May 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report

May15MvgAvgMay saw healthy weekday Link growth of 6.6% and total system growth of 5.7%. Weekday ridership was up across the board, with only Paratransit seeing a decrease. Due to weekend tunnel closure for U-Link work, Link’s weekend service took a hit. Link’s 12 month moving average was 33,939 in May. That is a hair’s breadth away from the 34k originally forecast for 2011. At that point ridership growth was supposed to level off. As the chart to the right shows, ridership is still growing at a strong clip. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Link’s initial ridership lag was due to the Great Recession and continued gains will wipe out that early shortfall.

May’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 35,878 / 24,958 / 20,746, growth of 6.6%, -10.9%, and .1% respectively over May 2015. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 11.6% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 4.5%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 4.2%. System wide weekday boardings were up 5.7%, and all boardings were up 3.2%. The complete May Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold.
Continue reading “May 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report”

News Roundup: Failure to Yield

This is an open thread.

Link Excuse of the Week: Save on Parking for Hydroplane Races / Blue Angels

Seafair WeekendThe Seafair tradition continues: Free shuttles to the Genessee Park festival area, from which you get the best view of the Albert Lee Cup hydroplane races and the Blue Angels, will serve Columbia City Station Friday through Sunday 7 am – 6 pm.

If you wish to park & ride, but don’t expect to get to Tukwila International Boulevard Station early enough to find free parking, print out this coupon for $10 all-day parking at the airport. Parking at the event grounds is $35 if bought in advance or $40 cash on site. It’s also a bear getting into and out of the area by car during Seafair Weekend, so save a chunk of time and money by riding Link Light Rail and catching the free shuttle.

There will also be shuttles between Mercer Island and South Bellevue P&R during the I-90 closure periods Thursday through Saturday, but not Sunday.

Check out past Link Excuses of the Week here.

CORRECTION: SDOT Wants a Stop in Uptown Proper

Map by Oran. Station names are his.

Take it away, Michael James of SDOT:

In the Seattle letter, dated July 15, from Director Kubly, we referenced a station “serving Uptown and the Seattle Center”, to be more clear, this is a station in the vicinity of Mercer St. and 1st Avenue N. This station location has been considered in the previous Ballard to Downtown Transit Expansion Study, and in no way did Seattle mean to omit it.

All emphasis mine. For the record, here’s the original paragraph:

In the Ballard to Downtown segment of this corridor, we request Sound Transit analyze and alignment that includes a below grade station with pedestrian connections to the existing Westlake Station platforms, a station serving South Lake Union in the area of Westlake Ave N and Denny Way, a station at State Route 99 and Harrison Street, serving Uptown and the Seattle Center, a station in close proximity to the Elliott Trail bridge (near the future Expedia site), a station in the vicinity of 15th Avenue and Newton (near Whole Foods), a station in the vicinity of 15th Avenue and Dravus Street, a station in the vicinity of 15th Avenue and Market Street, and a station at 15th Avenue and 65th Street.

The words “a station” in front of “serving Uptown” would have greatly improved the plainest interpretation of this sentence, but in any case it would have been good for me to ask. So 350+ comments later the prime objection turns out to be essentially a typo. Those of you expecting betrayal at every corner will have to look elsewhere.

I’ve updated the original post.


Those two words greatly improve the overall coverage of the line. Not only does the core of Uptown get excellent service, but now virtually all of Belltown is within a half mile of one of three stations. That’s not as great as a proper Belltown station, but as I said earlier there’s no real way for a reasonably direct line to Ballard to serve both SLU and Belltown directly. Put another way, I don’t see this is being of much use for Belltown residents for trips of a mile or less, but they would be genuinely connected to the regional rail system.

The SLU routing has the interesting benefit of mitigating the Denny problem that I and many others have sought to solve with a “Route 8” subway. Although there’s a transfer at Westlake, which may or may not be well-implemented, in principle a ride from Uptown or South Lake Union to Broadway & John should take around 10-15 minutes no matter how disastrous the traffic on Denny.

The last thing I’d say is that I like how Mr. Kubly was extra-specific on the highest priority elements of the plan. Downtown has to be a tunnel with short stop spacing, but if the tendrils to Ballard and West Seattle have to be at-grade (meaning MLK quality) to pay for it, then so be it. In my view, that’s the correct hierarchy. Close, tunneled stations in the core exponentially increase the value of the system to virtually all its users. Surface running, while not ideal, has limited consequences for mobility further out.

Council Endorsement Outtakes, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series. Part 1 is available here.

Seattle Transit Blog interviewed 18 of the 47 candidates running for Seattle City Council in the seven newly created council districts and two citywide seats before making our endorsements last week. The Board chose candidates who were most closely aligned with its core principles, which include support for thoughtful transit investment, spending on key bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, density and transit-oriented development, and concentration of resources into high-quality corridors. They also gave points to candidates who shared our skepticism of taxes on development and policy that promotes auto-oriented lifestyles. They did not interview candidates who they knew did not share these values, or in their view didn’t have a genuine chance to win, because they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

But what if the endorsement doesn’t tell you enough about why they endorsed a certain candidate, supported another more tepidly, or declined to back some candidates with generally progressive values? As I participated in the interviews as an advisor to the Board, I’m posting a few outtakes from our interviews to help guide you in your voting decision, or just entertain you if you’ve already voted and want to confirm you done right.

District 5 

Sandy Brown

On Move Seattle’s funding for sidewalks

There’s less than five percent of our sidewalk needs that are met in Move Seattle. If that’s what we’re going to do for the next nine years, then it’s disappointing. We’ve got to find solutions that include pedestrian infrastructure. We need sidewalks in Broadview. We need sidewalks in Haller Lake. We need sidewalks in North Maple Leaf. We need sidewalks in Lake City. And we’re still a long way from that.

There is a mixed backing for sidewalks in Seattle–that’s one reason I have felt that [a local improvement district] program [Ed: A hyperlocal tax to pay for sidewalks] could be good. We may not get them in every single street, but they should be included in arterials for our master plan.

On the density proposals in HALA

I think [the upzones] will be very unpopular with traditional Seattle, but it’s the way we have to go. If we set up Seattle in such way that every person gets a couple of parking spots per residence, then they’re going to believe they need to drive those cars everywhere. The idea that we could emphasize transit but then still make it easy and inexpensive to have a car–it doesn’t make sense. We don’t want to coerce people into transit, but we have to help people get used to the idea that transit is now the basic way to get around in Seattle. That’s what our future is.

In my district, there’s a multifamily building that’s going in on Fremont Avenue in north Greenlake with no parking. The neighbors are up in arms, but it’s only three blocks from the E Line. Now, the challenge is there isn’t a great grocery store for about eight blocks from there. We have to make sure that there are necessities that are within walking or biking distance, and that’s not always the case.

Mercedes Elizalde (endorsed)

On why transit service should precede anticipated density

Continue reading “Council Endorsement Outtakes, Part 2”

Inslee Evades Poison Pill, Will Cap Carbon Emissions

Gov. Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee

In the days following Governor Inslee’s decision to enact a low-carbon fuel standard, thus accepting the Republican provision eliminating some of the State’s multimodal accounts, climate activists found themselves with divergent interests from bike, pedestrian, and transit advocates. STB was gearing up to hold its own internal debate on whether the trade was worth it. But fortunately, the Governor found another way:

The governor asked Ecology Director Maia Bellon to develop substantive emission reductions using existing authority. The process will be open and transparent and all stakeholders will have ample opportunity to express their ideas, options and concerns as the rule development process unfolds.

That process is expected to take about a year.

Unlike the legislation that Inslee proposed to the 2015 Legislature, the regulatory cap will not charge emitters for carbon pollution and therefore would not raise revenue for state operations. The other key difference is the current proposal wouldn’t create a centralized market for trading of emissions credits, though emitters may be able trade amongst themselves…

The conversations surrounded the recently enacted transportation investment package that included the so-called poison pill. That proviso would have moved about $2 billion in funding from multi-modal projects to an unappropriated account if the governor moved ahead with a clean fuel standard.

The governor said today he will not pursue the clean fuel standard.

I understand the regret that this measure won’t raise any revenue, but from an environmental perspective this is nearly the best possible outcome absent legislative commitment to address this problem. The details could sabotage a lot of the good here, but in principle a broad-based system of caps is a more comprehensive, economically efficient approach than tackling fuels alone.

And moreover, there are no direct consequences for multimodal projects, which have good consequences not only for climate change, but for public safety, air and water quality, and social equity.

Council Endorsement Outtakes Part 1

Seattle Transit Blog interviewed 18 of the 47 candidates running for Seattle City Council in the seven newly created council districts and two citywide seats before making our endorsements last week. The Board chose candidates who were most closely aligned with its core principles, which include support for thoughtful transit investment, spending on key bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, density and transit-oriented development, and concentration of resources into high-quality corridors. They also gave points to candidates who shared our skepticism of taxes on development and policy that promotes auto-oriented lifestyles. They did not interview candidates who they knew did not share these values, or in their view didn’t have a genuine chance to win, because they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

But what if the endorsement doesn’t tell you enough about why they endorsed a certain candidate, supported another more tepidly, or declined to back some candidates with generally progressive values? As I participated in the interviews as an advisor to the Board, I’m posting a few outtakes from our interviews to help guide you in your voting decision, or just entertain you if you’ve already voted and want to confirm you done right.

District 1 (West Seattle)

Brianna Thomas

On her top priorities for funding bus service under last year’s Seattle Proposition 1

In this order, I’ve got to go: Congestion at peak hours. I live in West Seattle. There is one way in, there is one way out, so that’s got to be the first thing I tackle. And then after that, it would have to be just in-district mobility. We’ve got the 22 bus route, which is my bus route [and] the bane of my existence. It comes once an hour, it stops at 8:17 or something ridiculous, and it’s at the bottom of a giant hill. So this is the bus route that I am most invested in. Then, after that the 37 down around Alki. … I would like a bus that goes across the West Seattle Bridge to Beacon Hill. And this is completely selfish, because I have a godbaby over there and it takes me forever to get to his cute face.

On parking minimums

I’m content with rolling them back as long as we’ve got matching infrastructure to go with it in a timely, and I do mean timely, manner.

Next to my apartment building, there are 28 units going in with seven parking spots, and everyone is just like, there’s no way only a quarter of these people are going to have cars. It’s impossible. In District 1, like in South Park, for instance, you’ve kind of got to have a car to get to the grocery store, your job, the bank, the post office. Until we pump up the jam on providing services to these pockets of neighborhoods, it’s impossible to make the argument not to have a car.

Continue reading “Council Endorsement Outtakes Part 1”

Seattle’s ST3 Input

Map by Oran. Station Names are his.

[CORRECTION: Michael James of SDOT wrote me to clarify that their request does include “a station in the vicinity of Mercer St. and 1st Avenue N.” Apparently the excerpt “… a station at State Route 99 and Harrison, serving Uptown and the Seattle Center,…” refers to two stations, not one. I regret taking the sentence at its most clearly understood meaning, rather than asking.]

If there’s any takeaway from Sound Transit’s Federal Way Link alignment decision, it’s that input from jurisdictions carry significant weight in those decisions. This is understandable both in theory (elected officials ought to be more representative than self-selected public comment) and in practice (local jurisdictions are important to both winning the vote and getting permits to execute the projects.) This can turn out good or bad, depending on the values of the electorate and their representatives.

Last week Sound Transit staff presented the sum of both public comment and local government input on ST3. There are dozens of government letters, but today we’ll start with Seattle, signed by SDOT director Scott Kubly. The letter touches on most of the themes in previous Seattle-area rail discussions, but also sets a clear priority. Here are the bullet points:

  • The main request is light rail from Ballard to West Seattle.
  • Through downtown there must be a tunnel under 4th, 5th, or 6th Avenues because a surface alignment would have serious traffic impacts and “inability to serve South Lake Union.”
  • As a lower priority, evaluation of Ballard/UW rail with “considerations to extend the line east in the future.”
  • “Full evaluation” of Graham St. and N. 130th St. stations. In the latter case, consider the new urban village option there and the impact of feeder buses on ridership.
  • Madison BRT

The meatiest part is the Ballard segment, which would have stations at:

  • 15th Ave & N 65th St.
  • 15th Ave & Market St.
  • 15th Ave & Dravus St.
  • 15th Ave & Newton St. (the Interbay Whole Foods)
  • “in close proximity” to the Elliott Trail Bridge (near Expedia)
  • [UPDATE: 1st Ave N & Mercer St.]
  • SR 99 & Harrison St.
  • Westlake Ave N & Denny Way
  • “A below grade station with pedestrian connections to the existing Westlake Station platforms”

The proposal suggests either surface or elevated options on 15th and Elliott, as well as a new Ballard Bridge with “no more than 4 general purpose lanes”, bike, and pedestrian lanes, potentially not high enough to avoid openings due to shipping.

The West Seattle segment is much more vague, with an endpoint at the Junction running elevated, at-grade, or tunneled. The letter specifically calls out “early implementation items’ that could improve bus service to West Seattle more quickly.


[UPDATE: See the correction post for analysis. Original text follows.]

Continue reading “Seattle’s ST3 Input”

Call for Suggestions in Other Races

Last week, STB unveiled its 2015 city council primary endorsements. This was the first time we had gone through such an extensive interview process before making endorsements. We don’t have plans to do any more interviews, or make further endorsements, in the primary election. That doesn’t mean the rest of the ballot isn’t important.

So, we are calling for suggestions from our readers as to who we should vote for in other races. Please stick to candidates’ positions on transportation and land use.


Voters to Get Nonbinding Say on 11.9-Cent Gas Tax Increase

Gas prices in Lewiston, ME, 2008 (source: Mikov on Wikicommons)
Gas prices in Lewiston, ME, 2008 (source: Mikov on Wikicommons)

Thanks to a provision in Initiative 960 (Ballotpedia), passed by Washington State voters in 2007, voters will have four non-binding Advisory Questions on the November 3, 2015 ballot. One of the questions will be on whether the legislature should have passed an 11.9-cent gas tax increase, (The Olympian) the main funding source for the $16.1 billion highway spending spree in SB 5987. This is the same bill that granted $15 billion in ST3 authority.

The first 7 cents of that increase is due to take effect August 1 of this year.

Whether the voters say “Yes” or “No”, the gas tax increases remain.

Environmental groups could push for a symbolic “No” vote on the gas-tax question, to express distaste for the highway package. A “No” vote would not overturn any of the provisions of the relevant bills. However, the legislature is capable of undoing some of the provisions in later sessions, but not defunding programs against which the state or a lower governmental entity has bonded. This is why Sound Transit was able to maintain its car tab funding (Seattle Times $) after Initiative 776 passed.

Implications of a Bad Route to Federal Way

The closest option to the Board's preferred alignment. The Kent/Des Moines station would likely be closer to 30th Ave and orientation of the Federal Way Transit Center is undecided.
The closest option to the Board’s preferred alignment. The Kent/Des Moines station would likely be closer to 30th Ave and orientation of the Federal Way Transit Center is undecided.

Sound Transit’s decision about the Federal Way alignment is not what we would hope. In fifty years no one will care at all what the construction impacts were along 99, but will care at least a bit about the noise generated by all the train’s unnecessary turns. They’ll marvel at the train’s torturous routing south of Rainier Beach, and perhaps (incorrectly) blame lamentably long travel times on it. Most importantly, they will probably care a lot about the difficulty of finding housing close to high-quality transit, and would have liked the extra few hundred such units we might have had in Federal Way. But any process with a lot of democracy in it (and Sound Transit’s process certainly does) will shortchange future voters for present ones, absent extraordinary vision from the people in charge.

It’s natural to have a negative emotional reaction to a decision so contrary to well-understood transit planning principles. It’s very frustrating for studies to agree with experts in indicating the right course of action, and have leaders ignore it for largely petty and shortsighted reasons. However, a few observations are in order.

1. This is about Sound Transit 2, not ST3. There are three stops. Highline CC is funded and scheduled to open in 2023. S. 272nd St is in the ST2 plan but unfunded, and regardless of any ST3 vote the agency will probably find the money somewhere. Federal Way Transit Center (FWTC) would be ST3, but as it’s between SR99 and I-5 the direction of approach isn’t of much consequence. So aside from slightly reduced demand generators for points further South, and a somewhat harder argument for Link to follow SR99 to Tacoma, this has no impact on ST3 at all.

2. It’s mostly about one station.  With the amendments, the Highline station moves perhaps 1/8 of a mile further from the college, and in the thick of Kent’s planned upzone. Approaching FWTC from the East instead of West has few obvious consequences. It’s serving the park-and-ride at S. 272nd and I-5, hemmed in by a wetland and the freeway, that punts signficant development potential. This is regrettable, but perhaps not grounds to declare the whole program a failure.

On the other hand, an I-5 routing also forgoes the possibility of additional infill stations as the area develops.

3. This is consistent with past dynamics. No one really wants elevated sections near their property, especially if it doesn’t come with direct station access. And in fact virtually all of ST’s planned or built elevated track to date has been shunted next to freeways, airports, or industrial wastelands, for better or worse. You may recall the gyrations trying to get the ill-fated Seattle Monorail through Belltown. So this isn’t just a quirk at Des Moines City Hall.

4. Interest groups drive service priorities. Zach already pointed this out, but it’s worth elaborating.

Continue reading “Implications of a Bad Route to Federal Way”

Sound Transit Chooses I-5 for Federal Way Link

[CORRECTION: The original post used an outdated TOD estimate to claim a 60% loss between the alternatives. With the amendments yesterday and updated totals, the true reduction in TOD potential is 29%. I regret the error.]

On Thursday afternoon, the Sound Transit Board voted unanimously to recommend I-5 as the preferred alignment for Link from Angle Lake to Federal Way Transit Center. You can watch the Board discussion beginning at 2:02:05. I-5 will now have preferred status heading into the FEIS, after which the Board will make a final decision sometime in 2016. There were 4 amendments, the first of which chose I-5 itself while the next 3 served particular needs at each of the station areas at Highline, S. 272nd, and Federal Way TC.

Critically, the cities of SeaTac, Des Moines, Kent, and Federal Way were unified both in their opposition to SR-99 and their support of I-5. Board Members McCarthy, Butler, Roberts, and Earling all talked at length about pleasing the local jurisdictions, but mentions of the actual utility of light rail service on I-5 vis-à-vis SR 99 were curiously absent.  In defending her vote, McCarthy said she’d “be hard pressed to go against” those communities, and that “all the metrics” support I-5.

But other than political expedience and capital cost – I-5 saves approximately $300m on the $1.5-$1.8B project – what metrics could possibly favor I-5?  Sound Transit chose an alignment that serves fewer riders, that contradicts its own TOD policy and has 60%  29% less TOD potential, ignores the preponderance of public comment and the pleas of Highline for direct access, has fewer stations, worsens walksheds, does little for intra-South King mobility, and is no faster than an SR-99 alignment. From an agency in the business of maximizing mobility, this decision is a disappointing failure to learn from the mistakes of Denver, Portland, and our own Lynnwood Link when it comes to freeway rail alignments. Sadly, it also continues to treat South King County as a pass-through community, rather than a destination in its own right.

Highland Community College. The station will likely be near 30th Ave S, roughly 1/4 mile walk to the college.
Highline Community College station area. The station will likely be east of SR 99 near 30th Ave S, roughly 1/4 mile walk to the college. Board members spoke of building a “world-class, UW style” bridge to get students across the 6 lanes of SR 99.

The 3 subsequent amendments sought to mitigate the difficulties they had created just minutes earlier by choosing I-5. Amendment 2 provided for continued analysis of an immediate deviation away from I-5 to Highline, with analysis of station locations between 30th Avenue and SR 99, including on the west side of SR 99 (requiring a Rube Goldberg-esque 3 crossings of SR 99 between Angle Lake and Highline). Amendment 3 directed Sound Transit to deviate from I-5 to locate the Federal Way station on the east side of the transit center near 23rd Avenue South. Amendment 4 requires Sound Transit to undertake an Access Study of the 272nd/Star Lake Station, a study necessitated by the action the board had just taken to worsen station access by choosing I-5.

Against their own misgivings, O’Brien supported I-5 “out of solidarity” while Chair Constantine conceded that “a majority of the Board has a valid point” despite his own initial preference for SR 99.  Mayor Murray was not present to vote.

The future Star Lake station area, approximately 1/2 mile from SR 99.
The future Star Lake station area, approximately 1/2 mile from SR 99.

The doublespeak from South King County boardmembers in particular was disappointing. Long vocal about the ‘promises made’ to get their piece of the rail pie, they also described the ‘devastating impact’ the train would have have if it were located anywhere near anyone. Echoing a McDonalds owner who in public comment decried Link’s potential impact to his drive-through customers, County Councilmember Peter von Reichbauer argued for the preservation of the strip mall sprawl of SR-99 and the low-wage retail jobs that prevail there:

“There is so much passion coming out of Highline…[your advocacy for a station] has had an impact…and these amendments reflect your deep concerns. But we recognize that the demographics of the college have changed, and their needs have changed. But to me there’s no better social program than a job, and the displacement that would occur  along 99 if we [build along 99] would affect my district dramatically. We’ve seen large corporations leaving South King County for Seattle, and the displacement that would occur for many small businesses would be devastating for our communities.”

Councilmember Phillips pushed back, even though he too voted yes:

“You start to ask yourself, ‘why don’t we just continue down 99 to Highline?’…When we start to zig-zag to serve interests along the way, we start to lose sight of the overall approach to what we’re trying to do, and riders will ask, why are we zigzagging? There is a system view of this we need to be taking.”

So where does this leave us? There seems to be a clear process lesson for advocates, namely that organizing is far more important than making a better argument, and that absent coordinated efforts to make the case on the ground, anti-urban inertia will continue to rule the day. It becomes difficult not to be cynical about Sound Transit’s corridor studies, which seem to exist to provide a veneer of rigor over what is plainly a political process. To achieve better outcomes, we have to organize and show up.

But as I’ve argued before, Link’s southward march needs a coherent mobility vision that focuses on mobility within the subareas they serve. A political goal of regional connectivity cannot and should not be divorced from the cold math of who can access stations, where they are going, and how long it their trips will take. Whose trips would Link make better, and how? A freeway alignment would be more defensible if it provided faster trips than prevailing alternatives, but Link won’t: both SR 99 and I-5 alignments will be 15-25 minutes slower than existing express buses from Federal Way to downtown, and ~10 minutes slower from Star Lake to downtown (though either option improves trip times from downtown to Highline compared to current Metro service). Sometimes there are unavoidable tradeoffs between providing competitive long-distance trips and maximizing local development and connectivity. But if an I-5 alignment does neither, what problem is the Sound Transit Board trying to solve?

Metro’s Battery Proterra Bus Begins Testing

Last year Metro won a $4.7 million federal TIGGER grant to purchase two Proterra battery-operated buses and two charging stations. Last week Metro finished installing and began testing a fast charger at Eastgate Transit Center. Currently a Proterra factory unit is being used (not the one that visited earlier this year) but later three different vehicles will be delivered. Metro originally intended to purchase two charging stations but decided against a second station and instead applied that funding toward the purchase of a third bus. The first vehicle is expected to be delivered this fall with the other two coming later in the fall.

Proterra Testing

The vehicles won’t go in to revenue service for quite some time; initial testing will last a few weeks after arrival and more in-depth testing will occur for up to a year for Metro to determine how they perform in Metro’s service area. This data will be used to decide how they might fit in with their future fleet plans. While no final decisions have been as to what routes will see some electric action, routes 226 and 241 are the most likely candidates. They are interlined on an 18.25 mile route and terminate at Eastgate TC. If the buses are able to go the distance, 221 and 248 are other possibilities since they both have layovers (in one direction) at Eastgate TC. During the testing period, the vehicles will likely be placed on a variety of routes to gather as much performance data as possible. While the exact numbers will depend on the batteries’ state of charge, Metro’s contract stipulates that the vehicle will need to be able to charge in 10 minutes or less and be able to maintain a 23 mile service route off that charge, and Proterra has been able to meet that requirement.

This project is more of a R&D project for Metro than a rush to put new technology in to revenue service. Metro is using it to determine whether or not battery technology could be used on replacement 40′ buses. A PowerPoint presentation from Metro’s vehicle maintenance outlines the goals and some of the construction of the vehicle. An interesting note is that BYD and New Flyer also bid on the contract (Design Line, E-Bus, Nova, and Skoda dropped out).

A few photos of the testing can be found here.

Fundraising Drive: Last Call

It’s getting to the end of the month, and this is the last time you’ll hear from us asking to support our first annual fundraising drive. In our last ask, we challenged the community to get us to 100 donors, and you delivered!  We now have over 100 donors to STB, which is both inspiring and humbling. So thank you.

This week we dropped our city council endorsements.  It was a crowded field this year, surely due in part to district elections.  For the first time, we sat and met with most of the major candidates in person, to hear first hand their priorities for the myriad transit and land use issues facing the city.  It was a revealing week for us, with some truly impressive candidates in districts where we did not expect them.

We want to do more of this kind of in-person, first-hand reporting and analysis in the year to come, and we’ll get there with your help.  We’re almost 2/3 of the way to our goal, and we can make it there by July 31 with your help.  Will 50 more readers step up and get us over the hump?  We’re counting on you.  Thanks in advance.

News Roundup: Swallowing the Pill

This is an open thread.

2015 Seattle City Council Primary Endorsements

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for Seattle City Council in the August primary. As always, our endorsements solely reflect the candidate’s positions and record on transit and land use.

Longtime readers know our core positions well: in favor of transit investment, concentration of resources into high-quality corridors, upzones, and pedestrian and bicycle access improvements. We are also skeptical of taxes on development, parking minimums, and the assumption that all parts of the region must be cheap and easy to access with a car.

District 1 No endorsement. None of the candidates we interviewed particularly stood out. Brianna Thomas had some good values but doesn’t seem to have a good concept for how to manage the bus network. Shannon Braddock has thought through the set of policy proposals currently before the City, but doesn’t seem to have made up her mind about what other policies Seattle needs. Lisa Herbold has neither problem, but we’re concerned that her concerns about displacement will do too much to discourage development. We’re hopeful that at least one of these candidates will make it to the general election and refine their positions.

Bruce HarrellDistrict 2 Bruce Harrell has a difficult record on urbanist issues. His past has “people are going to drive” dog-whistle quotes, and in his current term he was the only vote against the desperately needed North Rainier Rezone. But recently he’s been in front of the push to rechannelize Rainier even if it slows people’s drives. He’s fallen in with the Mayor’s consensus on transit and land use, and defers to SDOT on service allocation policy (a good thing).

We’re concerned, based on past form, that Harrell may be telling us what we want to hear, so it’s a shame his main opponent, Tammy Morales, has some unsound transit ideas. Her answer to the station access problem is public park & rides and circulator routes — an expensive waste of land and a discredited planning idea, respectively.

District 3 Pamela BanksPamela Banks is the best of a weak field in District 3. She seems the most welcoming of density’s benefits and supports focusing resources in certain bus corridors.  On the subject of parking, she had the interesting idea of a city inventory of loading zones and looked favorably upon Portland’s approach to expanding paid parking hours in entertainment districts, while at the same time expressing unfortunate skepticism about the merits of lowering parking minimums.  Finally, her experience as a liaison to the Mayor’s office during Central Link construction gave her a unique insight into how to make capital investments that are sensitive to surrounding communities, a skill that will be in demand if ST3 passes next fall.

Rob JohnsonDistrict 4: Rob Johnsonlongtime friend of the blog, is absolutely committed to transportation projects that provide alternatives to driving alone and has earned our endorsement. He understands the macro-implications of micro-decisions about pedestrian access and parking concessions. He understands that a denser city is both necessary and desirable, and is willing to subordinate other goals to that imperative. He understands the details and can therefore check on implementation. Importantly, we are confident he can turn principles into policy given his excellent working relationships with most regional transportation leaders.

Among his opponents, Michael Maddux is a great candidate who is unfortunately running against the very best. We’re skeptical of his call for agency consolidation, and he doesn’t quite have Johnson’s command of transportation detail, but these are nitpicks. We wish he were running in a different race. Jean Godden has a poor record on the council and is out of touch with the dense-living, transit-riding generation.

District 5:  Mercedes ElizaldeMercedes Elizalde was the best of a surprisingly strong District 5 field. She embraces density, including market-rate, and understands that commercial activity makes places vibrant. Her position as a nonprofit developer helps her understand its implementation details, crucial for a regulator. We asked almost every candidate about their bus service allocation principles, and Elizalde was the only one who emphasized transit should serve density, existing and planned. It was the best answer in any race.

Mike O'BrienDistrict 6: Mike O’Brien has been an urbanist favorite on transportation and land use for his entire political career. He is a deep thinker on transit issues, a good presence on the Sound Transit board, and willing to stand up to the SOV lobby to allow others to safely share the road. On land use, we are increasingly concerned about his statements about preserving the ‘character’ of single-family neighborhoods and opposing additional density there. Also troublesome are recent gestures toward needlessly restricting the number of units, or paying for affordable housing by adding costs to new housing supply.

Sally BagshawDistrict 7: Sally Bagshaw has been a reliable vote for transit projects and has a welcoming attitude to growth.

“District” 8 (at-large) Tim BurgessTim Burgess may be the purest urbanist of the 47 candidates this cycle: he seems to take it personally when Seattle misses an opportunity for more dense housing and workplaces. He unequivocally supports the great transportation and housing initiatives moving forward today. He even talked in depth about Donald Shoup in our endorsement interview, a detail that set our hearts aflutter.

Among his opponents, John Roderick, a very promising newcomer, has the right values for the city council. He would be an easy pick if he’d been in a number of other races. We’d like to see him further develop his policy preferences in the space between measures currently close to the ballot and aggressive rail plans that are unworkable in the near to medium term. Jon Grant is deeply skeptical of the market-rate development that is the broadest component of any plausible solution to the housing shortage.

Lorena Gonzalez“District” 9 (at-large) Lorena Gonzalez is a middle-of-the-pack candidate on our issues. She supports the excellent Move Seattle and HALA proposals. She also happens to be running against the worst of the serious council contenders. Bill Bradburd is a leader of the reactionary anti-development activists, eager to pull up the drawbridge to newcomers, and opposed to Mayor Murray’s sensible proposals on both transportation and housing.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White, with valued input from the rest of the staff. Special thanks to Zach Shaner and Erica C. Barnett, especially, for their help with this process.

Five Shorter-term Transit Fixes for South Lake Union

SLU Mobility Plan
SLU Mobility Plan

Last week I suggested that we might connect South Lake Union and First Hill to the light rail system with a couple of short tunnel extensions as part of ST3, as a pragmatic way of getting these neighborhoods connected in the medium term.

In the short term, though, traffic is terrible in South Lake Union, and buses are stuck in it.  Amazon continues to offer a private shuttle between the DSTT and its campus, suggesting that the Seattle Streetcar (which Amazon itself is helping to fund!), in its current incarnation, is inadequate.

So, for those of you who might be new arrivals to the neighborhood, let’s talk about what is being done, and what can be done, to improve the situation in the near term.

First, as we’ve previously discussed, there are the proposed Westlake transit lanes, which would speed up the Streetcar, Route 40, and RapidRide.

Second, there’s the Center City Connector, which would theoretically make the streetcar more useful by extending it to Pioneer Square.  Maybe that gets you a few SLU more workers who live at, say, Harbor Steps, but they’re probably using transit or walking to work already.  Ditto for ferry commuters. Still, a small improvement.

Third, Metro is proposing a set of service improvements as part of the U-Link restructures.  Route 8 and Route 70 would get improved frequencies during peak commute hours, and revised routes 16, 64, and 66 would provide more connectivity into the neighborhood.  If the restructure goes through, many more Northeast Seattle commuters will have a nice 1-seat express ride into the heart of SLU.

Fourth, if Bertha ever finishes her job (new date: 2018), the 8 could get re-routed off of Denny and on to Harrison, which would greatly improve its reliability.  That’s the vision that’s being pushed by the SLU Community Council (above).  Between that and Zach’s idea for routing I-5-bound cars off Denny, the 8 could actually be somewhat reliable.

And finally, the Move Seattle levy, should it pass, would fund high-capacity transit on Roosevelt-Eastlake, which will provide access into SLU as well.

These steps will improve mobility into and around South Lake Union, though significant gaps will remain. Most suburban express buses, for example, still serve “old” downtown only.  Even when the 520 bridge is complete, buses coming from the Eastside will miss Mercer St. and exit at Stewart St. instead (Metro considers it too dangerous to have a bus cross 4 lanes of traffic to get from 520 to Mercer St. in a very short stretch of highway).

If you’re coming into Seattle from the suburbs, the answer for the foreseeable future is to go to Westlake or UW and transfer to a bus or possibly streetcar. For reverse commuters who live in SLU and commute to the Eastside, UW is your best bet since Seattle-Bellevue buses will also be unable to use the peak-direction HOV lanes to get between downtown and the 520 bridge (a smart State Senator named Ed Murray was making noise about bad 520 HOW access many years ago).  Once East Link opens in 2023, Transferring at Westlake will also be an option. Either way, the transfers will need to be fast, frequent, and reliable.

If none of the above are sufficient, we can always try alternating license plates, I guess.

Link Excuse of the Week: ADA Is Having a Birthday Party @ Westlake Wednesday Afternoon

It is almost 25 years to the day since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Fans of the ADA are throwing a big birthday party a few days early. So, where better to throw that party than Westlake Park, right next to Westlake Station? And when better to throw that party than 4-6 pm in the middle of rush hour on a Wednesday afternoon?

Downtown traffic is expected to be significantly impacted, so Link Light Rail, or any of the tunnel buses (41, 71, 72, 73, 74 – outbound only, 76 – outbound only, 77 – outbound only, 101, 102 – outbound only, 106, 150, 216 – outbound only, 218 – outbound only, 219 – outbound only, 255, 316 – outbound only, and ST Express 550), are your best bet for getting in and out of downtown quickly. There will also be shuttles to and from Westlake.

King County Metro has an accessibility map of downtown you may wish to peruse ahead of time. (Hint: It is not seamless.)

You can peruse past light rail excuses of the week here.

Is Gov. Inslee Getting Ready to Swallow the Poison Pill?

Gov. Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee

When the transportation deal passed, the Republicans inserted a “poison pill,” which will redirect $700M in statewide multimodal money to highway funds if the governor enacts a low-carbon fuel standard.  At the time, the Governor said he would accept the poison pills as part of the deal, and I think many of us assumed that that would be that: the low-carbon fuel standard was dead. As Jim Brunner reports in the Times today, the Governor is actively mulling taking the pill and enacting the fuel standard anyway:

[Sen. Doug] Ericksen, who voted against the gas-tax package, argues Inslee outplayed Republicans on the transportation deal.

He said Inslee used the threat of a clean-fuel rule — which he believes was a tenuous proposition that would have faced legal challenges — to win full Sound Transit authorization.

“He was able to use a weak hand and trade it for Sound Transit funding. That was the brilliant part,” Ericksen said.

Despite the poison-pill, Inslee’s office has signaled he is still considering moving ahead on a low-carbon fuel standard. While that would trigger a shift in transit money, Inslee and his allies could gamble on a fight to restore the funding in a subsequent legislative session.

The governor appears eager to show his environmental bona fides, and, having secured the full $15B authorization for ST3, feels that he can take a hit on pedestrian safety and mass transit projects.  From what I’ve heard, the Governor is seriously considering moving forward.  Climate activist Patrick Mazza echoes this sentiment on his blog, adding in the political calculus:

Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost.  A state government contact confirmed that staff is running numbers. And since this is only the first years of a transportation package that runs through 2031, the governor may also calculate that these losses could be reversed in future legislative sessions.  The Democrats hope to re-capture the State Senate with presidential year turnout in 2016.

I’ve known Inslee for a number of years.  Based on that my gut says he is preparing to pull the trigger to implement Clean Fuels.

Washington is the only West Coast holdout in a low-carbon agreement that includes California, Oregon, and BC.  If enacted, multimodal (e.g. transit, bikes, pedestrian) money would be transferred to the state’s Connecting Washington account, per the terms of the deal, to be spent on roads.

So what would actually happen if Washington implements a low-carbon fuel standard? There are two funds which would lose revenue streams under the “poison pill”, both detailed in SB 5987. The poison pill would redirect funding from the multimodal transportation account and the highway safety account to the Connecting Washington Account, which is administered by WSDOT for highway work, if a low-carbon fuel standard is enacted before July 1, 2023.

Section 202 of SB 5987 would redirect revenue from the motor vehicle weight fee and motor home weight fee, amounting to ca. $62M per year, which currently goes to the multimodal transportation account. This is the only source of funds that would be redirected from multimodal transportation purposes. The multimodal account also gets funding from rental car sales tax amounting to ca. $29M per year, the motor vehicle retail sales and use tax amounting to ca. $40M per year, and vehicle certificate of ownership application fees amounting to ca. $10M per year. These latter three sources of funding for the multimodal account are not touched by the poison pill, and collectively add up to more than the redirected funds, so a majority of multimodal funding will remain intact.

Sections. 206, 207, and 209 would redirect fees for commercial learning permits, commercial drivers’ license skills tests, and non-citizen drivers’ licenses and ID cards from the highway safety fund, amounting to what appears to be a diversion of ca. $8M per year. Given that the only strictures on Connecting Washington Account funds are that they must be spent only upon appropriations by the legislature, they cannot be spent on the SR 99 viaduct replacement project, and they have to be spent on highway purposes, it is unclear whether any programs in the highway safety fund would be seriously impacted.

Importantly, ST3 isn’t touched by the poison pill. There were other hard-to-swallow trade-offs, of course, but no money under threat of being diverted to the Connecting Washington Account.

Thanks to Brent White for contributing to this post.