Seattle Displacement Coalition Argues for Mass Displacement

The Seattle Displacement Coalition has made a name for itself advocating for the preservation of Seattle’s neighborhoods at all costs, which is hard to square with their statement last month.  It seems to me that the policies advocated therein would lead to more displacement, not less.

For example, SDC argued against any increase in zoning within the city limits, saying that the city currently has “enough zoning capacity citywide to accommodate 188,000 more housing units.” Tapping into that capacity, however, would mean tearing out every remaining single-family home in Seattle’s low-rise zones, of which there are currently several thousand. It’s unclear where the SDC thinks all those newly-homeless families should move to, but suffice it to say they’d be quite displaced.

Furthermore, the SDC, which presents itself as being pro-family, argued against more jobs in the downtown core, and instead suggested that we “locate more of those jobs out there in the burbs.” Locating employers in far-flung suburbs, however, can cause havoc on a two-income family. If both partners have jobs in different suburbs, the commute can be quite long.  And long commutes are bad! A recent Gallup survey found that people with 90-minute commutes tend to have persistent neck and back pain.  Umea University in Sweden found that “couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce.”  It’s hard to think of a policy that would be more harmful to the region’s families.

To minimize displacement, the right strategy is quite simple: put more jobs and housing in walkable areas served by good transit.

PSBS Has Vendor and Funding

PSBS Station Public Input
PSBS Station Public Input

This morning Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) sent out a substantial and very exciting update confirming rumors that a new, financially solvent bike share vendor has been selected and that the private funding necessary for a full initial launch has been secured. Details on funding will come in May, and an online survey for station locations has been posted online. Earlier this week PSBS published a job posting for a general manager, hinting that a concrete implementation and financing plan had come together. News release below:

Puget Sound Bike Share Confirms Supply Chain Partners for Bike Share System Equipment

April 3, 2014 – In preparation for its 2014 launch, Puget Sound Bike Share announced today that it will be moving forward with world-class partners Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies to provide bike share station hardware, software and operational solutions.

Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies’ software for Seattle will build upon solutions tested and successfully deployed by bike share networks in Washington D.C. / Arlington, Boston, Minneapolis, Melbourne (AUS), London (UK), Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal (CAN).  Seattle’s will be the first program to launch with the new Alta/8D hardware solution.  Consistent with Puget Sound Bike Share’s plans to launch Phase I of the program in South Lake Union, Downtown, Capitol Hill and the U-District, the agreement includes delivery of 50 stations.

An order for 500 bikes will be placed with a well-known global manufacturer later this month. Continue reading “PSBS Has Vendor and Funding”

New Empire Builder Schedule Begins April 15


Since we last wrote about the Empire Builder’s woes, things have only gotten worse. When writers start doing novelty pieces about “riding the worst train in America”, you know things have gotten bad. In February 2014 the median arrival delay in Seattle was 4.7 hours, and the average delay was 5.6 hours (see chart below), excluding the 4 days the train didn’t make it to Seattle at all. After delays of up to 16 hours, even Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari was saying the kinds of things you never want your PR person to have to say:

“You’ll get some people who’ll say ‘never again’ after going through that, and you and I can certainly understand why.”

Empire Builder 1
While previous issues still occasionally cause delays or cancellations, such as Pacific Northwest mudslides or high water at Devils Lake (an intractable problem in an endorheic basin), the blame this time around falls squarely on North Dakota’s oil boom and the constrained track capacity it has caused. While track expansion projects are underway, causing additional delay themselves, the problem will persist indefinitely.  Yet Amtrak has a mandate to run the train, and run it it will. To that end,  Amtrak has released a revised schedule that it hopes will at least be somewhat realistic. Beginning April 15, eastbound trains will now leave Seattle three hours earlier, at 1:40pm, and westbound trains will arrive in Seattle 90 minutes later, at 11:55 am.

I’m a strong supporter of intercity rail, but we do ourselves no favors to downplay this terrible performance or to sugarcoat the human misery these delays cause. As someone who particularly cares about eventually giving Spokane better than its current graveyard service, seeing our fate so miserably tied to North Dakota’s  is a shame.

Lost in this mess is the fact that the Empire Builder runs rather well here in Washington (see chart below and compare above), and we shouldn’t let miseries in the upper Midwest deter us from seeking better service across our state. This new schedule will have the (accidental but pleasant) effect of giving Spokane decent eastbound service, with a 9:00pm arrival time. (Westbound will get  worse, however, with a 3:45am departure.)

Empire Builder 2

Meanwhile, on this side of the Cascades, we have 7 trainsets making only 13 daily runs, an overcapitalized and underused fleet that awaits the completion of the Point Defiance Bypass and other projects. I would love to see WSDOT fund a temporary pilot project to give daily roundtrip service to Spokane through 2017 using one of those surplus sets, just to give Eastern Washington a taste of intercity travel that is better than either uncomfortable buses or unreliable trains. If the train performed poorly, we could cut it. If it performed well, we could fund it.

News Roundup: Nerdy and Dry

This is an open thread.

What’s Important in an SDOT Director?

The Mayor’s Office is seeking the input of Seattle residents into the qualities and expertise Seattle should emphasize in its next director of the Department of Transportation. There’s a very short questionnaire that asks you some general questions about your transportation priorities. If you’ve been following our SDOT coverage over the years, you’re well-qualified to answer these questions. Please do so by April 8th.

Beyond the obvious need for transit speed and reliability improvements, please also consider the emphasis on pedestrian and bike safety over car throughput, through SDOT programs like the road diet.

You can also attend the public meeting at Seattle Center this Saturday, if you RSVP online.

January 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Oh My!

090216-st-suluFor once the most impressive aspect of the monthly ridership release isn’t Link’s continued and unprecedented strong growth but the release itself.  For the first time since I’ve been following this Sound Transit gave their ridership report a radical makeover.  So radical, I had to ask Sound Transit what the deal was.  I’m going to start off with my usual monthly summary, then the questions/response with Sound Transit’s Dave Huffaker about the update, then my usual charts.

January’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 27,951/21,929/17,182, growth of 12.1%, 36.8%, and 35.1% respectively over January 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were down 1.7% due to disruptions on both North and South lines although strong weekend service brought total ridership up to 4.7%.  Total Tacoma Link ridership was down 6.7% with weekday ridership declining 5.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 5.8%, with most growth occurring on East King and South King routes. Complete January Ridership Summary here>

It appears Central Link has reached a pretty historic milestone the last few months in that this is the fourth month in a row that Central Link has added more boardings, year-on-year, than all other Sound Transit services combined.  ST Express added 83,638 boardings, Central Link 112,228.  (Credit to Brent White for pointing this out).

Now for more information on all the new goodies in the new report:

Me: Would you mind giving me a bit of an explanation of what changed, why it changed, and do you see any more changes coming in the future?

Dave: Thanks for your interest. I am excited about our new format for our monthly ridership and performance information. As you may know, we previously had two separate reports that the Operations Department presented to the Operations & Administration Committee—one was the monthly ridership report, the other was our monthly modal performance data sheet. While they both provided a lot of data, I never felt that they conveyed the data in a real user-friendly way, and they also didn’t have the same look and feel to each other.

Much more of Dave’s response below, followed by my usual charts. Continue reading “January 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Oh My!”

Vote Yes on Prop 1 (Really)

[April 1st fun’s over, back to our regular programming. – Ed.]

Martin recently participated in a forum for employers about Proposition 1, the ballot measure to maintain Metro’s current service levels and fund road maintenance. Towards the end, one attendee asked the panel, “What are the reasons people are giving for voting against this? It seems like a no-brainer.”

That attendee was exactly right. That we should keep bus service hours at least at their current levels is such a blindingly obvious requirement for an economically robust, environmentally clean, and socially just region that it seems tedious to write down the reasons why. However, to summarize: transit is open to people of nearly all incomes and abilities; is better for public health than car use; levies few externalities on others; uses less precious road space per person; and provides a refuge from accident deaths, air and water pollution, and the perils of road users texting while driving. It is critical to the operation of our most economically important neighborhoods and a crucial discriminator for our economy in the global competition for talent.

As  Metro’s ridership grows to record numbers along with our region, and cars continue to make less sense, the demand for transit will only increase. Clearly, a cut in the taxes we pay for transit (a No vote allows the $20 tab fee to expire without replacement) is moving King County in the wrong direction. Moreover, Prop. 1 frees King County from the hostage situation where the legislature will not let us save Metro without also approving massive, sprawl-inducing, climate-altering highway expansion.

The arguments against this vote – both sincere and insincere – simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

  • Metro has already made significant efforts to reduce its budget hole – including winning concessions from its unionsraising fares three times, cutting low-performing service, and cutting back in places where it shouldn’t, like cleaning bus stops, security, and customer information. In fact, the transit-hostile state legislature was so impressed with their measures that Metro was the only agency to win temporary authority for a $20 license fee to avoid cuts two years ago.
  • Although a vehicle license fee and sales tax would not be our first choice, they are the only option for the County; moreover, a low-income license fee rebate and low-income fare will largely blunt the impact on low-income car owners and leave low-income bus riders significantly better off.
  • Predictions about the future are hard, and while cuts might not be exactly 17% if Prop 1 fails, they will still be on a large and unacceptable scale.
  • A needed restructure of the route network is easier to execute when service is growing — which allows new service patterns to coexist with the old, build their own constituency, and prove their worth — then when cuts force everyone into a defense of what they currently have.
  • All of our transportation modes are subsidized, especially when they get into trouble. For starters, the sales tax exemption for gasoline is a huge giveaway to drivers (over $650m per year statewide) paid for by the rest of us. To single out a sustainable form of transportation to pay its own way makes no sense.

Proposition 1 is indeed a no-brainer. The high-level principles are clear, and the tactical arguments against are nonsense. We urge you to vote yes before April 22nd, and to donate your money or time towards passage.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Matthew Johnson, and Frank Chiachiere.

Vote No on Prop 1 [April Fools’]

PRT on Ballard Ave (artist's rendering)
PRT on Ballard Ave (artist’s rendering)

[UPDATE 11:11 amApril Fools’, obviously! If you would like to know what we really think about Prop. 1, here’s our actual endorsement. The title above is altered if anyone is in any way confused.]

STB staff writers are free to take whatever positions they’d like, and many have done so by arguing forcefully for the passage of Prop. 1 to maintain existing service levels.

However, in the opinion of the editorial board, buses are not the future of public transportation. Newer technologies are on the horizon that will not only be cheaper to operate, but will actually turn a profit. It makes no sense to double down on a tax structure that will one day be irrelevant.

I’m referring of course to Personal Rapid Transportation, or PRT. Imagine a vehicle that delivers you with no wait from where you are to where you want to go. This vision is possible with just a little leadership from our elected officials.

We can’t help but notice that Prop. 1 gets us no closer to the future. In fact, it dedicates valuable taxing authority to ephemeral service hours when we could be using it to make a permanent investment in transit.  The Editorial Board is disappointed to learn, via a public records request, that not a single councilmember from either the City of Seattle or King County has visited Morgantown, WV.  Had they done so, they’d find a shining example of the kind of transportation that could revolutionize our Emerald City. It’s one of many ways in that Morgantown is a city Seattle should emulate.

Moreover, if bus service is worth paying for then we should all chip in to pay for it. The King County Council’s low-income car tab rebate and new low-income fare are a huge giveaway to the working poor from scarce transit dollars. Unless we nip this sentiment in the bud, they’ll expect that the legislature actually tax them less than their job-creating, hardworking bosses when PRT comes up for a vote.

The desire for a stopgap is understandable. But King County voters should keep their eyes on the prize and demand a solution to our transit problems that won’t be obsolete in five years. Vote no on proposition 1.