A Closer Look At Metro’s Cuts: Seattle and North King County

26 Bus
Metro Route 26, by WhenEliseSings

As most STB readers probably know by now, Metro published its proposal for 17% service cuts yesterday.  No area of the county escapes significant pain, and any service that smells even slightly of empty seats would be cut or restructured.  In this post I’ll have a look at some of the more interesting (or scary) specifics within Seattle and North King County.  (A future post will cover the Eastside; cuts in South King County are more straightforward, although just as painful.)  A holistic look at the cuts, which are presented by Metro only route-by-route and in some not-so-informative area maps, reveals much more about what Metro is thinking for a funding-free future — and possibly a well-funded future as well.

Go below the jump for the details.

Continue reading “A Closer Look At Metro’s Cuts: Seattle and North King County”

Metro Cuts Proposal Posted

It’s here, and it’s a bloodbath: Metro has posted the initial proposal for the 600k cut scenario, which will begin to take effect next September, absent action from the state legislature to allow a local option MVET, or the King County going ahead with the “Plan B” option of forming a countywide Transportation Benefit District and levying an additional VLF and sales tax. The proposal also includes a separate block of cuts to West Seattle, arising from the failure of WSDOT to deliver the contractually-promised viaduct mitigation money, which will run out in June.

News Roundup: Special Session

This is an open thread.

2013 Election Results Summary

[UPDATE: As Bruce points out, I forgot the convincing wins for transit in both Okanogan and Grays Harbor Counties. Arguably the best news of the night!]

For someone that shares STB’s assessment of the candidates, Tuesday’s election results were mixed. (See the King, Snohomish, and statewide results). Many of our preferred candidates and measures won, but in the most publicized races our favorites were nearly swept.

King County: All of our picks (Dow Constantine, Rod Dembowski, Dave Upthegrove) won, but none were seriously in doubt.

Seattle: All of our council picks (Conlin, Bagshaw, O’Brien) won. More notably, Ed Murray will be our next Mayor. I honestly have no idea what that will be like, although one would expect a honeymoon period with the Council for whatever it is he wants to do. [CORRECTION 11/16/2013: Kshama Sawant overtook Conlin.]

Bellevue: We earned a split for the moment. Lynne Robinson won, Lyndon Heywood didn’t, and Steve Kasner is trailing Kevin Wallace by less than 500 votes, or a little more than 2%.

Other Cities: Fred Butler is cruising in Issaquah. Our two picks for Federal Way mayor and council are winning handily, as are our two picks for Council each in Kirkland and Lake Forest Park. Jennifer Gregorson is up by 10% for Mayor of Mukilteo.

Legislature: Nathan Schlicher is trailing Republican Jan Angel by about 4%. If that holds, the Republican-dominated Senate coalition would have a two-seat margin.

Measures: Initiative 517, the Eyman measure, went down. Less happily, the advisory vote on closing a sales tax loophole advised a repeal, and Seattle Charter Amendment 19, the districts measure, passed. We’ll get to see if our suspicions about the map are justified; together with Sawant’s strong challenge, it may have helped convince STB favorite Richard Conlin that this term would be his last.

HSR, Driverless Cars, and Systemic Changes

This blog post has been making the rounds on my Twitter feed, from a university professor contemplating the possibility of high-speed rail in Massachusetts:

In fact, it’s much easier for me to imagine my semi-autonomous car speeding down the Mass Pike as part of a computer-controlled platoon than boarding a train in my little city and disembarking in a bigger one.

There’s something very odd about a world in which it’s easier to imagine a futuristic technology that doesn’t exist outside of lab tests than to envision expansion of a technology that’s in wide use around the world. How did we reach a state in America where highly speculative technologies, backed by private companies, are seen as a plausible future while routine, ordinary technologies backed by governments are seen as unrealistic and impossible?

I could quibble with the piece’s definition of “public good,” but it offers an interesting perspective. HSR advocates have long argued that rail is more efficient for moving people between 100-500 miles. And yet the systemic change involved in securing rights-of-way and altering land use patterns seems completely intractable compared to simply swapping driverless cars into our existing transportation ecosystem. We HSR advocates may someday find ourselves on the losing end of a Betamax-vs-VHS debate, where the technologically superior product fails in the marketplace despite being better.

And yet, fully taking advantage of driverless cars will itself require a disruptive, painful transition in affecting everything from safety to ownership to infrastructure. As Dave Roberts wrote a while back in Grist, we should think of driverless cars not as widgets, but as part of a larger system, one which could obviate car ownership altogether. The savings potential in terms of economic impact and human life is enormous.

That said, if we’re changing the larger system anyway, then maybe the prospects of rail don’t look so dim. After all, Google’s super-expensive proprietary radar systems are still way too costly for consumer use. Meanwhile, the supposedly intractable and sclerotic federal government is finally allowing modern, lighter trains on US tracks. Large, disruptive changes to the status quo will necessarily create new winners and losers; that’s true whether we’re talking high-speed trains or driverless cars.

This post has been updated for clarity.

Election Night Open Thread

It’s a big election night for transit and land use issues. Ballots drop tonight at 8:15 (though that won’t decide close races). At stake are the single most important office for local transit (King County Executive, though it’s not expected to be a competitive race); and a series of Seattle incumbents with generally positive track records on transit and land use vs. a string of challengers that, charitably, range from “uncertain” to “mixed.”

All of our general election picks are arrayed here and here for your celebration, sympathy, or ridicule.

Do you live, work, or go to college in Auburn, Federal Way, or Kent?

slide-2…or know someone who does?  Send them a link to this piece.

Through their Spot What’s Hot promo Metro is offering bus rider information packages including $10 ORCA cards for those who live, work or go to college in Auburn, Federal Way, or Kent (click on the city that applies, each has a unique signup portal).  Even if you already have an ORCA card, $10 is $10 and an empty card is handy to give to friends and family, or total strangers.  I usually carry an empty card on me and whenever someone at the platform asks me about buying a ticket for Link, I’ll give them the card and go through the steps on loading money on the E-purse.

I’m excited to see promos like these and the ORCA To-Go program.  If anything they need to be expanded.  The more cards area transit agencies can get into people’s hands the better, cheaper, more reliable service gets for everyone.

Here’s the flyer I saw that tipped me off, it has some more details.  While it says the offer expired on 31st, according to the website it has been extended to the 8th.

Offer good for one ORCA card per person, two per household. Offer only available to residents, students and employees in Auburn, Federal Way, or Kent.
You must be 18 or older to apply. Offer good while supplies last. Offer expires  November 8, 2013.

Rural vs. Urban VMT Decline

David King:

The decline in rural VMT is partly because rural areas are associated with so much more travel than urban areas. States that have higher shares of urbanization has lower VMT per capita than the national average. Using data from the FHWA I calculated the correlation between the percent of the population that is urban and VMT per capita at -.58, which is a fairly strong association between increased urban population and lower VMT.

Rural drivers probably drive more in total, so it would make sense that an overall drop in VMT nationwide would be driven by rural drivers.  Urban drivers, I suspect, can’t really drive any more. Urban congestion is such that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to spend any more time driving.

Rural Transit on the Ballot Tomorrow

Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.
Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.

Two rural Washington counties will have a referendum on the ballot tomorrow, each asking voters to approve a sales tax increase to restore or begin lifeline fixed-route and dial-a-ride service. The financial and ridership numbers involved in these proposals are on a different scale to the Puget Sound metropolitan region, but the presence or lack of service will matter for people who live in these areas.

First up, Okanogan county:

Local voters will probably have a chance to decide in November if they are willing to pay 4 cents on every $10 purchase to fund a new public transportation system in Okanogan County.

The proposed transit system would provide regular daily bus service linking Okanogan County communities, including three round trips on weekdays between Winthrop and Omak and two round trips between Winthrop and Pateros.

Okanogan county is roughly twice the size of King County (or about the size of Connecticut), and its population is about 41,000 (just over that of Ballard).

More after the jump. Continue reading “Rural Transit on the Ballot Tomorrow”

Planning for East Link’s South Bellevue Station

south bellevue station renderings
South Bellevue Station renderings, from Sound Transit

With petty alignment squabbles behind us, most East Link work is now well into the stages of final design and station area planning. Recently, the City of Bellevue has been doing outreach to various communities in South Bellevue to gauge input on station area improvements. Most of the design and planning work still belongs to Sound Transit, though neighborhood improvements in the surrounding locale rest squarely with the City.

I’m not really eager to rehash the strenuous East Link saga that dominated Bellevue for more than four years, but I think some background will be helpful. Back in 2009, both Sound Transit and the Bellevue City Council came to consensus on a preferred alternative for South Bellevue, which would have routed East Link up Bellevue Way to serve the existing South Bellevue P&R. After the 2009 election, the Council’s makeup changed and they flipped, setting off a long battle with Sound Transit over routing.

Continue reading “Planning for East Link’s South Bellevue Station”

European Trains Will Be Legal in the US by 2015

Stephen J. Smith writing for Next City:

Beginning in 2015, regulators and manufacturers expect the FRA to allow modern European designs on tracks throughout the country, running side by side with heavy freight at all times of day. There will be no special signaling requirements for trains purchased under the new rules, although a separate requirement for more advancing anti-collision signaling, called positive train control, is set to kick in around the same time.

Hallelujah and praise to the God of steel wheels. If you’re not reading Smith’s blog, you really ought to. Otherwise I’ll be forced to re-post everything he writes.

More at CAHSR.

Sounder to Sounders Playoff Match Today / Seahawks Sunday

Sound Transit has made a quick arrangement to provide Sounder service to the playoff match between Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers FC tonight at 7 p.m. Trains take off from Lakewood at 4:30 and Everett at 4:50, each getting to Century Link Field ca. 5:45, giving riders 15 minutes to get to Occidental Park and participate in the March to the Match. Return trains take off 35 minutes after the final whistle.

Good luck getting tickets at the Sounders’ website before the Timbers Army gobbles them up.

Sounder service will also be provided to the Sunday afternoon Seahawks game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as per tradition.

Metro continues to provide $4 (each way) shuttle service to the Seahawks games from and back to Northgate TC, South Kirkland P&R, and Eastgate P&R. ORCA, transfers, and passes are not accepted on these shuttles. Return trips board at 5th & Weller. The 41, 255, and 554 provide direct service from downtown to these locations, too.

Don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour after tonight.

Rail~volution Session Video Available

Here’s the video of the Rail~volution panel on social media, blogging, and activism, hosted by Jeff Wood (aka The Overhead Wire), and featuring new-ish STB associate editor Matthew Johnson, The Stranger’s Dominic Holden, Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick, and yours truly.

Thanks to Dominic, who I adore even more after this session, the video probably isn’t safe for work:

Bruce Ramsey’s Misleading ST/Metro Comparisons

Northbound Bore to Capitol Hill Station by Bruce
Northbound Bore to Capitol Hill Station by Bruce

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey published an anti-rail piece in yesterday’s Times ($), implying that light rail is such a waste that Sound Transit spends the same amount of tax authority as Metro while serving 13 times fewer passengers:

Seattle progressives love rail. They don’t have much of it, though, because it is so expensive. Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail, which is 13 stations plus about 20 more under construction, uses up most of the agency’s 0.9 cent addition to the sales tax. Coincidentally, King County Metro, which serves thousands of bus stops all over, also costs 0.9 cents on the sales tax. The difference is that Central Link Light rail is running at about 9 million boardings a year, and Metro runs about 115 million.

Ramsey’s conflation of capital costs and operating costs is highly misleading here. According to the recently released 2014 Service Implementation Plan, Central Link accounts for only 27% of Sound Transit’s operation and maintenance costs, a share that expected to rise only to 30% by the end of the decade. Its costs per boarding ($5.83) have consistently declined ever since opening in 2009, and are now 13% lower than ST Express Buses ($6.50) and 53% lower than Sounder ($12.44). This is despite an overcapitalized fleet — its 107% spare ratio will decline to 48% after ULink and even further after North Link — and sunk costs that will diminish with economies of scale as each new extension opens.

Ramsey also omits Sound Transit’s overall ridership number of 28 million, and that ST operates far more than just Central Link, including Sounder, Tacoma Link, and 26 ST Express routes. And of course, as Ramsey mentions but seems to dismiss, much of ST’s authority is bonded to capital funds to construct 3 simultaneous extensions of Link to Des Moines, Lynnwood, and Overlake.  Taking the sum of all this expenditure and comparing it only to Central Link’s 9 million annual boardings is highly misleading. Criticizing capital expenditures on the basis of existing ridership is equivalent to faulting an agency for lacking riders on services that do not yet exist.

It is of course technically true that ST’s ridership of 28m is only 24% as large as Metro’s for the same tax authority, and ST’s 2019 projections of 44m annual riders will still only be 38% as large as Metro. But that figure is with just 3 new stations at Husky Stadium, Capitol Hill, and Angle Lake. Extensions to the UDistrict and Northgate in 2021, and Des Moines, Lynnwood, and Overlake a couple years later, will bring that comparative share even higher. If after Link’s full buildout ST still doesn’t quite approach Metro’s ridership numbers, maybe Ramsey and similar commentators will have a valid quibble. But even if ST matches but never exceeds Metro’s size, overall transit ridership will have doubled in Central Puget Sound and we’ll all be better off for it.