a shot at existence, so the board wisely included them.

So should we build them? It seems like a no-brainer.  The distance between Angle Lake and Federal Way is about 9 miles.  Having just two stations in that span, three miles apart, isn’t enough.  The added minute or so of dwell time is a worthwhile trade. Additional stations also increase the potential for TOD and strengthen the case for a SR-99 alignment, where TOD is more likely to occur.

In some ways, the Federal Way extension is a mirror of the Lynnwood Link SR-99 vs. I-5 debate.  This time around, though, we have a chance to make a better choice that brings more riders, more development, and fewer park-and-ride highway stations.  And who knows? We might even convince these guys to ride.

Sound Transit Long Range Plan Open House

20131113-060625.jpgLast night, Sound Transit had the first of six open houses asking residents of the district: What do you want to see from Sound Transit next?

Sound Transit staff and Mayor McGinn both spoke about how this process works, and the mayor pointed out that getting a Sound Transit expansion package will also require legislative work – advocacy from us in Olympia. I wish there had been more people – between ST staff and the mayor, the presentation was the most complete explanation of how Sound Transit operates that I’ve heard yet.

The rest of the event was time for Sound Transit and consultant staff to talk to attendees about what they wanted, collect comments, and generally answer questions, much like most public meetings. They did some cool stuff, taking video of people answering questions, and working on a time-lapse of a big map on which attendees can put colored dots where they want transit.

There were a lot of good meeting materials – an overview from top to bottom of why Sound Transit exists, what it does, and how it plans. I haven’t found PDFs of the boards Sound Transit had up, but they have a very clear web page about the process.

Turnout last night was low. I think it’s difficult for people – even transit advocates – to really understand the steps an agency has to go through before funding and building a project, and so going to a “long range plan open house” doesn’t seem that exciting to many. The people who did show up were a cross-section of the most experienced and involved advocates in Seattle, there just weren’t many new faces. I hope to see that improve at the other events!

I think we’ve written about Sound Transit’s overall process before, but I’ve heard some specific misconceptions recently, so rather than a big explanation of how we get to ST3 and ST4, I just want to make a few points:

Continue reading “Sound Transit Long Range Plan Open House”

Surprise! Fourth Special Session – And a Highway Package that Must be Stopped

This weekend, I received leaked details of a massive, $12 billion highway package from an anonymous source in the legislature. Even worse than the last package we saw, it reduces bike/ped funding further, and adds new highway projects, including a massive JBLM interchange that likely includes widening I-5, and dozens of other highway expansions. This package includes funding for the west end of 520 – partly a positive, but it completely funds the project, making tolling I-90 unnecessary. Avoiding tolling on highways is a poor choice for both congestion and sprawl.

Tomorrow, the legislature will begin debating this new package (unofficially of course, as ‘debate’ doesn’t start until a session does, but it does start tomorrow), and they’ll almost definitely soon enter a fourth special session to consider it.

To protect my source, I can’t post the documents, but here’s a screenshot of much of the highway expansion component (click to expand). This package would cause significant increases in CO2, congestion, and sprawl, and offer a bare minimum of transit options. In the long run, driving sprawl like this also dramatically increases the cost to provide transit options.

Highway ProjectsWhile VLF or sales tax at the county level, or a property tax at the city level, aren’t ideal ways to preserve Metro service, they’re better than megahighway projects across the state. If the legislature were funding Sound Transit 3 along with this, it might be a different story, but they are not. This is much, much worse than the Roads and Transit package local voters soundly trounced in 2007. It’s our job to urge our legislators to vote against it.

A Peek At the Future in Sound Transit’s 2014 Draft SIP

2014draftSIPcover2A couple of weeks ago, Sound Transit published a draft of its 2014 Service Improvement Plan (SIP).  The plan shows no major changes for 2014, as Sound Transit works both to digest the substantial changes it made to ST Express in 2013 and to prepare for the introduction of University Link in 2016.  Nevertheless, the draft SIP is worth a read both for its assessment of the state of the ST system and for some hints it provides about changes ST is thinking about making in the future.  While much of the information is not new (particularly the data about steadily increasing ridership during 2011 and 2012 throughout the ST system), ST does share some new information, and presents data in some new, and very accessible, ways.  Below the jump is a “grab bag” of interesting details from the report.

Continue reading “A Peek At the Future in Sound Transit’s 2014 Draft SIP”

“Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?”

Bicycle after collision, Scott and Haight
Bicycle after collision in San Francisco. Photo by Salim Virji

In the New York Times, Daniel Duane asks whether it’s okay for drivers to kill cyclists and the answer from a law-enforcement standpoint seems to be that it largely is.

The anecdotes mounted: my wife’s childhood friend was cycling with Mom and Dad when a city truck killed her; two of my father’s law partners, maimed. I began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her. In these articles, I found a recurring phrase: to quote from The San Francisco Chronicle story about Ms. Le Moullac, “The truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited.”

In stories where the driver had been cited, the penalty’s meagerness defied belief, like the teenager in 2011 who drove into the 49-year-old cyclist John Przychodzen from behind on a road just outside Seattle, running over and killing him. The police issued only a $42 ticket for an “unsafe lane change” because the kid hadn’t been drunk and, as they saw it, had not been driving recklessly.

“We do not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run,” Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told me.

Laws do forbid reckless driving, gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter. The problem, according to Ray Thomas, a Portland, Ore., attorney who specializes in bike law, is that “jurors identify with drivers.” Convictions carry life-destroying penalties, up to six years in prison, Mr. Thomas pointed out, and jurors “just think, well, I could make the same mistake. So they don’t convict.” That’s why police officers and prosecutors don’t bother making arrests. Most cops spend their lives in cars, too, so that’s where their sympathies lie.

Yikes. I gave up biking to work within a week of starting. Cycling is fun and great exercise, but cycling on city streets is far too much like a very high-stakes game of Frogger. I seem to get hit or nearly hit by cars at least once a month while running on sidewalks. I find this completely unacceptable. On a bicycle, I had a hit or near-hit experience every ride, often multiple times per ride. I found cycling on city-streets so frightening and dangerous that I still can’t believe anyone does it. What good is exercise and green living if it kills you?

We need really tough laws to protect cyclists, and sadly, it seems we’re a long way from that.

Pierce Transit Testing Custom Express Routes

As Pierce Transit has slogged their way through successive rounds of service cuts, service frequencies have fallen far below those necessary to sustain the reasonably gridded, pulse-and-transfer based system they previously enjoyed prior to 2010. With mid-day frequencies at hourly on most routes and span of service ending in the early evening, the agency is rightly testing more ad hoc, targeted solutions, including seasonal routes such as the Gig Harbor Trolley, an expanded vanpool fleet, community circulators in East Pierce County, and now a new custom express route. This makes a certain amount of sense, as PT’s overcapitalized fleet affords them the ability to offer service to targeted constituencies willing to support it.

PTThe institution of the new express Route 485 — to be the only fixed-route service on SR 512 since the demise of Sound Transit 585 — is being driven by the Western Institutional Review Board moving its office from West Olympia to the Benaroya Business Park near South Hill Mall in Puyallup. More of a professionally-driven, oversized vanpool than a fixed-route bus service, Route 485 will run from Olympia TC to South Hill with stops at Martin Way, Hawks Prairie, and then nonstop to the Benaroya Business Park. The once-a-day, 30-mile trip will take roughly an hour and have a custom fare of $3 each way. Surveys of the company’s employees indicate a likely daily ridership of 74, putting farebox recovery at 60%, nearly 4 times PT’s 16% farebox recovery elsewhere.

Somewhat strangely, the deadhead to Olympia will run in service as a separate Route 475. Beginning in University Place at 4:30am, the trip will provide a timed connection to the first Sounder train at South Tacoma, stop at Lakewood Station a full hour before the first Intercity Transit 609, then run nonstop to Olympia. In the afternoon, it will provide a 6th frequency during the 4:00pm hour between Olympia and Lakewood, meet the second Sounder train at South Tacoma, and terminate in University Place. The resistance to deadheading the route is admirable but puzzling considering the massive deadheading required for PT-operated Sound Transit routes, which in many cases exceed 100 deadhead miles per day for each round trip.

To say the least, in a general sense it’s hard to be excited by a once-a-day trip before sunrise to an exurban office park, but for Pierce County this idea has many promising applications. Employment centers that have multiple successful vanpools (particularly the 63,000+ employees at Joint Base Lewis McChord, where more than 60 vanpools operate) could, with sufficient local partnership, be scaled up to custom express service.

Lege Gives Boeing What They Want; Adjourns

Brad Shannon at the Tacoma News Tribune gives an excellent play-by-play of the 3-day special session of the Washington State Legislature that just ended.

Per the article:

Icing on the cake for Boeing would come later in the month if lawmakers can finally agree on a transportation package of up to $10 billion. A key Republican, Sen. Curtis King, said Saturday that a deal might be brokered as soon as Nov. 21-22, leading to what could become the fourth special session of the year.

Sen. King (R-Yakima) is Co-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

More Parking at TIBS

20131031_tukwila_parkingTo fill the seemingly insatiable demand for parking at Tukwila International Blvd Station, Sound Transit has leased 62 additional spaces nearby.  They are available Monday to Friday, 4:30am to 6:30pm.

Mike Lindblom asks the most pertinent questions ($) about this parking:

Sound Transit is paying the city of SeaTac $4,410 per month to lease the space, said spokesman Bruce Gray. If the spaces are filled, this translates to about a $3.40 subsidy per parked car.

There are a lot of things to think about this. The STB community reflex is to note that drivers, as usual, are paying nothing despite the additional subsidy from the transit system. And that’s true.

On the other hand, leasing space is a much less permanent — and therefore much better — arrangement than buying and building more free parking right next to the station. If this parking really brings 62 new riders per weekday to the system, Sound Transit only has to yield $1.70 per boarding for this move to pay off, because the marginal cost to serve those passengers is zero. By comparison, the typical full fare is $2.75, before various discounts for employer deals, passes, shorter trips, senior fares, and whatnot.

In my view, the most irritating thing about this arrangement is the total abdication of the city’s responsibility to provide access to its stations. It’s outrageous that Seatac, honored with one of only thirteen stations in the region, would try to extract its pound of flesh rather than do everything it can to make sure the region’s investment in it is worthwhile by just providing the parking. For more marginal service like North Sounder, this ethic of waiting around for Sound Transit to provide improved station access may prove fatal when the reckoning comes. In this case, it’s taking funds that might be used for more express bus service elsewhere in South King County, about enough to (as a rough example) pay for another weekday round trip on the 577.

[Side Note: This is STB’s 5,000th post. Thanks for all the good times.]

Washington’s Transportation Local Options

In my blurb yesterday, I mentioned a “Plan B”, whereby in the event that the state legislature fails to allow the people of King County to vote on a countywide MVET for maintaining county roads and Metro service, the county could use existing legal authority to refer an alternative revenue package to voters for those purposes. Staff and elected officials at King County have deflected most questions about any such plan, preferring (understandably) to focus their messaging on the legislature, but nevertheless, I think it’s worth transit advocates discussing the options in the open.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to pore over the text of the RCW to see what options are out there. In 2011, staff at the state legislature compiled an updated report describing every source of local-government revenue intended to fund land or sea transportation. The document is 22 pages long, and includes a summary table on the last two pages. The “Plan B” most people are referring to is the idea of forming a countywide Transportation Benefit District (or, perhaps, a TBD that includes a large subset of the county area, presumably the parts which enjoy fixed-route service), and referring some combination of a flat vehicle licensing fee and a TBD sales tax to voters, in lieu of an MVET.

The authority for doing this is discussed on document page 118 of this report. There are a raft of tax options available to TBDs, including property taxes and road tolling, but the only ones which appear to be workable, and which could provide sustainable levels of funding for bus operations, are the sales tax and VLFs. With a vote of the people, King County could levy a 0.2% sales tax and a $100 VLF for Metro and county routes, although the $100 VLF is subject to a “stacking” provision which limits the total TBD VLF to $100 in the event that a vehicle is registered in an area covered by multiple TBDs. I don’t know offhand how the revenue is allocated in that case.

Other sources of revenue I’ve batted around informally with county staff are the county gas tax (document page 119) and county HOV/commuter rail MVET (document page 115). I’ve been told that the county gas tax (which would only be available to address paving issues with county roads, not bus operations) would not raise enough money to be worth going to the ballot for, and the HOV/commuter rail authority is not available for bus operations. Notably, there appears to no way to pay for ongoing Metro operations with property tax, or any other progressive tax.