Meet-up photo by the author.
Meet-up photo by the author.

Great to see so many faces – especially some new ones – at last night’s Meet up at Rock Bottom.  We had about 50 people turn out to talk with Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz on a wide variety of issues from sub-area equity to Sound Transit’s evolution from a “start up” agency to the upcoming potential ST3 package that could go to the voters in 2016.

Assuming the bill passes in Olympia (write your legislators and ask for the full $15B!), we should start seeing potential project lists in June.

Did you make it out last night? Leave a comment with your thoughts or just introduce yourself.  More photos via Twitter after the jump.

45 Replies to “Last Night’s Meet-up”

  1. Did anyone dare to challenge ST’s or KC’s reps to their face about their direct-to-downtown myopia?

    1. I didn’t get a chance to hear all the questions (I had to step out to grab a beer, having got there late) but I think the answer is no. It sounds to me (and this isn’t the first I’ve heard it, either) that a lot of the projects are being driven by the county and the city reps, specifically Dow Constantine and the mayor (but mostly Dow). McGinn had other ideas, but I think Dow is pushing West Seattle light rail, for example (along with Ballard to downtown rail). This is frustrating, but let’s me know where to direct my concerns.

      Perhaps the most useful answer given all night was to the question “what can we do?”. The answer being (essentially) organize and present a united front. So, as things move along, folks here will have to think about. If the board members of this blog, along with Seattle Subway both agree on a set of plans (e. g. UW to Ballard along with the WSTT) then we have a good shot at convincing Dow and the rest of Sound Transit to support it. But if things get muddled, then I would expect folks to fall back to, as you put it, the “direct-to-downtown myopia”.

      1. Maybe we need to revive a certain city only initiative for “grade separated” transit if the powers that be insist on all new infrastructure be designed to just take people downtown.

      2. The definition specifically excludes light rail.That doesn’t’ leave us with many options.

      3. Light rail is never defined in the legislation (nor anywhere else in the RCW that I can find).

        Arguably, except for the MLK segment nothing Sound Transit has built has been Light Rail as it is commonly understood in the US.

        If you want to be safe you can design a heavy rail line similar to Vancouver’s Canada Line.

      4. Maybe if we just add an “e” on the end it would comply: “Light Raile”. It even sounds somehow classy and vaguely European……..

  2. I was a bit dismayed at Ric’s response to the question about speed and reliability improvements for ST Express. To me the gist seemed to be, “ST is a rail agency. The buses are temporary and we will not be making any investments to improve them, although we encourage the the City of Seattle and Metro to do so.” This seems awfully myopic and short-sighted given that it will be years (or even decades) before many of the most congested routes are replaced by Link.

    Did anyone else get the same impression, or am I misinterpreting his answer?

    1. Well….ST was always intended to be primarily an infrastructure development agency and not an operations agency. That is why they spend so much time on infrastructure.

      ST Express was not intended to be the primary, long term focus of ST. It was only intended to give the voter some immediate benefit and reliif from passing the package. The long term focus was actually on the rail components, and as those go into service the ST Express service levels *should* go down, or at the very least be redeployed.

      1. Ric mentioned eventual elimination of the 510/511/512 as a certainty, but I hope that he wasn’t speaking categorically about all STExpress service. There are many cases in which Link just can’t plausibly be seen as a replacement of express bus service, especially between Tacoma and Seattle. I’ve come to support suburban Link extensions for suburbs’ own sake, but not at the expense of STEx service in cases in which it clearly needs to be retained. Unless we have all-day Sounder every 30 mins, we will always need the 590s. Tacomans headed to Seattle deserve better than a 75-minute trip on Link.

      2. He said ST’s charter or regulations define ST Express as an interim mode on future rail corridors, and that the buses at Lakewood may be on shaky legal grounds now that Sounder has reached Lakewood. He didn’t elaborate whether this meant all 59x routes or just some of them, or off-peak service when Sounder isn’t running, but given the short time for questions I didn’t want to dwell on that issue.

        I’m not sure how much the ST Board can amend its charter or whether it has to ask the legislature. There has been a concern that opening up ST’s charter (e.g., to modify subarea equity) could allow the legisature to do much worse things.

        I have never understood why so many buses are running from Sounder stations when Sounder is running. Does Sounder not have enough capacity?

      3. @MIke — Depending on where you are, I’m guessing the bus is faster than Sounder. From Tacoma the train goes south and east quite a bit before heading north. Then there are the extra stops. I’m just guessing, though (it might also be where the train station is versus where the bus can access the freeway).

        But the big issue you mention is not a good thing, if it is enforced religiously. This could actually lose us votes. For example, someone in Tacoma might say “I’m not voting for ST3, they will kill my Tacoma express bus.”. That could happen anyway, but if it is a given, it provides a big disincentive to completing the spine.

      4. Correction: future HCT corridors. Which means rail or BRT. ST has never explained clearly what its BRT would be, but something more frequent than ST Express and with fancier stations.

      5. At 5pm southbound, Seattle – Tacoma Dome: Sounder 52 minutes, 590 61 minutes (from S Washington St). Seattle – Lakewood: Sounder 73 minutes. 592 65 minutes. So they’re within 10 minutes of each other. To be sure, without traffic the 590 screams at 43 minutes (6am), but people usually care about peak of peak. The buses also give a one-seat ride to midtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma. But isn’t Sounder’s and Tacoma Link’s purpose to replace the buses?

        For south King County and east Pierce County, Sounder is much faster. Seattle – Kent: Sounder 19 minutes, 158 45 minutes. Seattle – Auburn: Sounder 28 minutes, 578 43 minutes (at 6:30pm, doesn’t run peak). Seattle – Puyallup: Sounder 40 minutes, 578 70 minutes (at 6:30pm, doesn’t run peak) .

    2. To be honest, I really didn’t get any insight about anything related to Sound Transit. To be fair, I arrived late (forgetting how long it takes to ride the 41 to downtown in the evening). But most of what he said suggested that Sound Transit lacks a comprehensive vision about transit in the region. They want to complete the spine (which is one of the arguments for the full package) but there seems to be no explanation as to why that would be a great thing (as if it is self evidently the most cost effective thing we can build).

      There was little to no consideration of buses, or bus to rail interaction, or even why completing the spine would be a good thing. For example, Mike Orr asked a great question about bus to rail interaction, and Ric’s first response was that they would take a good look at the buses that follow the rail line. Mike then had to mention that he was more concerned about cross buses, with me a few feet away waving my hands from side to side in agreement (sort of like an “incomplete pass” signal by a football referee). He then basically said that was a good idea. A few minutes later, I got a chance to ask a followup, emphasizing the importance of stop at NE 130th (bringing the abstract into the concrete) and he then mentioned the process (first this meeting, then this one) and said that its likelihood was dependent on how this might effect ST3. Fair enough, but doesn’t that just scream for a station? I mean, what else is Seattle going to spend its money on? If Lake City voters get nothing, and it looks like they are going to get nothing, why should they be excited to vote for ST3. If Lynnwood voters who want to go to Lake City, or Wedgewood, or anywhere on Aurora south of 130th (which is a pretty big area) aren’t going to be able to get there much faster, why get excited about extending it anywhere?

      I really felt a complete lack of vision from him. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he is just the messenger, and these decisions are being made by others, and he has no control. If that is the case, then the other folks lack a vision, and that is really sad.

      1. So I wasn’t able to make the meet, and didn’t get to hear Ric’s comment. So I’m just riffing off everybody else’s interpretations. But the notion that Sound Transit is a rail agency gives me a lot of heartburn.

        It’s a transit agency. Whether one or other mode is better is a context-specific analysis.

        I’ve always thought of Ric’s role as being to take the mostly parochial demands of the Board members, and to cast them into a coherent whole. Bus-to-rail interaction, even bus-to-bus interaction, is a really important part of that.

      2. By its very charter ST is a rail agency. ST Express only exists as a bridge until sufficient rail is up and operating.

        I suppose you could change the charter, but I believe that would take Legislative action, and I neither see the need nor am I willing to open up ST to Legislative meddling. This particular legislature would be just as likely to add “roads” to the ST charter as they would be to add “buses”

        And I beleive you guys really mean. LR bus “integration”

      3. Looking over the LRP, I think ST Express is designed to be somewhat interim in nature. For instance, “ST Express bus service is provided to connect centers where demand is not yet sufficient to justify permanent HCT service”.

        But BRT is a HCT service. For instance, there’s this: “HCT corridors may be candidates for future light rail transit, commuter rail, or BRT service. The final selection of a transit technology will be made based on a detailed corridor study that will examine a full range of technology options.”

        The latest revision to the LRP removed some language about rail-convertible bus corridors. I thought that sounded like a commitment to taking bus more seriously as a long-term option, not less so.

    3. Interesting. I didn’t attend this meet up but did attend the visioning meeting at the Central Library on Tuesday.

      Jarrett Walker, when asked about any cities that were models of train and bus integration, said (in paraphrase): I can tell what does not work. It does not work when the choo choo people build the station somewhere and then say to the bus people – figure it out.

      Wonder if Ric was there for that.

      1. That’s exactly what my question was based on. I said that yesterday when Jarrett was answering what he thought of the preliminary ST3 sketches and ST2 corridors, he said he wished it were an intergrated plan for both regional and local transit. I said that some of us are feeling we’re having to decide on a light rail network in a vacuum, and we don’t hear anything about bus reorganizations until a year before a rail segment opens, so we just have to hope there will be robust frequent feeders so we can get to the rail line. I said I don’t think this siloed process schedule will be viable much longer because people are increasingly demanding to know what the local bus network will be like, at least partially. For instance, we still haven’t heard how the 522 might change and that’s ST’s own service.

        He said ST wants integrated regional/local proposals too and is moving in that direction, and in ST3 will work with Metro to include station-feeder probabilities in the EIS. (I didn’t quite understand this, but some kind of statistic on the likelyhood that a route will go in X direction every Y minutes.) He talked mostly about overlapping routes; e.g., the D and a Ballard-downtown line, and how the 510/511/512 would go away; that’s when I said I’m less interested in what happens to overlapping routes than in whether the feeder routes will meet my needs. (I don’t believe the D can be deleted because of the intermediate stops.)

        I’m more optimistic than RossB is that the politicians (excluding the legislature) and agencies will move toward the right direction even if they don’t reach it completely, and I also see public attitudes and expectations getting gradually better over time. But we’re suffering from the lack of a comprehensive transit plan, which ideally should have been written in the 1990s. But things that are politically possible now weren’t possible five years ago, and even less so twenty years ago, and that’s reflected in Airport Link and University Link which were the first segments.

        Two things about Dow Constantine. One, he arranged an ST/Metro integration agreement last year, which is beginning to bear small fruit. Two, at Metro’s panel Tuesday he said he reads STB every morning and frequently shows articles to his staff exclaiming, “This! Why can’t we do this? How can we do this?”

      2. Mike, you have to admit that ST has thought about and proposed solutions for East Link/bus connectivity at Mercer Island.

      3. I can tell what does not work. It does not work when the choo choo people build the station somewhere and then say to the bus people – figure it out.

        Part of the problem is the concept that there should be “the station somewhere” when matters really call for two or three stations.

        Obviously, I think you can blame some of this attitude about not having very many stations on what happened in Portland. People from Seattle come to visit us and see the first MAX line with its 200 foot distance between stations, and think “Yuk, that’s terrible. We need to avoid that.” What happened here in 1986 is in fact terrible, but there are sometimes valid reasons to have stations close (even if 200 feet never actually makes sense on any system except a couple of funiculars). You don’t want to lean too far the other direction as too few stations make the system unusable as well.

      4. at Metro’s panel Tuesday he said he reads STB every morning and frequently shows articles to his staff exclaiming, “This! Why can’t we do this? How can we do this?”

        Thank you. Thank you, Dow, for doing this; and thank you, Mike, for reporting it. This gives me more hope for Metro than anything else in the last ten years.

  3. It was my first time attending an STB meetup, had a lot of fun! Great location and choice of speaker.

    1. I’m sorry I showed up late. I was more interested in the mingling (being able to put a name to a face and getting to visit with people). Next time I’ll try and get there earlier (and remember that the 41 is terrible going downtown in the evening).

      1. Hey Ross – Met you at the 130th station meetup a few weeks ago. I’m hoping to come to the next STB meetup to put some faces and names together too, and was sorry to miss this one.

        I’m kind of new-ish in North Seattle too. Question for you: How the heck DO you get downtown in the afternoon? Anything involving I-5 seems to be just asking for trouble.

      2. @JesseP

        What part of North Seattle? Depending on where you are starting from, and what traffic is like there could a number of options…

      3. I usually start my transit trips from Northgate TC, but live in Haller Lake. A 15-20 minute walk to the E is also an option…

      4. @JesseP
        I am in a similar location. I find that 41 is the fastest ride in peak direction, but can also be very fast off peak if I-5 isn’t jammed up.

        If you need to avoid I-5 the E line or the 66 are both viable. Check the traffic reports though to see if 99 or Eastlake are less crowded.

      5. There was a 130th station meetup, and can there be another April 23 when ST votes on final alignment?

    2. Sorry I missed it–that’s an impressive turnout. I look forward to meeting many of you, hopefully at the next one!

  4. Sorry I couldn’t make it last night, but if I had, i would’ve asked Ric’s opinion about ultimately creating a single regional transit agency, like Trimet. Five different agencies, all with different branding and different fare structures, it’s all very confusing to the non-transit-junkies out there. Not to mention the visitor who simply wants to buy a ticket that gets him from the airport to Queen Anne hill, and discovers to his dismay that the Fare Vending Machine can’t sell him one — it only sells Link tickets.

      1. At that time, after the failed 1995 rail vote, we were just so desperate for a victory, we didn’t worry about the details. We got the victory at the polls in 1996 but the light rail project went south with the failed Capitol Hill tunnel project in 2000. But the basics are functioning well now, so maybe it is time to re-examine organizational structures and begin working towards a more understandable and user-friendly system.

      2. Thanks Roger, I guess I missed the intent of the sentence under ‘Heavy Duty Light Rail’.
        “A $280 million “Regional Fund” will provide for regional fare integration, planning, and design work for future phases, including final engineering for the Northgate LRT extension.”
        At the time everyone was just trusting all the agencies to play nice, and show one face to the public as far as fares were concerned.

  5. In response to the questions regarding removal of some of the express buses once the spine is complete, would it be possible to run express LRT from certain destinations to others (e.g. Tacoma to Seattle) during certain peak hours? I’m not familiar enough with the actual infrastructure in place at present, but if ST built their track such that trains could switch tracks before and after each station, they would theoretically be able to pass stopped non-express trains.

    Obviously that would all depend on sufficient headway buffers between oncoming trains, but it sounds to me like an elegant solution. It would work especially well as an express option if the eventual West Seattle line were to be completely grade separated and employ a Southern link into the spine at SeaTac.

      1. The operations people worry that with skip-stop service on at-grade segments, such as MLKing Way, people will step in front of express trains to catch them, expecting them to stop at the station.

    1. Link will match ST Express to Lynnwood, Bellevue, and Everett within a 10-minute margin of error. (ST Express is so variable some peak runs are faster and some slower; without traffic it’s 2-10 minutes faster.) It would also match Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond although there’s no comparable bus route.

      Where Link falls behind is Federal Way and Tacoma. Link is 37 minutes to SeaTac. To Federal Way Link will be 55 minutes (STB estimate) vs the 577 at 37 minutes (at 5pm). To Tacoma Dome Link will be 70-80 minutes (my estimate) vs the 590 at 66 minutes (at 5pm) or the 594 at 45 minutes (at 9pm). That’s a 20-minute handicap, which may justify keeping express buses peak hours. (Of course, there’s Sounder too.)

      There have been some recent noises from parts of Pierce that Link to Tacoma is not so much about a fast commute to Seattle (which it won’t be) but to attract jobs and commuters and shoppers to Tacoma. If so, I wonder if Snohomish is feeling similarly. Lynnwood Station is clearly a Seattle commuter godsend, but are the Everett stations more about attracting people to Everett (and encouraging Boeing to expand)? If so, we advocates need to take these motivations into account and consider their implications, rather than assuming it’s all about the Seattle commute.

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