Today the Seattle Council’s Transportation Committee will receive a briefing from SDOT planner Bill Bryant on the administration’s solution to find $700,000 for night owl service* in Seattle through 2015. $200,000 of this money will come from the Downtown / Ballard rail study (completed jointly with Sound Transit) coming in under budget, according to an administration source familiar with the SDOT analysis.
The other $500,000 comes from deferring SDOT’s Ship Canal Crossing study, which Bruce introduced last year. This study was meant to identify opportunities to improve other modes in conjunction with a major High Capacity Transit (HCT) investment in this corridor, or perhaps even to do so in the absence of such an investment. This study has little to do with the progress of light rail or streetcars.
Unfortunately, the wide range of options in the rail study has complicated planning. With potential crossings at various grades and in various places, key inputs to such a study are uncertain. “Maybe the Ballard/Downtown study would have produced a solution that could easily have grafted on a bike/ped solution,” said SDOT interim Chief of Staff Bill Laborde, “but it’s not as ripe as people thought it might be.”
Though the study is “deferred,” it isn’t firmly placed into a budget given the looming Bridging the Gap (BtG) expiration in 2015. “With more than 5000 bikes crossing the Fremont bridge on some days, there is clearly a need for more bike and pedestrian capacity across the Ship Canal,” says Laborde, but “a study will be more focused in scope once questions around the timing of ST3 and potential alignment and funding options are in place.”
I could get no commitment from the Administration to include the study in BtG renewal, in practice the opportunity to fund it. If ST’s solution for the corridor includes a deep tunnel or a high bridge unsuitable for other modes, or Ballard-to-downtown rail recedes into the future, then BtG could in principle also provide the funding to construct the bridge.
In my opinion, deferring this study is not quite costless. If SDOT completed it on schedule, even given all the Sound Transit uncertainty, it would be that much easier for the next BtG to actually fund the resulting project. As it is, actually completing a new crossing in the next funding cycle will require using whatever flexibility is built into the package, in particular leveraging whatever grants are available. It’s hard to weigh an in-demand bike/ped connection against low-ridership bus service that provides a lifeline for disadvantaged people. What do you think of this tradeoff?
* The 7, 36, 82, 83, 84, 124, and 280 night owls are currently scheduled for elimination.