Completing the Spine: Federal Way to Tacoma

Rail passengers began traveling between Seattle and Tacoma in 1884, a 25 mile trip that took three hours.   Eventually, the interurban made trips between Tacoma, Seattle and Everett until 1928, when Highway 99 opened and intercity rail travel began a long decline.  Sound Transit brought a commuter rail connection back to the City of Destiny with Sounder in 2000, and it’s long been the agency’s goal to connect the regional “spine” between Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma with frequent, all-day transit.

One can certainly debate whether a 60-mile N-S light rail line is the right vision for regional transit (one that transitions from highway-running to at-grade streetcar to urban subway along the way). If I ran the zoo, I’d probably spend my money building expensive rail connecting close-in urban areas instead.  Alas, due to the outright hostility to transit at the state level, we’ve opted to roll our own “regional” transit solution. And so, as we evaluate high-capacity corridors for possible funding in future Sound Transit capital expenditures, connecting Tacoma is almost a given at this point.

The original ST2 package included not just a corridor study for the Tacoma extension, but a full environmental review.  When the recession hit and the South King subarea’s sales tax revenue declined, the board shifted gears and instead opted for a shovel-ready plan to Federal Way, which could be used to start construction, along with a lighter corridor study from Federal Way to Tacoma.

So what does an extension to Tacoma look like? Unlike the South King study, the 10-mile stretch from Federal Way to Tacoma is fairly straightforward. We can choose either SR-99 or I-5, and we can have light rail or bus rapid transit.  Thus we see Sound Transit’s relatively straightforward options in the chart below:


At the low end, we have BRT along I-5, costing $600M-$700M, and carrying 6,000 to 11,000 passengers.  Reliability would be fairly poor due to I-5 traffic, and the transfer penalty would be significant.  The cheapest LRT option runs along I-5 and costs between $1.7B and $1.9B. The most expensive option runs along the SR-99 median and costs between $2.5B and $2.9B.   Running the train along the west side of SR-99 drops the price to $1.9B – $2.2B, with no cost to ridership or time penalty.  Median-running makes life easier for pedestrians (no one has to walk across the entirety of SR-99 to catch the train) but may or may not be worth the almost 50% increase in costs.

That said, Sound Transit isn’t making this decision in in a vacuum.  In an alternative universe, it might make sense to build the cheaper option and use the savings elsewhere in the region. But due to subarea equity, Sound Transit may find itself with excess cash in this subarea that it can’t spend elsewhere, and so it’s good to have a superior option on the table.

Full report after the jump.

Continue reading “Completing the Spine: Federal Way to Tacoma”

Sound Transit Q1 2014 Report

Sound Transit didn’t lose any momentum in the first quarter of 2014. The system as whole was up over 8%. ST Express boardings rose 7%, Sounder 5%, Central Link 13%, and Tacoma Link was down 10%.

While overall ST Express weekday ridership was up 7%, the restructured Snohomish county route group was up over 11%. The 560 was up 15% and the Bonney-Lake Sumner Sounder connector up 17%. Cost per boarding was $6.45, down from $6.64 in Q1 2013.

Sounder was up 5%, with the north line up 21%. However most of the north line’s bump was due to the Seahawks parade. Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $11.72, down from $12.85 in Q1 2013.

Central Link had 29,919 boardings per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding was $5.90, down 12.9% from Q1 2013 ($6.77).

Tacoma Link was down 10% on weekdays. Cost per boarding was $4.42 up from $3.61 in Q1 2013.

In a week or so I will post some analysis of Cost per boarding.

Full report here. My charts below the fold.

[Eds] There was a transcription error in the above summary. As originally posted Sounder and ST Express costs per boarding were inaccurate. They are now correct.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Q1 2014 Report”

News Roundup: Future, Here We Come

All Door Boarding Please

All-Door Boarding Please

  • Google unveils its own driverless car prototype. More importantly, what does this move say about the path, business model and eventual role of a driverless car future?
  • Is it worse that I ignored a PR email we got about this “solar roadway” business as a late April fools joke, or that they raised $1.5 million in crowdsource funding?
  • Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the US. Remember this is a good thing. For the first time in 100 years Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs.
  • Amazon is the poster child of the tech sector’s return to the city.
  • Joel Connelly argues for more diversity on the Seattle City Council in the name of pragmatism. We’ll see what district elections do on that front.
  • Portland food-cart pods on private parking lots are getting displaced($) due to new development on those parking lots. Meanwhile Seattle’s food-cart scene is in my opinion still struggling. I honestly wonder why?
  • The Downtown Seattle Association’s Jon Scholes argues against development fees and an employer head tax to save Metro service.
  • Kevin Desmond, King County Metro’s general manager, thinks any long-term funding solution for Metro needs to be regional.
  • A new report, Older, Smaller, Betterput some numbers behind the ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs, which I believe are generally well accepted. My question is do the finding of this report provide transferable lessons to areas without the historic building stock, and if so how?
  • Eight finalist developers identified for the Capitol Hill light rail station TOD project.
  • King Street Station has room for several office and retail tenants.
  • Seattle Department of Transportation is adding 5 speed-enforcement cameras near schools.
  • Man faces more than 16 years in jail after stealing 4.3 miles of copper wire, the largest in state history,  from Sound Transit Link’s light rail system. Here’s our original report.
  • Massimo Vignelli, a seminal figure in minimal graphic design including the MTA’s 1972 subway map, dies at the age of 83.

This is an open thread.

Tacoma Businesses Will Pay to Keep Link Free

Fear not, Tacoma residents: Tacoma Link will continue to be free for at least the next two years. Downtown Tacoma businesses, seeking to prevent a projected 19% drop in ridership, have agreed to pay $58,000 over the next two years to keep Link free in downtown Tacoma.  From the ST press release:

“We are pleased the Board has agreed to accept the Business Improvement Area’s offer to offset the need to collect fares for the next two years,” said Mayor Strickland, who is also Vice Chair of the Sound Transit Board. “Tacoma Link is a great option for those who travel downtown and we must do all we can to promote ridership of this popular service. BIA is commended for stepping up and actively supporting public transportation as an integral benefit to businesses, tourism, the arts and the city overall.”

Tacoma Link is currently the only service in the region that does not charge fares, due to a longstanding Sound Transit Board policy that only allows fare-free service in very limited circumstances, including when the cost of collecting fares exceeds potential revenue. With recent growth in ridership, Tacoma Link no longer falls under that policy. The outside support for covering Tacoma Link’s projected net revenues, also allowed by Board policy, will postpone the move to a fare collection system.

This seems sensible.  Link is an important downtown amenity, and it’s good to see downtown businesses pitching in to support it.  See Tacoma Tomorrow if you’re interested in more reasons why a fare would be counterproductive at this time.

Metro and ST Service Changes Start June 7

RapidRide coach
Metro RapidRide coach 6027. Photo by Zack Heistand.

Last week, just in time for Memorial Day, both Metro and Sound Transit published details of their upcoming service changes, which will begin Saturday, June 7.  Both sets of changes are minor, with the only significant news being the start of Metro’s RapidRide F Line connecting Burien, Southcenter, and Renton.

The major Metro cuts scheduled to take effect as a result of Proposition 1’s failure do not start now.  The first of four phases of cuts is scheduled for the service change beginning September 27, 2014, with more cuts to follow at all three service changes during 2015.

Details of the June changes are below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro and ST Service Changes Start June 7”

Lynnwood Link: Shoreline Community Meetings and Workshops



Those affected by, and interested in, the planned construction of light rail on the Lynnwood Link Corridor are encouraged to attend a series of community meetings related to planning for the two station areas in Shoreline, adjacent I-5 at 145th St and 185th St.

The topic of these meetings will be the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for 185th Street, and a Design Workshop for the 145th Station near Jackson Park. The meetings will be held at Shoreline City Hall on Midvale Avenue and N 175th Street. Shoreline City Hall is accessible via King County Metro routes 301, 348 (with a short walk from N 185th) and RapidRide E, 301, and 348.

The 185th Street Light Rail Station Subarea Plan community meeting (flyer) will be held on June 3rd. In a recent newsletter from the City of Shoreline, proposals for upzoning parcels in the immediate vicinity of the light rail station was developed. The upzoning of N 185th Street from Aurora to I-5 was envisioned. In addition to the 185th Street DEIS community meeting on June 3rd, the City has planned a walking tour around the 185th Street Station Subarea on June 13th (14:00-16:00).

The 145th Street Light Rail Station Design Workshop (flyer) will take place from 18:00 – 20:00 on June 12th. The design workshop appears to be looking for ideas to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to and from the light rail facility within the mobility study area. Similar to the walking tours around the 185th Street Station Subarea, a 145th Street Station Subarea walking tour is planned for June 27th (14:00 – 16:00).

Tim McCall is a resident of Shoreline.

Committee Amends North Rainier Rezone

Last week the Seattle Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee once again took up the North Rainier Rezone, last seen inspiring a diverse set of public comments earlier this month. There were more public comments that are by now quite repetitive, although the latest tactic is calling for yet another 2-year delay while companion parks, economic development, and transportation plans develop. I predict approximately zero current opponents would suddenly accept the plan then, as it still won’t address their fundamental desire to limit the number of low-income neighbors and preserve effortless parking at local businesses. Meanwhile, rents spiral upward and the Rainier Valley continues to suffer.

Afterwards, the committee approved three amendments to the legislation and tabled a fourth proposed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who was out of town. Unfortunately, one of the amendments requires a title change to the bill, so the committee will have to wait until June 3rd to vote on the legislation and send it to full council.

The three attendees (Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Tim Burgess) approved the following three amendments:

1) Amend the proposed zoning to exclude the parking maximums currently operative in other “Seattle Mixed” Zones (basically just South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne). This triggers the required change in the bill title, and addresses the fear that the proposed maxima “might be too low” for certain businesses, like grocery stores, envisioned for the area.

Continue reading “Committee Amends North Rainier Rezone”

Angle Lake Open House


Sound Transit
Sound Transit

Thursday night Sound Transit held an open house on the progress of the 1.6 mile South 200th Link extension. Construction of the guideway is approximately 40% complete to date. 50 of the 70 columns that support the elevated guideway have been erected thus far. Construction of the columns should be complete in about two months. Construction of the 1,166 pre-cast concrete segments, which takes place in Enumclaw, is 42% complete. The typical span between columns is comprised of 13 segments.

The most notable part of the presentation was the design of the 1,050 stall parking garage. Harbor Pacific / Graham won the design/build contract earlier this year. The garage will have five stories above ground and one below. The garage is sited immediately west of the station and will be C-shaped to fit around the existing PSE substation. There will be four vehicular entrances to the garage spread among each of the three streets that border the garage. A triangle-shaped piece of land to the west of the garage is being reserved for future TOD and has the potential to house 35,000 square feet of space.

View from Above the Station (Sound Transit)
View from Above the Station (Sound Transit)

The garage was designed with the “environment in motion” theme and will not be a “big plain concrete box”. Lengths of tubular steel will be placed around the perimeter of the garage and plaza to give it a flowing design. The station’s ground level plaza could be used for farmers markets and has provisions for food trucks. The ground floor of the garage will have retail space that will open up to the plaza. 10 spaces will be reserved in the garage for patrons of the retail business.

There will not be a specifically designed bus transfer facility but rather a pair of bus pullouts on each side of S 200th Street. No provisions are being made for bus layovers. A pair of sidewalks and five foot wide bicycle lanes will be installed on South 200th Street connecting to the Des Moines Creek trail 1/3 mile downhill.

Angle Lake station still scheduled to open around September 2016, which was the scheduled opening for U-Link (now pushed up to Q1 2016). There are five months of float in the systems testing phase, so it’s still possible that both extensions could open simultaneously at the end of Q1 2016.

Comment of the Day: On Zoning

From commenter RossB yesterday, a lengthy response to how Seattle zoning got to be the way it is and what we might do about it:

It’s a problem, and I think it essentially progressed like so: Back in the day, Seattle built itself with a mix of houses and apartments. There was little regulation, so we ended up with a lot of buildings that would be illegal right now. Most people would consider some of them really nice (brick apartments without parking or small houses on small lots) while other buildings a bit much (high rise apartments in Madison Park or the Safeco building). But most of the city was a mix of smaller apartments and small lot housing. The houses are fairly close to each other, which I always took for granted, until a suburban friend of mine saw them and was shocked. At some point, we added regulation. At the same time, as growth spread outward, we incorporated areas that used to be farmland, and was never part of the city. These areas followed the standard suburban approach of the day. No cul-de-sacs, but big lots and fairly cheap, small housing. The Boeing bust hit and the city took a downward trend. There was no pushback against new development because there was so little development. Through the 70s, you had a gradual move to the suburbs, which again limited development in the city.

But by the 1980s, there was a lot of growth of two types in the city: duplexes and skinny houses. Both of these were OK by the zoning regulations, but neither were popular. In my opinion, the zoning regulations made things worse in both cases, because they required parking. But either way, in many cases nice, charming houses with interesting yards were replaced with ugly duplexes and boring landscaping (e. g. lots of cement and one rhododendron). Neighbors didn’t like this, so the regulations changed. Again and again, the regulations changed. They had a dual purpose, really. One was to try and force developers to make pretty buildings; the other was to try and limit parking hassles. On top of all this, you had people who just wanted things to remain the same. So the more regulation the better. The irony, of course, is that in many cases the regulations allow(ed) huge houses (AKA monster houses) to replace classic old ones, but not a duplex or row house. To many of these people, the key thing they want is for their street to remain the same. They often live on a residential street, not an arterial. To them, their compromise is to allow development on the arterial, just not the residential street. Once you make that compromise, those that favor development will push for the most development possible. If you look at a square mile of property and say that 90% of it has to be single family houses (each on a big lot) then you won’t be interested in building row houses on the other 10%. The demand for housing on that other 10% will simply be too large. You want big apartments because renters demand it (having been shut out of the other 90%). That’s essentially the current mindset. It’s not that people think we should be offered only the two choices you mentioned [eds, large single family houses or large apartment buildings], it is that people are afraid of new housing of any sort on their street.

Continue reading “Comment of the Day: On Zoning”

March 14 ST Ridership Report – Need a Thesaurus

Will my son even know what this is?Seriously, I am about to run out of superlatives to describe Link’s growth. I realize it’s probably gotten a bit boring for most of you, but please try and keep in mind that what has been happening the last three years is simply unheard of. No line has ever been about to go into its fifth year still recording double digit growth.

Even odder, the growth is increasing.

  • March 2011 to 2012: 1959 additional boardings
  • March 2012 to 2013: 3106 additional boardings
  • March 2013 to 2014: 3434 additional boardings

Last month I told you that Link had already met its daily monthly ridership goal for 2014. Now it looks like Link will reach its 2015 goal by the fall of this year.

March’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 29,919/22,365/16,917, growth of 13.0%, 7.7%, and 15.8% respectively over March 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 4.8% with ridership increasing on the South line while 61 mud slide related cancellations drug down North numbers. Total Tacoma Link weekday ridership declined 10.2%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 8.7%, with most growth occurring on East King and Pierce County routes. Complete March Ridership Summary here>

As I’ve been saying all year, go look at the actual report. Lots of great stuff in this new format and much more information than in my post.  My charts below the fold. Continue reading “March 14 ST Ridership Report – Need a Thesaurus”

News Roundup: Up and Down

Former Eleven 01 and Terry

Former Eleven 01 and Terry by Atomic Taco

  • The Department of Planning and Development is presenting three U-District land use scenarios for environmental impact study.
  • Neither Lynnwood nor Bellevue are happy about the siting of a potential Link O&M facilities near them.
  • Tacoma’s Business Improvement Association has offered to pay to keep Tacoma Link free.
  • King County Executive Dow Constantine steps into the ride-share debate; his simple approach is in stark contrast to the Seattle City Council.
  • The Seattle Council passes restrictions on small-lot single-family houses that will limit building height to 18 ft, or the average height of houses on the block, whichever is higher. As of late, it’s been interesting to watch  Tim Burgess emerge as a pragmatic and nuanced policy maker.
  • Apartment-to-house construction ratio reaching record highs.
  • Land-use restrictions limit opportunity, but Reihan Salam points out one way to get current residents to buy in. I believe that this idea would, of course, be illegal in Washington, as most constructive and innovative policies are.
  • Greyhound has officially moved to S Royal Brougham Way and 4th Ave.
  • A great long-form story on the development of Google’s self-driving car.
  • Google maps route planning for bikes now has shows you elevation change!
  • The Fremont Bridge smashes its previous bike count record, topping out at over 6,000 bikes a day.
  • If you support bike helmet laws, you should also support them for motorists and pedestrians.

This is an open thread.

Rainier Valley is Fueling Link Ridership Growth

Sound Transit has released new station level boarding data that, unlike past releases, covers entire years instead of periods between service changes. Here is the raw data. In all cases the figures below refer to daily weekday boardings.

Total weekday boardings are still highest at the terminus stations, with the Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill making up 27%.

Continue reading “Rainier Valley is Fueling Link Ridership Growth”

STB on the Radio

I was interviewed for KUOW’s The Record recently to discuss Seattle 2035, the next comprehensive plan.  Overall I think it went fine, though there are a few things I’d word slightly differently if I had to do it over again.  One thing I didn’t mention, but should have, is the dearth of affordable 2- and 3-bedroom units accessible by transit.  I’ve harped on this over and over again on the blog, so I’m not sure how it slipped my mind, but it’s definitely something that a comp plan is uniquely suited to think about.

Tomorrow: Westlake Bikeway Open House

Westlake Concept B
Westlake Concept B. Image Seattle Bike Blog.

Tomorrow, 5:30 to 8:00 PM at Fremont Studios, the city will be holding an open house for the single most important bike project currently underway in Seattle, the Westlake Cycletrack. If you care about safe, flat, stress-free bike connectivity between Ballard, Fremont, Greenwood, Wallingford and South Lake Union, you need to be there to make your views known. Seattle Bike Blog explains the options the city is considering, which have been whittled to two protected bike lane options on either side of the Westlake parking lot. Construction for this long-overdue project has been funded by PSRC, so if you’re tired of looking at maps of ambitious but unfunded plans, this is your chance to show up and support something that you’ll be able to ride by Spring 2016.

Licata and Sawant Propose Different Transit Taxes

As the City Council prepares to consider Mayor Murray’s plan to avoid most bus service cuts in Seattle, Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant seek to replace the sales tax component. The $60 Vehicle License fee would join an employer “head tax” and higher commercial parking taxes:

We expect the amount of revenue generated from these two taxes to equal what would have been collected by the increased sales tax… the head tax could be easier to administer by eliminating the array of exemptions that were previously applied when it was enforce [sic] from 2006 to 2009. As a result, the rate could be significantly reduced. The commercial parking tax would be increased from 12.5% to 17.5%.

Perhaps the best thing about these revenue sources are that they can pass with Council action, allowing immediate action, reducing uncertainty, and avoiding the effort and cost of a campaign. The parking tax has much more scope to reduce driving than a vehicle license fee, as paid parking usually exists where transit alternatives are robust. Licata also suggests that his proposal is “more progressive” than sales tax.

In spite of the earlier potential start, the September 2014 cuts would still occur.


In Saturday’s story on the Property Tax Limit, I said Ben Noble was on Council Central Staff. In fact, this year he became the City Budget Director, reporting to the Mayor. I’ve corrected the original post.

I also neglected to note that there is no current formal reserve policy. In Mr. Noble’s words, “until the ‘great recession’ (and the experience of rapid decline in assessed value) and recent pressures to expand services funded by voter-approved levies, the City had not been so tight against the cap.”

If for some reason the Council rejected or watered down the 12% reserve recommendation from the Mayor’s office, some or all of those 42 cents (equivalent to $55m in annual revenue in 2014) would be available for various priorities.

Two Land-Use Hearings Today

The Seattle Council is considering two amendments to the land use code today. The first will be before the full council at its 2pm meeting, and concerns small-lot housing. Public comment is allowed, and important details are still in play. The second is a meeting intended for public comment, before the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee, at 5:30pmBoth meetings are in Council Chambers in City Hall.

Small Lots. This is about clarifiying rules construction of new single-family homes in small lots in those neighborhoods, to end an existing moratorium. Mike O’Brien wrote a  good summary; as always, ex-STB writer Roger Valdez provides the perspective of someone trying to maximize the number of people that get to live in Seattle. Apparently Councilmember Tim Burgess is looking to amend the committee’s product in a way that would reduce housing supply, on the grounds that growth should occur (entirely?) in our urban villages ($). Construction on small lots seems like a fiscally positive way to create economical family housing by not forcing larger families to purchase a full-size lot. It is odd to worry that multifamily construction isn’t producing enough multi-bedroom units and then shut off an approach more likely to produce these. Moreover, people concerned with a wide range of socially positive outcomes should focus more on the net number of units a project creates and less on, well, everything else. Mr. Valdez’s post covers the details well. It appears that his group, Smart Growth Seattle, is content with the baseline legislation although it is by no means perfect.

Microhousing. Well-understood to be among the best examples of the market providing affordable housing without requiring any government spending or regulation, microhousing comes under fire for allowing relatively poor people to disturb the “character” of “established” neighborhoods, and because residents refuse to believe that people will choose to not own cars. The legislation would ban microhousing from single-family neighborhoods, impose costly design review on these projects, and introduce vehicle parking requirements. Once again, Roger Valdez says it all best, but this bill certainly indicates the Seattle City Council isn’t serious about creating affordable housing.

If only we could focus the energy, currently wasted on smiting Amazon employees and blocking Microsoft buses, to the points where the Seattle Council is actually strangling affordable housing by limiting it to the drip feed of publicly funded projects, we might be able to solve this problem.

Connecting Rainier Beach to its Station

Future Trolleybus Layover at MLK & Henderson
Future Trolleybus Layover at MLK & Henderson

Since the opening of Central Link in 2009, the process of restructuring the Rainier Valley’s bus service to feed the rail spine has advanced in fits and starts. With money from the 2006 passage of Transit Now, Metro extended Route 36 from Beacon Ave to Othello Station, connecting south Beacon Hill, and likewise Route 14 was extended to Mount Baker Station, connecting the Mount Baker neighborhood. Subsequent restructures eliminated the downtown-oriented Routes 34X and 39 in favor of a faster two-seat ride on the (unfortunately still-too-infrequent) Route 50. The notorious Route 42 finally croaked last February.

Despite this progress, one crucial loose end has remained: Route 7, the Rainier Valley’s core bus route, retains its pre-Link terminal loop in Rainier Beach, along with a complex turnback schedule whereby every third outbound bus continues on to the Prentice Street loop before returning to the layover on Henderson. This service pattern means the 7 can do nothing for riders heading south on Link, and the almost-useless Prentice St service pattern unsurprisingly attracts little use. A couple of years ago, I wrote (to mixed reviews) about one possibility to restructure this area, namely splitting the 7 and and connecting the two parts at Othello.

The recent failure of Prop 1 has brought about the next wave of changes in the Rainier Valley, which are a mixed bag. Several core routes are suffering frequency cuts in the midday and evenings, and loss of late-night service, all of which is very, very bad news. The redundant and underperforming Route 7X is being axed; that should have happened in 2009. One major, positive change is splitting Route 8 and combining the section south of Yesler with Route 106; this is very, very good for Renton, Skyway, and the Rainier Valley, although bad for a smaller number of riders in the Central District. The 7’s Prentice St loop will be cut back to a few trips in the peak, which is also bad.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Connecting Rainier Beach to its Station”