Action Alert: Open Houses on Seattle’s Land Use Future Start Tonight

The first of five Seattle 2035 open houses is tonight, and fireworks are expected, as new maps are being rolled out showing the expansion of urban village boundaries.

The hearings are about changes to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, but the zoning changes are likely going to be the most volatile topic.

The open houses are as follows:

Seattle 2035Monday, October 19, 6-8 pm
Miller Community Center
330 19th Ave E
Multipurpose Room
Presentation starts at 6:30 pm.

Thursday, November 5, 6-8 pm
Leif Erikson Hall
2245 NW 57th St
Presentation is at 6:30 pm.

Saturday, November 7, 9 am – noon
Filipino Community Center
5740 MLK Jr Way S
Presentation starts at 10 am.

Thursday, November 12, 6-8 pm
West Seattle Senior Center
4217 SW Oregon St
Hatten Hall
Presentation starts at 6:30 pm.

Saturday, November 14, 9 am – noon
North Seattle College
9600 College Way N
Old Cafeteria
Presentation starts at 10 am.

You can also submit written comments on the future of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan through Friday, November 20.

Developer Taxes and the Minimum Wage

One of the more interesting tensions in the urbanist left is over development taxes. Everyone is looking for a funding source to build subsidized housing, and skimming from developer profits is an attractive possibility. On the other hand, too much taxation will deter development, and exacerbate the housing shortage from the other end of the income spectrum. People who share a wide array of values still manage to fall on all points of this spectrum.

It might be useful to try to understand these differences in the context of another recent local debate, that over raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. There are important similarities in the vocabulary of these discussions. Everyone is for improving the earning power of low-income workers. But if the minimum wage is set too high, it will deter job creation at the bottom. Unhelpfully, the history of almost every debate on regulation and taxes in American history is business owners complaining that change will destroy their business, a claim that usually proves to be heavily exaggerated.

Put that way, the similarities between this tradeoff and the developer tax tradeoff are obvious. One can be forgiven for dismissing protests that development will halt, in the same way the claims about hiring freezes were. As someone who tends toward the skeptical-about-fees side but supported the minimum wage, that’s a bit uncomfortable. But there’s a crucial difference: there’s a third side in the housing debate.

No matter what people thought about the minimum wage, no one was interested in destroying large numbers of jobs. That provided very strong incentives to not overshoot the wage level. Economics research is hard, but there’s a decent body of scholarship on this one-dimensional problem. Unfortunately, in the case of housing there’s a large contingent of people that would be thrilled if development ground to a halt. That utterly transforms the process of finding the optimum tax rate. It’s very easy to intentionally overshoot and cloak oneself in social justice when one’s true intent is to simply preserve neighborhoods in amber.

Now obviously we have no capability to figure out the true motivations of any particular actor. But it does introduce a structural objection to setting up a system where the City Council tries to figure out exactly how much they can extract out of developers before impairing population growth with all the benefits it brings. I find that objection convincing.

Sounder Ridership By Station

6:46 am Sounder at Lakewood Station (photo by the author)
6:46 am Sounder at Lakewood Station (photo by the author)

Since its launch back in 2000, Sounder Commuter Rail has had a split personality, with its South Line widely heralded as a smashing success and its North Line as, at best, a series of disappointments. Except for Tacoma and Lakewood, both lines are considerably faster than their bus counterparts in peak-of-peak, and they scale incredibly well when the demand is there, as the marginal cost of adding railcars is almost nothing as long as platform lengths are sufficient.

But beyond the most commonly reported metrics – riders per train and daily ridership – I thought I’d check in on ridership trends between stations and look at things like average load factor. Who rides from where, and how full are the trains on average, etc? Who rides between intermediate, non-Seattle stations? How many people ride the reverse peak trains?  Charts, data, and commentary after the jump. Continue reading “Sounder Ridership By Station”

News Roundup: Technical Problems

Community Transit 2015 Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 15806

This is an open thread.

STB 2015 General Election Endorsements: Suburban Races

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for selected suburban races in the general election. As always, our endorsements are meant to focus entirely on their transit and land use positions.

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.


Yes on Tacoma Proposition 3 and Proposition A – Much like Move Seattle, Tacoma is going big for infrastructure this November.  Propositions 3 and A would fund $500m in improvements over 10 years, funded by a mix of utility taxes, a property levy, and a 0.1% Transportation Benefit District (TBD) sales tax, while also leveraging state and federal grants. Though using sales tax for roads is regrettable, this measure does not exhaust Tacoma’s TBD authority, leaving room for an additional .1% for transit in a future measure. Moreover, Tacoma needs basic road repair and street upgrades, and the city’s complete streets requirements ensure that rebuilt streets will be better for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders alike. Indeed, 15% of the package is dedicated to bike infrastructure.

Executive Races

MarchioneCity of Redmond Mayor: John Marchione has smartly managed Redmond’s rapid development since his first election as Mayor in 2007, and sits on the Sound Transit Board. His opponent, Steve Fields, is running as a government effectiveness advocate in a campaign that has focused on traffic concerns and the alleged neglect of neighborhoods outside of the growing centers in Downtown and Overlake. While Marchione’s talents and credentials as an advocate for transit and urban development are clear, Fields’ campaign has been oriented toward those who are most uncomfortable with growth.

County Council Races

BalducciKing County Council District No. 6: Claudia Balducci has been an impressive advocate for transit as both a Bellevue Council member and Mayor. She’s a member of the Sound Transit Board and chair of the PSRC Transportation Policy Board. Balducci supported East Link to Bellevue and Redmond, has a deep knowledge of Eastside and regional transit issues, and recently has been an effective voice for the Eastside in shaping ST3. Jane Hague remains skeptical of ST3, emphasizing concerns about taxes and neighborhood impacts. Both have positive records on transit-oriented development.

City Council Races

Continue reading “STB 2015 General Election Endorsements: Suburban Races”

ULink Restructure Goes to Full Council, With Significant Changes

New Route 71, with 30-Minute Service between View Ridge and UW Station
New Route 71, with 30-Minute Service between View Ridge and UW Station

This afternoon the King County Council Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee sent the ULink restructure to the full council without recommendation. The restructure ordinance will now be discussed by the full council, with a probable vote, on Monday, October 19.

Chair Dembowski and Councilmember Phillips introduced an amendment that responds to the bulk of the criticism received from the public, particularly on Routes 43 and 71. The amendment passed unanimously by a 7-0 vote.

The amendment significantly changes the restructure proposal:

  • Retains Route 43, running its full route in both directions during weekday peak periods. So during peak periods, there will be up to 16 buses per hour running between 19th/Thomas and Capitol Hill Station via Routes 8, 11, and 43.
  • Retains Route 71 on weekdays and Saturday, running every 30 minutes between View Ridge, Wedgwood, Ravenna, Roosevelt, the UDistrict, and UW Station via NE 65th St and 15th Ave NE. As a result, proposed Route 78 will not serve View Ridge, but will begin in Laurelhurst instead.
  • Converts Route 373 into a local peak-only route instead of an express route. When Route 373 is running, Route 73 will only run reverse-peak, northbound in the morning and southbound in the afternoon.
  • Moves Route 67 and 73 back to their current routing in the University District, with Route 67 on Roosevelt/11th and Route 73 moving back to The Ave.

There were additional items in the amendment related to continued public outreach and transfer improvement studies. There may be further changes behind the scenes prior to full council consideration on Monday, so stay tuned.

Fixing N 145th St


North 145th Street is a mess.  Providing cross-town auto access to I-5 and SR 522 along Seattle’s northern border, it features very narrow sidewalks, an above-average number of car collisions, and few pedestrian amenities.  To add insult to injury (literally), there are utility poles right smack in the middle of the sidewalk, which itself is right up against the travel lane.  If you don’t have Google Maps handy, just picture 23rd Ave through the Central District, except with 50% more traffic and even less regard for pedestrians.

Oh, and it’s a jurisdictional disaster: King County owns the north side of the street, Seattle owns the south side, and on top of that it’s a state highway so the whole thing is technically WSDOT’s responsibility (Shoreline starts at the North sidewalk).

Due to all these wonderful challenges, many transit advocates pleaded with Sound Transit to locate the light rail stations at 130th and 155th, to minimize I-5 conflicts and provide better bus and pedestrian connections (anyone who’s spent any time in downtown Seattle knows that the cross-streets that don’t connect to I-5 tend to be the most reliable for buses).  In the end, however, 145th won out.

To their credit, the City of Shoreline (having already begun an impressive effort to rezone future station areas), has taken on the unenviable task of trying to herd cats and coordinate ped, bike, and transit improvements to 145th.  The main challenge is the limited right-of-way.  Any significant upgrade will require taking property on either or both sides of the street, up to as much as 41 feet of additional ROW, depending on the concept selected.  Proposed concepts may add some combination of a center turn lane, wider sidewalks, a shared bike/ped trail, and bus lanes.  Concept 3, shown above, would include wider sidewalks and Bus/turn lanes in addition to a center turn lane.

Traffic volumes on 145th were between 26,000 and 32,000 cars, near the upper bound of streets that have received road diets in the recent past.   You can learn more about the various options under consideration at the City of Shoreline’s website. A preferred design will be selected in February.

A Vision for a Comprehensive Regional Bike Trail Network

On the way to Snoqualmie Pass on the Old Milwaukee Road (Photo by the Author)
On the way to Snoqualmie Pass on the Old Milwaukee Road (Photo by the Author)

Here in the Puget Sound region we are blessed with hundreds of miles of regional bike trails, from the paved non-motorized highway of the Burke-Gilman Trail to the smooth dirt of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. But nearly without exception, our trails are a series of disparate pieces. They peter out in random places, their right-of-way subsumed by some long ago development, or they are constructed in torturous phases, waiting for further crumbs to fall from the appropriations table.

But what if they all connected, every last one of them? What if they offered a comprehensive network from Anacortes to Enumclaw, and from Gig Harbor to the Columbia River? We’re closer to this vision than you might think. To qualify, each trail segment could be paved or soft-surface, but the important thing would be to remove discontinuity, detours, or sections in busy traffic.

I’ve put together a draft* of a highly stylized map that weaves together each of the disparate strands into something resembling a seamless network. Fully built, this would be a national gem of a trail system, stretching 915 miles across coastal wetlands, river valleys, mountain passes, pastoral landscapes, and bustling urban corridors.

Regional Bike Trail Subway Map V2-01 Continue reading “A Vision for a Comprehensive Regional Bike Trail Network”

Options for Route 43

Map by the Author
Map by the Author

Last week at the Mountaineers, public testimony was decidedly split, with angry and opposing testimony at the beginning of the meeting slowly giving way to riders more supportive of the proposed ULink restructure. But it has become clear in public comment that Route 43 riders feel particularly aggrieved, as with each iteration of restructure alternatives their options have gotten worse. In other parts of the city, such as on Route 71, those who oppose the restructure are upset about their route changing to connect to Link, whereas a Route 43 elimination would uniquely disconnect riders on 23rd/24th from Link. Even though defensible from a gridded network perspective, for a project named Link Connections, residents not tuned into every iteration of policy can be forgiven for their apoplexy.

It is exceedingly likely that a compromise is in order, and numerous sources have hinted that a restored 43 is in the cards. So what should such a route look like?  A few principles I would bring to discussion:

  • Keep the rest of the restructure as intact as possible
  • Don’t waste thousands of service hours sending the 43 on its current routing Downtown when Link would be faster.
  • Use a trolley-friendly route if possible.

This leads to an interesting idea to run an all-day, weekday only local service overlay between UW Station and Capitol Hill, with a terminus at Broadway/Aloha. But, you say, Route 9 currently terminates there, and there is no room for another bus?  Happily, there is an unused bus layover space at Group Health (16th/Denny) leftover from the days before Route 8 was extended to Rainier Valley, and it’s perfect for Route 9. (see inset map).

Such a service would connect Route 43 to Capitol Hill Station (CHS), provide even more frequency between 15th and CHS, and not waste a single service hour serving Downtown Seattle unnecessarily. The shortened 43 could be a 40′ diesel coach for zero capital cost, or for the cost of two switches at Broadway/John, it could remain a trolley.

It wouldn’t be cheap, but neither would it be exorbitant. The current Route 43 costs Metro approximately $7.3m per year to operate over 47,000 service hours. Imagine a two-bus operation with a 15-minute travel time between UW Station and Broadway/Aloha, plus a 10-minute layover at Aloha. That’s a 40-minute cycle time, meaning that a two-bus service could offer 20-minute frequency. If you ran the service weekday only from 6am-8pm, that’s approximately 7,400 annual service hours, or $1.1m per year. Add in unavoidable inefficiencies due to deadheading, occasionally longer driver breaks, and the occasional extra tripper, and the service could cost $1.5m per year, or about 20% the cost of the current 43.

While the entirety of the 43’s service hours were reprogrammed into the proposed network, my guess is that $1.5m could be found, given the political imperatives.

Thoughts on this idea?

2015 General Election Endorsements: Seattle

In today’s installment, we present our endorsements in Seattle City Council and County Council races. In most cases, this is a rehash of our Primary Endorsements, albeit with a substantially different editorial committee. 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.

Kohl Welles PhotoCounty Council, District 4: A 25-year veteran of the State Legislature, first in the House and since 1994 in the Senate, Jeanne Kohl-Welles has basically sound views on transportation. She explicitly identifies with outgoing Councilmember Larry Phillips, who is on the right side of issues more often than not. If opponent Rufe Orr has any views on transportation at all, they aren’t obviously accessible on the internet.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.36.07 AMDistrict 1: Shannon Braddock was noncommittal in our July endorsement interview, contributing to our “no endorsement” in the crowded District 1 primary. But with only two candidates, the differences have come into focus. Ms. Braddock shows all signs of being in the center-left Constantine/Murray block that is making great progress across the spectrum of transportation and housing for all walks of life. Opponent Lisa Herbold wants to delay some proposed upzones and is apparently unconcerned about potential policy impacts on further market-rate construction.*

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 a great Vision Zero advocate, helping lead the charge to rechannelize Rainier Ave S 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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.38.35 AMDistrict 3: In a disappointing race, we are switching our endorsement to Kshama Sawant. Though Ms. Sawant’s overall approach to land use and housing policy is deeply distressing – indifferent to deterring market-rate housing and demonizing developers instead of recognizing them as crucial to alleviating the housing shortage – she is also the loudest and most consistent voice for much needed public housing development. Fortunately, the centerpiece of her housing agenda, rent control, has almost no chance of becoming law. And that’s a good thing, as rent control has had perverse consequences for housing supply almost everywhere it has been tried.

On the other hand, Ms. Sawant has been a reliable pro-transit vote and a strong supporter of people walking and biking. While she is fond of criticizing the funding source of many measures, in the end she realizes that an imperfectly funded transit measure is better that no measure at all.

Meanwhile, despite earning our primary endorsement, opponent Pamela Banks has strongly disappointed us recently, saying neighborhoods should determine transportation priorities in Move Seattle, claiming bike lanes and road diets are “causing gridlock and havoc in our neighborhoods”, and incorrectly criticizing SDOT for a lack of public outreach, saying projects are happening “to us, not for us.” District 3 needs forward-thinking transportation more than most, so this balkanized and reactionary attitude is unacceptable.

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.

Opponent 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. He would earn our endorsement in another district.

Continue reading “2015 General Election Endorsements: Seattle”

Progressive Groups Sabotaging Climate Change Initiative

I suspect most self-identified progressive groups would agree that human-caused climate change is an emergency that requires sacrifice to overcome. That’s why it’s so disappointing that State leaders like Governor Inslee are so lukewarm about I-732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax, because they are subordinating the need to reduce emissions to other political objectives. This kitchen sink style of legislating diffuses the needed climate focus of the legislation, and in the eyes of the median voter will appear as just another means of enlarging state government.

What’s so frustrating and cynical about this stance is that the deep cuts to sales tax and B&O tax in I-732 create space to restore those taxes to fund other state priorities. But some obviously fear that those priorities are too unpopular to win a vote on their own merits, and are willing to make climate action less palatable to moderates, in the hope of attaching unrelated goals to what should be a focused emergency response.

Now the state political establishment has an organizational ally in unions and “climate justice” groups, looking to use carbon taxes to fund their pet projects instead of rewarding people with tax rebates:

Revenue-neutral is not going to get us to accelerate the investments in communities that are most severely impacted,” Garcia said. “If we just cap carbon across everything, communities of color and low-income communities are not ever going to proportionally become equal. They will always be more affected.

This is disappointing doublespeak. If raising sales tax .1% to pay for transit is decried as disproportionately impacting the poor, then it stands to reason that a proposed sales tax cut that is an order of magnitude larger would disproportionately benefit the poor. On top of that Initiative 732 would give tax rebates to 400,000 low income Washingtonians.

Most interesting of all, the opponents are taking a page out of the gun lobby playbook by shopping a competing initiative on the same ballot, confusing and dividing voters:

Local labor, environmental, and social justice groups are sick of hearing debates over clean energy framed as “jobs versus the environment.” Today, a sweeping alliance of these groups announced that they’re reframing the argument by working together toward a climate initiative on the 2016 ballot…

Because what we’re saying is that we’re not going to allow workers to sacrifice their income, or their health, or their pension benefits because we want to do something around climate. We want to do both.”

This seems like a colossal misreading of the optics of spending and tax cuts, especially for a statewide vote. Taxes fund a lot of wonderful and necessary things, but they take money from people and some believe they can lead to job losses. It seems odd to position I-732, which would reduce regressive taxes and put money in the hands of small businesses, as anti-job or anti-poor people.

To be clear, if presented by itself I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for the alternate initiative, even without any inkling of how they’d spend the proceeds, because I believe that climate change is a true emergency. Indeed, if transit spending is a big part of the mix I might actually prefer it as a matter of policy. But I-732 is likely much more appealing to the median voter, and I find the attempt of some progressives to couple their pet issues to the climate contemptible given the urgency of the problem.

I encourage you to support I-732. You can start by going here.

Tunnel Ops Observations: Great Job!

At Intl Dist Station
Bay D before 2012 bus restructure / photo by Oran

I used my rare afternoon off Wednesday to check out the state of Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel joint operations, now that Link Light Rail trains are running every six minutes each direction during peak, and six bus routes have been moved upstairs.

A pair of tunnel security personnel kept the dwell time for trains in Westlake Station just under a minute, while the operator stayed close to the cab.

One long bus platoon featured back-to-back 41s, followed by a 71, a 150, and a 255. All only stopped once in Westlake Station. So, rumors that Bay A buses (41, 71, 72, 73, and 74) would be allowed to stop two bus lengths away from the bay marker, and not have to stop again, proved to be true. That 255 was only one length away from Bay B, behind a deboarding 150, and also stopped only once. Nor did that 150 have to stop a second time in the fully forward position along the platform.

One benefit of routes 216, 218, and 219 moving upstairs is that ST Express 550 is the only Bay D bus left, allowing ORCA Boarding Assistants to leave their readers set to ST Express single county, with no peak differential. Having routes 77 and 316 go upstairs (along with route 76) allows the assistants at Bay A to leave their readers on 1-zone peak Metro.

But the proof of how much more quickly buses are moving in the tunnel during peak is in my time trials: A northbound train trip just before the peak hour took me 8 minutes and 30 seconds from Stadium Station to Westlake Station. A southbound train trip from Westlake Station to Stadium Station during the peak hour took me 9 minutes and 45 seconds. The difference was entirely due to train boarding time. A subsequent northbound train trip during the latter half of peak hour took 10 minutes and 10 seconds, with at least a minute of that spent stopped in the tube approaching Westlake Station “due to traffic ahead”. This is substantially better than the last time I timed train trips through the tunnel over a year ago, featuring an eleven-minute trip from Westlake to Stadium Station, and a 16-minute trip from Stadium Station to Westlake.

It appears Metro and Sound Transit are taking smooth joint operations in the tunnel seriously! I owe Mark Dublin lunch at the Beacon Hill taco truck.

News Roundup: Little Effect


This is an open thread.

STB 2015 General Election Endorsements: Measures

This November, there are two ballot measures targeted directly at improvements in the region’s bus systems. One of them will also make a significant contribution to safe nonmotorized transportation. Both of them are decidedly worth your vote if you live in either jurisdiction.

7 New RapidRide+ Corridors
7 New RapidRide+ Corridors

YES on Move Seattle. It would be tedious to recite every benefit that the Move Seattle plan will bring the City. But the heart of the measure is seven new Bus Rapid Transit corridors, dubbed “RapidRide+”:

  • Mount Baker to UW via 23rd Ave
  • Ballard to UW via Market and 45th
  • Downtown-Madison Valley via Madison Street
  • Downtown-Rainier Beach via Rainier
  • Downtown-White Center via Delridge
  • Downtown-Northgate via Eastlake and Roosevelt
  • Downtown-Northgate via Fremont, Ballard, and Crown Hill

Metro has tried to deliver rapid buses in the past, with mixed success, but the true ability of buses to bypass traffic is up to the cities that own the right of way. We’re glad to see that Seattle is stepping up. Current struggles with the First Hill Streetcar and the Seawall notwithstanding, SDOT has a good record with project delivery: Bridging the Gap did most of what it promised during a massive economic downturn.

Rail skeptics are fond of pointing out that bus investments can deliver much of the quality of rail much more cheaply. We’re interested to see which of those skeptics, now presented with a measure largely focused on high-quality bus service, manage to show up for this measure, and which will find yet another excuse to oppose spending money on transit.

Even if you’re as excited about rail as we are, buses will always be an important part of our transit system, no matter how many trains we build. Move Seattle will bring decent transit service to areas where rail is not on the horizon, and build momentum towards a city where a car is not a necessity for most people.

We also strongly support the levy’s funding of Graham Street Link station, the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge,  Vision Zero, Bicycle Master Plan implementation, the long overdue retrofit of Mount Baker Station, and rechannelizations of hostile arterials such as Aurora, Rainier, and Lake City Way.

Opponents of Move Seattle such as the Seattle Times argue both that the package is too big and yet not nearly enough, and that it caters to “City Hall’s urbanist-at-all-costs agenda” instead of benefiting drivers. They argue that the new districted city council members should decide which projects in their district deserve city funding–unhelpfully dividing what should be an integrated network into parochial fiefdoms. The reality is that large, necessary projects shouldn’t be subject to such whims, as the best projects connect districts and share benefits between them. Others complain that the project list has flexibility build into it. But of course the project list is flexible—a nine-year levy must be able to adjust for future needs, seek opportunities for grants and matching funds, and negotiate with communities and public process along the way. Move Seattle deserves your vote.

CT MeasureYES on Community Transit Prop 1. Because Seattle isn’t doing nearly enough to accept newcomers, it is inevitable that much of the region’s growth will occur in South Snohomish County. The only plausible way to preserve mobility alongside that growth is a convenient, frequent bus system, available when you need it.

Community Transit’s Prop 1 will add frequency, increase span of service, build two Bus Rapid Transit Lines (SWIFT II and III), fully integrate their system into Link at Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, and add new suburban connections between Marysville, Snohomish, and Mill Creek. And this will all cost the average resident about $2.75 a month. With Link likely to either terminate in Lynnwood or hug I-5 for most of its path to Everett, bus service will be indispensable in delivering people to Link at a scale that Park & Rides cannot match.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Zach Shaner, Erica C. Barnett, and Dan Ryan. It serves at the pleasure of the Board of Directors.

300 Turn Out for ULink Restructure Hearing

Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

A standing-room only crowd of 300 people turned up last night at the Mountaineers to testify before the County Council on the proposed University Link bus restructure. We and Transportation Choices Coalition live-tweeted the event, and you can read our threads here and here. (You can also follow the #Bus2Link hashtag). Councilmembers Dembowski, Gossett, and McDermott deserve praise for staying throughout the full 3 hours, and the meeting was also partially attended by Councilmembers Phillips, Hague, and Lambert.)

There were impassioned, detailed pleas to Councilmembers both in support and opposition. Opponents largely praised the concepts behind the restructure while strongly opposing changes to their particular route. While some of the opposing testimony was predictably absurd and entitled – like the two Tangletown residents upset about higher bus frequency shaking their Craftsmans or the Jackson Park resident saying buses are unsafe to operate near his condo – most of the opposing testimony was detailed, on point, and grounded in legitimate complaints.

Continue reading “300 Turn Out for ULink Restructure Hearing”

Metro: We Have Money, But No Drivers or Buses

Photo by Oran (Flickr)
Photo by Oran (Flickr)

This morning at the County Council’s committee meeting on the ULink Restructure (separate from tonight’s public hearing), Metro will respond to a question posed by Councilmember Dembowski: Does Metro have the capacity to enact the restructure and save routes such as the 43 and the 71?

Metro’s response is a fascinating look into an agency struggling to cope with the whiplash of recession-era cuts quickly evolving into unprecedented boomtime demands. In their letter to the Council, Metro admits that, yes, they have the money to run more buses but neither enough buses nor enough drivers. Metro has hired or promoted to full-time 350 new operators to fulfill Prop 1 commitments as well as its own recent service additions, but the ongoing driver shortage has caused an increasing number of trip cancellations. I suppose recruitment is one challenge of a 3.6% unemployment rate.

Metro states that on a temporary basis they could use revive 14 buses that are past their useful lives for continued service on Routes 43 and 71, far short of the 32 buses necessary to operate them as they exist today. So there are two options that could potentially satisfy Dembowski’s request: the full restructure with less frequent variants of Routes 43 and 71 retained, or paying for their full retention by making cuts elsewhere in the restructure proposal. The former is strongly preferable to the latter.

If the fleet and operator issues can be solved, Metro’s letter seems structured to achieve some sort of compromise that would stretch Metro a bit but also satisfy Dembowski and his constituents. Speculatively, the 43 and 71 could be retained as peak-only, or the 43 could be shortened to run from UW Link Station to Capitol Hill Station only. The discussion at this morning’s committee should give us more insight into their current thinking.

Dembowski: Transit Access to Magnuson Metro Meeting “Pretty Good”

Magnuson Park – SDOT Photo
Magnuson Park – SDOT Photo

As we reported this morning, Tuesday night the King County Council TrEE Committee and chair Rod Dembowski will host the only public hearing outside of work hours on a proposed Metro transit restructure that could dramatically increase access to frequent transit service in Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill. The restructure is a set of significant (and controversial) bus service changes that would kick in when the U Link light rail station opens in 2016.

Dembowski has suggested making no changes to the system until Northgate Link opens in 2021, an option that would miss the opportunity to profoundly improve mobility in Northeast Seattle and update a bus network that provides infrequent, daytime-only rides between just two locations, downtown and the University of Washington. 


Unfortunately, those most likely to advocate for improvements to the network are also the least able to attend tomorrow’s hearing. Per Dembowski, the hearing is being held at the Mountaineers Club out in Magnuson Park– a venue that’s about as transit-inaccessible as Seattle gets. It is true that, as Dembowski, noted during a burst of defensive tweets on Friday, three bus lines–the 30, 74, and 75–stop in front of the Mountaineers. However, those lines stop running from downtown to Sand Point around 6:30, and only the 75 (which runs every half-hour) will be running when the meeting lets out some time after 9. According to Metro’s trip planner, my own ride to Sand Point would take 75 minutes, and my trip back home would be 90 minutes. I’m quite sure that for those who don’t rely on transit (such as, well, Dembowski) the trip will be significantly shorter.

This matters because if transit riders don’t show up in sufficient numbers tomorrow, Dembowski and his allies on the council will have fodder to go back to Metro and say the public opposes the changes.

I asked Dembowski–who also suggested that people who can’t make the hours-long round trip to testify simply comment online instead–why he chose such a remote location. He claimed he tried to line up other venues–including Roosevelt High School, whose staff was on strike when the council was scheduling the hearing, as well as the University and Ravenna Community Centers–but couldn’t find a place big enough to accommodate what he anticipates will be a crowd of hundreds. And, he said, this is a special discretionary committee meeting that he didn’t have to schedule in the first place.

“The only reason this meeting is happening is that I wanted to make sure we met in the community for a nighttime meeting. I was open to more than one hearing, but to get the council members together in the time frame Metro wants is tough,” Dembowski said.

“If you could find a better spot I’d do another meeting. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s pretty good–it’s a block off the Burke-Gilman Trail for thaose that are going to bike, it’s on a major arterial, it’s easy to find. Not everyone is 25 years old and really mobile.”

Dembowski also defended his comment that people who couldn’t make the meeting should just comment online. Denying that council members are swayed any more by public, in-person testimony than impersonal emails from faceless constituents, Dembowski said that, if anything, online commenters “have more power” because they reach all nine council members, who will all vote on the final proposal.”I want to take all of the views into consideration and not be swayed by the loudest voices,” Dembowski said.

Incidentally, on Monday afternoon, Metro announced it was adding bus trips and a shuttle to get transit riders to and from the meeting. I have a call out to Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer to find out if this is the first time Metro has extended service to provide access to a particular public meeting.