September 7 (Labor Day) Reduced Transit Service

Bumbershoot 2015

Monday, September 7 is Labor Day.

King County Metro, Link Light Rail, Sound Transit Express, the Tacoma Link Streetcar, the South Lake Union Streetcar, the West Seattle Water Taxi, Pierce Transit, Community Transit local buses, Intercity Transit, and Everett Transit will be running on their Sunday schedules.

Sounder, the Tacoma Link streetcar, the Vashon Water Taxi, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit commuter buses, Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Whatcom Transit, Mason Transit, Jefferson Transit, Clallam Transit, Grays Harbor Transit, and Twin Transit will not be in service.

The Seattle Center Monorail will run 8:30 am – midnight Saturday, August 5 through Labor Day, in support of the huge crowds expected for Bumbershoot.

For Washington State Ferries, check the info on your specific route.

Fairview & Virginia: New Transit Pathways for SLU?

Virginia at 8th Avenue, turning from two-way into one-way. Time for a contraflow transit lane?
Virginia at 8th Avenue, turning from two-way into one-way. Time for a contraflow transit lane?

Amid the general hand-wringing about growth in Seattle lately – be it from Danny Westneat, Crosscut, or innumerable KUOW radio hours – there has been no shortage of discussion about the relative lack of transit service in South Lake Union. A combination of fewer transit options, abundant parking, and an affluent workforce have yielded a drive-alone rate in SLU (46%) that is more than double that of the traditional downtown core (22%). Though no one would argue that transit has kept up with growth, our agencies are working hard to catch up, with many potential projects to address the problem:

Aside from an ST3-funded subway – a line at least 15 years away if all goes well – the good projects above still generally tinker around the margins while continuing to treat SLU as a peripheral neighborhood. But SLU deserves transit service befitting what it has become, which is the northern half of Downtown. That means a lot of peak bus service, at least until 2023.

But if you look at the current peak network operated by Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit, you could be forgiven for thinking that the respective agencies still view SLU primarily as layover space for buses. Aside from Route 309, the closest any I-5 buses get to SLU is the view they get from I-5 while slogging towards Stewart Street. From the south, it’s much the same, with all routes petering out in Belltown or Denny Triangle and either deadheading back to base or laying over. From the eastside, the 554’s routing is particularly disappointing, with the last stop on 4th/Lenora in Belltown, from which it then deadheads into SLU to layover. Despite all the growth, the peak network still acts as though Downtown ends at Stewart. And of course, Mercer Street has no transit at all.

A perfect storm is brewing, with massive growth in north Downtown and SLU, Convention Place likely closing a couple years early, ever fewer buses in the tunnel, too few Link vehicles to mitigate lost tunnel capacity, and progressively degraded surface transit pathways. We need more transit, and we need more surface right-of-way (ROW), especially in booming Denny Triangle and SLU. Fortunately, these two neighborhoods have two wide arterials that are not choked with traffic, have a direct connection to the I-5 express lanes, and could have a relatively uncongested pathway into Downtown: Fairview and Virginia.

A proposal:

  • Shift most non-SR 520 peak service away from Stewart/Olive/Howell to Fairview/Virginia, drawn from the following routes:
    • Metro Routes 74, 76, 77, 111, 114, 157, 158, 159, 177, 178, 190, 192, 301, 304, 312, 316, 355
    • Community Transit routes 402, 405, 410, 413, 415, 416, 417, 421, 422, and 425
    • Sound Transit Routes 510, 511, 512, 513, 554, 577, 578, 590, 592, 594, and 595
  • Add two-way bus lanes on Fairview between Mercer and Denny
  • Add two-way bus lanes on Virginia, including a contraflow bus lane between 2nd-8th
  • Add a bus-only turn lane from northbound Fairview to the Mercer on-ramp
  • Add a bus-only turn lane from the Mercer off-ramp to southbound Fairview
  • Make the Mercer off-ramp from the express lanes HOV/Transit only
  • Remove the bus-only lane on Howell Street

Here’s how it could work.

Continue reading “Fairview & Virginia: New Transit Pathways for SLU?”

Leaving Out Duplexes Leaves Out Large Families

Mount Pleasant Historic District

As supply-and-demand skeptics are fond of pointing out, real estate is not an undifferentiated commodity, but in fact is a variety of products tailored to a wide range of tastes and requirements. One of the more difficult customers to serve under current urban market conditions is large households, in the most conventional case families with multiple children. As Josh Feit argued a few years ago, failing to do so is not only a tragedy for those families, but also for the city as a whole.

The housing shortage cuts across all parts of the market, but it’s hardest to see a simple solution for large households. In multifamily zones, market-rate development scarcely builds any 2-bedroom units, and 3 bedrooms or more are rare indeed: only 2% of multifamily units in 2009. Some households will win the public housing lottery, but everyone else will bid up the existing single-family stock, a stock that is fixed by simple geometry and the urban growth boundary.

There are denser housing forms that can easily tolerate larger households, like townhomes, row homes, duplexes, and triplexes. All of these tend to larger unit sizes and often include a yard that many might consider important for children. The buildable land in multifamily zones, already inadequate to meet multifamily demand, is likely too precious for much of this construction. That’s why the HALA plan opening up single family zones was the best chance to prevent them from becoming (remaining?) economically exclusive communities.

Council Candidate Lisa Herbold argues that flexibility in single family zones will threaten displacement from affordable single family homes. But current law doesn’t prevent a landlord from renovating or rebuilding a single-family home to be more valuable and displacing the tenant. When this redevelopment occurs, the only difference between the law allowing a triplex and demanding a single home is that it forces two additional households out of Seattle. Whatever compassion we feel for displaced households should also extend to those who never get to live in our city in the first place, solely due to arbitrary regulations.

The HALA plan, if enacted, will do a lot to meet some (but not nearly all) of the demand for housing in Seattle. But the missing HALA upzone creates a hole that tomorrow’s large families will slip through.

O’Brien Amendment Sidesteps HALA to Add Months to Small Projects

Image via Division Ave blog.

Last week, after residents in his new council district protested a new live-work development in Ballard, city council member Mike O’Brien took the unusual step of slipping a new design review mandate into an otherwise standard-issue omnibus cleanup bill. The change O’Brien made would require design review–a process that can add more than a year to a project timeline–when the combined development proposals on two adjacent lots exceed the maximum for a single lot according to the city’s design review standards. In low-rise zones, which is where the change is targeted, that means that two adjacent lots under development can’t exceed eight units total. That design-review trigger applies even if two adjacent lots are being developed by different builders; more than eight, and you’re looking at an automatic, time-consuming design review.

The amendment, which O’Brien acknowledges was unorthodox, was intended to address developments like the controversial townhouses going in at 71st and Division in Ballard, where six live/work units will replace a single-family home that sat astride two historic lots; in that case, the developer took advantage of an old lot line that hadn’t been used in decades to build three units per lot.

But the change will have sweeping implications for development potential on smaller lots across the city. O’Brien says the new requirement is “intended to address instances where a developer in a low-rise or neighborhood commercial zone will break a project up into a couple of different projects to avoid going through design review.” O’Brien acknowledges that the city already has plans to overhaul the design review process next year, but says that in the meantime, “we’re going to continue to set rules that are going to allow more and more people to live in Seattle, but there’s got to be an expectation that when we set those rules, they are going to be followed.”

Bruce Harrell, who proposed an unsuccessful amendment stripping the design review changes from the omnibus bill, said at last week’s meeting that although “Council Member O’Brien and the [Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability] committee had some good intentions in mind to protect neighbors from developers circumventing the system and using what could be called loopholes and that kind of thing … I just think it’s a little dangerous to do a one-off in the omnibus legislation,” especially when the HALA committee already plans to take up design review next year.

Continue reading “O’Brien Amendment Sidesteps HALA to Add Months to Small Projects”

Sound Transit Board Meeting Liveblog: What Will Survive for ST3?

If all goes well, by 4:30pm today we’ll know what will be considered for an ST3 package.  The Board will be deliberating the Priority Projects List that, if approved, would direct ST staff to study each project for cost, ridership, etc for inclusion in the System Plan and the eventual ballot measure. Like a cut in a round of golf, today’s motion will be exclusionary, eliminating non-listed projects from further consideration, while not revealing much about the eventual projects that will make it all the way through to ST3. With specific projects in each subarea, this list is what will kickoff what’s sure to be a an intense and earnest 1.5 years of debate, compromise, and horse trading.

Though the Priority Projects List is one of the last items on the Board’s agenda, we’ll be liveblogging throughout the meeting as other items of interest arise, including ST’s Transit Development Plan, a Tacoma Trestle Project update, approval of a small ($1.5M) cost increase for Capitol Hill Station work, and authorizing the construction contract for the Point Defiance Bypass.

Watch the video above beginning at 1:30pm, or follow along on Twitter. As soon as the meeting begins, we’ll post the Priority Project List for your perusal.

1:35 The meeting has begun. Here is the ST3 Priority Project List that the Board will be deliberating today.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Board Meeting Liveblog: What Will Survive for ST3?”

ST3 Should Include BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor

By Jay Arnold

Kirkland Councilmember Jay Arnold (King County photo)
Kirkland Councilmember Jay Arnold (King County photo)

Later this afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will begin to define the ST3 package by determining their priority project list (PPL). As the project list gets narrowed, Sound Transit board members have an opportunity to be responsive to feedback from open houses and community outreach, provide meaningful transportation options for areas of dramatic growth, and create an ST3 package that has the best chance to be successful at the ballot in 2016.

Kirkland is in the middle of this dramatic growth. With over 82,000 residents, we are a smart-growth city that has already planned for transit-oriented development. Over the past decade, we have zoned for dense commercial and residential development, and are now seeing explosive growth with thousands of new multi-family units in the pipeline and thousands of new high-tech jobs in our downtown and Totem Lake urban center. Now, we need the transit.

Sound Transit’s draft priority project list (updated 6/9)  includes bus rapid transit (BRT) from Lynnwood to SeaTac along the I-405 corridor. This recognizes the need to connect cities among the Eastside and provides nearby access to East Link rail in Bellevue. The BRT leverages expansion of HOV/managed access lanes on I-405, direct access ramps in Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland, and existing park and rides adjacent to I-405. In Kirkland, Sound Transit envisions park & ride expansion and potential garage construction at Houghton Park & Ride, Kirkland downtown and Totem Lake.

The I-405 BRT line can be vastly improved by taking advantage of opportunities to eliminate the car-dependent focus for the last mile. Instead of just connecting cities on a map, Sound Transit should connect places using the Eastside Rail Corridor and allow more riders to get directly to their destinations.

In Kirkland, Bus Rapid Transit along the corridor would:

Continue reading “ST3 Should Include BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor”

Metro Sends Final U-Link Plan to Council

Late yesterday afternoon, Metro transmitted to the King County Council a proposed ordinance including a final U-Link restructure proposal, along with a few other changes also scheduled for March 2016.  Executive Constantine issued a press release summarizing the proposed changes.  UPDATE:  Councilmember Larry Phillips has introduced the changes as two separate ordinances.  2015-0350 covers the changes related to U-Link, while 2015-0349 covers the RapidRide C/D split and other miscellaneous changes.

There are some important differences between the final proposal and Metro’s last proposal, which we covered in March.  But the basic idea is the same.  In Northeast Seattle, Metro is proposing a major restructuring that would double frequency on almost all of the area’s all-day routes, and add some new coverage, in exchange for requiring some off-peak riders to transfer to Link or another bus to go downtown.  In Capitol Hill, Metro is proposing a less extensive set of changes mainly intended to improve frequency and reliability on busy routes and connect more areas to Capitol Hill Station.  As with the March proposal, there are almost no changes to SR 520 service, although Metro’s Victor Obeso said yesterday that proposals for SR 520 are likely to be reintroduced later in an Eastside-specific process.

"The report of my death was an exaggeration." Photo by SounderBruce.
“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Photo by SounderBruce.

I and the STB staff I’ve talked to are extremely happy about the Northeast Seattle proposals in particular, because they would profoundly improve all-direction mobility in a part of the city where the bus network is decades old and built around infrequent rides to just two destinations.  I see this ordinance as the best opportunity the Council has had in years to improve the usability of Seattle’s transit network, and urge the Council as strongly as I can to pass it.

Details of the proposals below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Sends Final U-Link Plan to Council”

Editorial: Our Recommended Changes to the ST3 PPL

The Sound Transit Board is poised to finalize the ST3 Priority Project List (PPL) on Thursday. When creating a ballot measure in 2016, the Board will draw from the PPL, and only from the PPL. While alignment and station details are not final at this stage, the importance of this list is obvious.

The Seattle Transit Blog Board recommends that Sound Transit make the following changes to the draft PPL. We understand that many tough choices are ahead, but Sound Transit should work from the best project list it can. We believe the changes below will help get there.

  • Add BRT along the ERC from Totem Lake to Bellevue/Seattle: The PPL includes a range of investment for most corridors, including at-grade, elevated, or tunneled alignments. Oddly, BRT along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) is not in the PPL despite clear requests for its addition by the City of Kirkland. ST’s study shows that BRT has the same ridership as Link in the same corridor for less cost. Moreover, buses will have an easier time leaving the ERC where it misses key population centers. This project should include both the purple and blue lines from BRISK.
  • Add Bellevue College Connector and NE 6th Street Projects: These projects provide critical building blocks for a more efficient and integrated transit system. Sound Transit shouldn’t be the sole financier of these projects — the City of Bellevue and Metro need to share responsibility — but Sound Transit has a role in access to HCT, and ought to contribute.
  • Add a Center Platform at International District-Chinatown Station: Adding a center platform will allow for easy “cross-platform” transfers between Central Link and East Link. It may even increase the LRT system’s eventual maximum peak throughput capacity. Now is the time to fix this issue. ST engineers insist they need a turnback track there. We believe that is the poorest use of that valuable space, and that wyes would be both faster and avoid single points of failure for the system.
  • Expand the Scope of the Northern Lake HCT Study: While this study will provide valuable information for a possible ST4/5, we believe it should expand to look at near- and mid-term improvements to cross-lake travel. This would include UW Station bus-rail integration, SR 520 HOV improvements, and an SR 520-to-SLU transit pathway. These additions will go a long way to ensure this study provides near-term benefits.
  • Add BRT from UW to Redmond: Route 545 is Sound Transit’s second-highest-ridership express route, yet there are no improvements to it in the PPL. The PPL includes improvements to other high ridership routes like routes 512, 522 and 554. Sound Transit needs to do right by the riders that pack route 545 (542 in the future) and identify BRT-level improvements, especially since route 542 will continue to be time competitive with East Link during non-peak periods.
  • Remove LRT from Lynnwood TC to Everett Station via Southwest Everett Industrial Center: While the Board has different priorities than us when it comes to Link’s routing, and the City of Everett’s input is not helpful, the Paine Field alignment has self-evident critical flaws. Paine Field produces no net gain in riders over an I-5/SR99 alignment, for $200m-300m in added cost, while even the SR99 alignment will challenge Snohomish County’s fiscal capacity. Although there are many jobs at Paine Field both today and in the future, for many different employers, they will be scattered over a wide area and will require connecting buses to serve them anyway. Those connecting buses may as well come from an SR99 station as one on- site. We believe that Swift II would be an appropriate alternate investment, with CT participation, for a quality connection between Paine Field employers and the Link system.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.

What Pierce County Cities Want in ST3

DuPont Station (Atomic Taco – Flickr)
DuPont Station (Atomic Taco – Flickr)

Today we wrap up our roundup of institutional comment on ST3 projects by looking at Pierce County cities. Many Pierce County cities within Sound Transit’s taxing district did not submit letters, including Bonney Lake, DuPont, Ruston, Fircrest, Steilacoom, Milton, Edgewood, and believe it or not, Tacoma. ST did receive letters from Fife, Lakewood, Orting, Puyallup, Sumner, and University Place, and their responses are briefly detailed below.

Fife: Fife’s brief letter asked for an extension of Link from Federal Way to Tacoma along an SR 99 alignment, with a station in the vicinity of 15th Street E and 54th Avenue E, a block north of SR 99 in the heart of the planned Fife City Center. “Our preference for this alignment is for a light rail station to maximize ridership and benefit the City. (A light rail station located along the I-5 corridor would minimize the station’s ridership.)”

Lakewood: Lakewood began their letter by noting their opinion that, “The initial work of the Seattle and King County Corridor has been completed. It is now time to expand transportation projects elsewhere.” (I guess I missed the memo where we finished all of Seattle and King County’s transit needs?) Mayor Don Anderson then goes on to request 4 specific projects for Lakewood:

  • Sounder extension to Dupont, with an additional station in Tillicum.
  • Greater span of service on Sounder in Lakewood, which currently only operates unidirectionally with 4:41-6:46am departures to Seattle, and 5:25pm-7:25pm arrivals from Seattle.
  • BRT in lieu of Link from Tacoma to the Tillicum Sounder Station along South Tacoma Way and Pacific Highway South.
  • Use ST3 funds to transfer maintenance and security costs at Lakewood Station from the city to Sound Transit.

Orting: Orting’s one-paragraph letter asked for a Sounder spur line from either Puyallup or Sumner to the McMillin Industrial Park just north of Orting, along existing but abandoned trackage adjacent to the Foothills Trail.

Puyallup: Perhaps surprisingly, Puyallup’s letter never mentions the word ‘parking’, perhaps because so much of that work will have been completed under ST2 Station Access funds. Instead, Puyallup requested inclusion of 8-car Sounder trains, more Sounder service, and BRT from both Puyallup to Graham (via SR 161 and South Hill) and Orting to Sumner (via SR 162).

Sumner: Like Orting, Sumner asked for a Sounder spur to the McMillin area of Orting and for development of “satellite options to take the strain off Sumner.” The letter had a folksy, hyperbolic tone, “Families come here on a Saturday or Sunday, fall in love with the beautiful area, buy an affordable home, and intend to keep their jobs in Seattle…not realizing the traffic chokehold on SR 162 and all our highways… SR162 is already a parking lot with more houses being built off it every day…please include a plan to use existing…operational track to use train service. The highway is already so far beyond capacity that a bus would only get stuck.”

University Place: UP’s straightforward letter supported Link as far as Tacoma Dome (but not Tacoma Mall), as well as a Tacoma Link extension to Tacoma Community College.

For previous entries in this series, see our articles for Seattle, South King County, East King County, North King County (except Seattle), and Snohomish County.

North King Cities Focus on Three Points for ST3

North 145th St, Shoreline (Google Street View)
North 145th St, Shoreline (Google Street View)

In the institutional comment on Sound Transit 3 (ST3) from King County cities north of Lake Washington, the “522 Transit Now” coalition effectively rallied cities, the legislative delegation, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, universities, and private citizens around three requirements:

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on SR 523 (N 145th St.) to connect the cities of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Bothell, and Kenmore to the light rail station.
  • BRT on SR522 towards downtown, and planning for light rail on that corridor in the future.
  • Structured parking on SR522, especially in the town centers of Bothell, Kenmore, and Lake Forest Park. The Lake Forest Park letter highlights the walkability challenges due to “natural features [that] prevent gridded streets” as a driver of parking demand.

These three points are strikingly consistent in almost all letters to Sound Transit from these areas.

Shoreline requested 10 minute and 15 minute headways in the peak and all-day, respectively. It says that although “Shoreline currently has no official ownership” of 145th, “it is willing to address access problems” to make the Link station successful. Multiple letters talked about transit lanes and other speed and reliability improvements. Encouragingly, the joint letter from all four cities (p.102) says HCT is important to “provide diverse opportunities for people to live without cars.”

Somewhat late in the game, these areas have figured out that organizing is the key to gaining priority at Sound Transit. Although park-and-rides aren’t as cost-effective per rider as other projects, the BRT proposals are quite worthy. Unfortunately, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, and all of SR523 are in the North King subarea. To the extent that Sound Transit adheres to subarea equity, many of these projects will be stacked against some of the most coveted and most expensive projects in the entire ST3 package.

What Snohomish County Wants in ST3

Everett’s Proposed Alignment

In the ST3 project list comments, Edmonds, Everett, Mountlake Terrace, Snohomish County, and Community Transit all sent their input. Here the key headlines:

Everyone Wants the Spine. All the letters cited extending light rail to Everett as a top priority, and both Lynnwood and Everett expressed a preference for service to the 55,000 jobs at Paine Field. The County supported Paine Field but hedged a bit, suggesting alternate options and alignments “should be retained… until funding and financing options are determined.”

Lynnwood and Everett also emphasized the extension beyond Everett Station to North Everett to access Everett Community College, Providence Regional Medical Center, and other educational institutions.

Interestingly, Lynnwood was articulate about all of these requests, suggesting perceived reverse-peak demand. It cited the jobs at Paine Field, potential commercial flights, and a plausible location for a maintenance facility as discriminators for the Paine Field alignment.

Lynnwood Embraces Urbanism. Lynnwood asked for three more stations: City Center, Alderwood, and Ash Way*. Encouragingly, for the first two the letter states that “Little or no on-site parking would be needed or even desirable” because the city prefers walkability, transit access, and to “increase development density.”

Everett Doesn’t. Everett’s letter announced it “does not support and will oppose” an SR 99 alignment because Swift already serves it, and SR 99 is a “fully developed, long-standing commercial center,” instead favoring an alignment that mostly hugs freeways. That they would consider Evergreen Way a finished product is, frankly, astounding in 2015.

Continue reading “What Snohomish County Wants in ST3”

Everett Transit Service Change Tomorrow

ET7Everett Transit, the aunt-who-moved-to-Florida-before-you-were-born member of the Seattle Transit family has it’s fall service change tomorrow, August 23rd. I’ve only used ET about a dozen times so cannot comment much on the particulars, but I would like to praise the underlying philosophy of the changes. Unproductive tails, trips and routes are being cut with the hours reinvested in core service. In fact Everett Transit will now have its first all day (well 8 am to 6 pm) 15 minute frequency route after this shakeup (Route 7). Bravo!

Service Change: Effective August 23, 2015

Changes include:
Route 7 – frequency is increased weekdays and Saturday, added trips
Routes 4, 5 – schedule changes and added trips
Routes 2, 5, 12, 17 – select trips eliminated
Route 18 – added trips
Route 701 – route eliminated
Route 3 – View Ridge loop eliminated
Route 17 – Mobile Country Club loop eliminated

Holiday service is restored on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, reduced on Day after Thanksgiving.

Here is a link to the new schedule book.

Don’t Listen to the Times: East Link Will Be Safe

East Link and I-90
East Link and I-90

Over the weekend Mike Lindblom had an in depth piece discussing East Link’s need for an additional $20m for engineering the I-90 bridge section of East Link, the world’s first floating bridge featuring rail transit. The contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff will be expanded – from $36M to $56M – to solve the final 8 (of 23) technical issues that WSDOT raised in a 2008 letter. The $20M will be paid out of $97M in unspent surplus engineering funds at Sound Transit’s disposal.

While there was some disappointment on the Board at the additional cost, and some admittal of inefficient workflows and delayed problem solving of some East Link’s unique challenges, there is no scandal here. ST is spending 21% of a reserve fund, for a total that amounts to 0.7% of the project budget, to take a conservative approach and ensure due diligence on the safety of the design. It’s an entirely sensible course to take, and indeed the scandal would be if they failed to spend the necessary funds to ensure the safety of the project.

BlethenBut while Lindblom’s reliably even-handed and fact filled article only once descended into sensationalism – painting a scene of a derailed train joining the fossil forest at the bottom of Lake Washington – Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen responded to the news of the $20M addition by stoking inaccurate fears about the East Link project. In a series of tweets last Saturday, Blethen’s accused Sound Transit of incompetence and implored future East Link riders to ‘carry a life jacket’.

To hear more about the bridge design, I attended a Sound Transit presentation to the Citizens Oversight Panel on Thursday about the interface between the bridge deck and the rails. I came away with the impression that, if anything, Sound Transit is being excessively conservative with their failure thresholds for the bridge design, giving me more confidence than ever in East Link’s safety.

Back in 2009, in order to reduce risk to the bridge deck and extend its useful life, an Independent Review Team asked Sound Transit to minimize any drilling or penetration of the bridge deck when securing the concrete blocks used in lieu of rail ties, and WSDOT later went on to ask them to eliminate drilling entirely if possible. So Sound Transit went back and successfully tested securing lighter weight concrete blocks (125lb per cu. ft. instead of the standard 150lb) with epoxy, and by all accounts those tests went swimmingly well. Prior to reinforcement, the concrete only cracked at 200% of its max design load, yet ST still decided to add circumreferential rebar to strengthen it further (obtaining about 400% above the design load). The threshold for failure is now so high that the rails and the clips that attach them would twist off well before the concrete itself would fail, which wouldn’t occur even if you ran freight trains on East Link in a severe windstorm. This is massive redundancy.

In addition, fears about uncaptured electrical current – causing corrosion in the obviously wet environment of a lake bridge – have likewise been solved. ST has tested and proven a wet system that meets WSDOT requirements on the floating structure, which is 5-10x the normal resistance required in other systems when they are dry.

So while the engineering is impressive and difficult, it’s well within our capabilities. In any case, while it is theoretically possible that some yet unseen engineering hurdle could scuttle the project, the likelihood of Sound Transit attempting to operate an unsafe system is effectively zero. Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray told me afterward that, “It is not a question of if we can do it, it’s a matter of how soon can we get started.”  You can leave the lifejacket at home.

Let’s Bring Back the Employee Hours Tax, and Make it Good This Time

RapidRide bus (6051) on a non RapidRide route

Seattle’s transit infrastructure is years behind what it should be to accommodate current ridership, let alone the thousand or more human beings sinking roots in our city every month. The Move Seattle levy, assuming voters approve it in November, will be a good step forward – but we’ll still be playing catch-up.

What if Seattle had another $20 or $30 million per year to accelerate the build-out of transit corridors and other BRT-related capital projects in the Transit Master Plan, and maybe add more service to boot?

Seattle can make it happen. With a little political will on the part of our City Council, Seattle can generate significant revenue from a progressive and comparatively stable source: a new-and-improved Employee Hours Tax (EHT). Let’s glance over the recent history of this tax before considering how to refashion it for today.

History of the Employee Hours Tax

The Seattle City Council first approved an EHT in 2006, along with a Commercial Parking Tax. Both complemented the Bridging the Gap levy, and were also slated for transportation maintenance and improvements. The EHT required businesses to pay a modest $25 per full-time employee per year, exempting small business and employees who didn’t drive alone to work. Over the 9-year lifespan of the $365 million property tax levy this would have brought in an extra $50 million or so.

In 2009, one year into the Great Recession, the city council repealed the Employee Hours Tax. Although $25 per employee wasn’t enough to actually discourage hiring (Councilmember Tim Burgess call the repeal “somewhat symbolic”), business groups complained the tax was hurting the reputation of Seattle’s business climate. Led by Burgess, then-Councilmember Richard Conlin and then-Mayor Greg Nickels, and despite resistance from sustainability advocates and groups such as Cascade Bicycle Club that saw no reason to forego millions in bike and pedestrian improvements for a symbolic gesture, the city council conceded.

Fast forward to spring 2014, when King County’s Proposition 1 went down in flames. As Seattle prepared to take action to save bus service, Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant teamed up to revive the EHT. Rather than simply rerunning the county’s ballot measure in Seattle, they proposed replacing the regressive sales tax hike with a 5% Commercial Parking Tax increase and an EHT set at a very modest $18 per worker per year, or less than a penny per hour. Interestingly, this EHT was projected to raise $7 million per year, significantly more than the repealed version, which in 2008 generated only $4.5 million. While the Licata-Sawant proposal also exempted small business (up to the current B&O threshold of $100,000), it dropped the exemption for employees who do not drive alone to work. This change wound not only increase revenue but also make the tax significantly easier to administer. In the end, to no one’s surprise, the council rejected the Licata-Sawant proposal 2-6 and Seattle’s Prop 1 went to the ballot in its original form.

Continue reading “Let’s Bring Back the Employee Hours Tax, and Make it Good This Time”

Dissent of the Day

From commenter colorfast in What the Eastside wants from ST3:

Parochialism will smother ST3 in the crib. The notion of restricting expenditures to within arbitrary geographic or jurisdictional boundaries that are invisible to real travel patterns is absurd. ST3 investments need to prioritize serving corridors where the highest travel demand exists today and in the future; these are pretty obvious because there aren’t that many of them.

The whole point of expanding the rail network is to bring higher capacity to the most densely crowded travel corridors. This does two things: it improves the quality of travel in those corridors, and allows the lower capacity mode(s) to increasea/improve/expand the overall network by deploying further afield in greater frequency than is the case absent rail. It also delivers a third benefit: catayzing the land use policy vision underlying GMA.

A regional — not parochial — view is needed to accomplish the right things in ST3. ST and KCM need to sit down and figure out which corridors are ripe for rail in King County and which aren’t, and then demonstrate how the two modes will complement each other in a network that provide intuitive connectivity.


I don’t think [parochialism is] imbedded in ST’s DNA at all. More like a ball & chain. It comes from the local politicans far more than ST. “We want ours and screw everyone else” seems to be the mantra eminating from sub-area transportation forums, with local council types leading the charge. It’s certainly ST’s problem to solve, tho. The basic problem seems to be an inability within this metropolitan area among local pols to view things through the lens of trips people are taking every day rather than brick & mortar facilities located in their boundaries.

What the Eastside Wants in ST3

Riders wait to board ST Express buses at Bellevue's busy downtown transit center
Riders wait to board ST Express buses at Bellevue’s busy downtown transit center

Several Eastside cities (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Kirkland, Renton, Sammamish) submitted a joint interest statement to Sound Transit that lays out a shared vision for the ST3 project list. Each city also submitted comments with respect to their particular interests. The joint interest statement was developed in response to concerns that the draft PPL would serve the Eastside poorly, and that the relatively compact central Eastside needed a more comprehensive vision for regional mobility.

A plan for ST3, the Eastside cities argue, must do the following:

“Fund Eastside needs”: ST3 must fully fund investments necessary to meet Eastside transit needs. This is, of course, a shot across the bow of other regional leaders who have looked at the Eastside’s tax revenues as a funding source for spine expansion. Concerns about subarea equity were loudly voiced in several of the City Council meetings where letters to ST3 were approved.

“Connect regional growth centers within the Eastside”: Two projects are called out here; East Link to Redmond, and light rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah. Obviously, extension of East Link is the Eastside’s highest priority, and quite uncontroversial. BRT should be built between Totem Lake and Issaquah if light rail is beyond the financial capacity of the Eastside. Investments in Regional Express within the Eastside are also called for.

“Connect the Eastside with the region”: Here the cities advocate for strengthened connections with the neighboring subareas, including I-405 BRT and Regional Express. The statement is careful to call out how these are multi-subarea investments, implying that East King should not bear the entire cost of I-405 BRT. With the BRT corridor likely to extend from Lynnwood to Seatac, a large portion now lies outside the East King subarea.

“Provide an integrated regional transit system with access enhancements”: The cities are looking for a regional network that integrates ST rail, BRT, express bus and Metro bus services. They also call for TOD and non-motorized access planning as part of ST3. Performance-based initiatives for more efficient use of parking are supported, adding capacity as needed.

“Support system expansion”: This is a call for planning and studies for future system upgrades (and for ST to plan facilities like OMSF early in the process).

The individual cities submitted their own comments, describing their particular needs in greater detail:

Continue reading “What the Eastside Wants in ST3”

Amtrak Cascades Timetables Have Been Fixed

AmtrakScrewUpJust four days after a slow-news-day Saturday rant about Amtrak Cascades’ illegible timetables, the timetables have been fixed. Amtrak Cascades’ Twitter account sent out the update Wednesday afternoon. They’re still not perfect, as the inclusion of the Empire Builder is useless for trips along the Cascade corridor, and the tables are still very difficult to read on mobile. But the main problem, the backwards timetables reading right-to-left in the Southbound direction, is now fixed.

Score another one for transit blogging creating more urgency than months of public requests getting lost in the bureaucratic ether. Thanks to WSDOT to their attention to this small but important matter.

New Trolleys Hit the Streets Today

Today the first 5 of Metro’s 174 new trolley buses hit the streets. From here on, Metro will steadily roll out 110 of the 40′ coaches, while the 64 articulated 60-foot trolleys are anticipated to start rolling next year. All in all, the entire legacy fleet will be replaced within the next two years.

Metro’s spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok says that for the first 3 days (today through Friday), the trolleys can be spotted in service on Routes 1, 2, 3, 36, and 70, and will thereafter go into general rotation on all trolley routes. If you’re so inclined, please take some photos if you see one in service and add them to our Flickr pool.

These trolleys will be smoother, quieter, and greatly improve the rider experience in ways that really matter. They feature user-initiated back door opening, off-wire capability to detour around obstructions or construction, air conditioning, all low-floor boarding, and more. The days of waiting for the wheelchair lift to go down, while sweltering on a 95° bus, unable to get out the back door without yelling? Soon a distant memory.