An Alternative for ST3, With Something for Everyone

When the Sound Transit board next convenes, it will advance a set of light rail and bus expansion projects to go to voters in 2016 as a package known as “ST3.”  Based on the project list, financial constraints, and desires of local leaders, informed observers assume that this package will include a light rail variation on the aborted monorail “green line” route, running from Ballard to West Seattle via downtown.

Before the final list comes together, let’s stretch our minds for a moment and consider an alternate vision, one that’s been kicking around here on this blog in the comments section and on Page 2.  It comes from several Seattle Subway posts and arguments from from commenter RossB, among others. As we contemplate $15B in new transit spending over the next few decades, this idea is worth one last hearing.   I’ll call it the peanut butter plan, because it attempts to spread the benefits of light rail and rapid bus lines over as much of the city as possible.

What makes a good high-capacity transit network?

Before I get into the details, let’s list some things we know to be true about Seattle public transit:

  1. Buses can be time competitive with trains if given their own lanes on freeways or wide, freeway-like arterials. Therefore, in the rare places we have wide, flat, straight roads, we should take exclusive lanes for transit.
  2. RapidRide buses work decently well outside of downtown, and could be even better if we gave them exclusive lanes, off-board payment, and got them off downtown streets
  3. Rail, in general, ought to get built where geography or density make rapid buses impossible
  4. East-West routes in this town generally suck and are great candidates for rail
  5. Even after light rail is fully built out, most transit riders will still be using the buses, therefore…
  6. Transfers should be great experiences: you can benefit more total riders if you optimize for useful bus-rail and rail-rail transfers

With those principles in mind, let’s take a look at the current state of Link light rail and RapidRide lines in the city, including planned Link extensions set to open in a few years. The yellow areas in the map below represent the main choke points for transit, and therefore where the majority of our investment should occur: crossing the ship canal, downtown, and the entrance ramps to the West Seattle bridge.

Current and Planned Link/RapidRide Routes
Current and Planned Link/RapidRide Routes

Continue reading “An Alternative for ST3, With Something for Everyone”

UW Wants to Help Find “Solutions to Urban Issues”

The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit)
The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit)

From the PSBJ:

Over the coming year, Urban@UW will develop and launch pilot projects focused on urban issues. Examples might include addressing sidewalk accessibility, using data to assess community well-being, and transportation for disabled King County residents. Those projects could take the shape of a series of conversations, a small-scale research project, or other formats.

The Seattle area in many ways is the perfect place to launch such an initiative. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area added 61,373 residents last year, making it the 11th fastest-growing large urban area, according to census data. The economy is also surging, with a jobless rate below 5 percent.

It’s great to hear that UW wants to be a partner in solving transportation problems here in Seattle.  Especially since the university has caused quite a few transportation problems in recent years.  To wit:

  • The inconvenient location of the light rail stop at Husky Stadium (inside the triangle would have been more convenient for everyone)
  • Extracting $43M from Sound Transit & taxpayers to move light rail away from the physics lab
  • Refusal to facilitate bus-rail transfers at said station and active opposition to a multimodal transit hub there
  • Making bus-rail transfers at Mt. Baker worse than it needed to be by retaining its laundry facility for future development
  • Dodging its responsibility to pay parking taxes

As a UW grad myself, I look forward to the new initiative, though I won’t hold my breath that the well-meaning folks running Urban@UW have any sway with the UW President or the Board of Regents who are responsible for the anti-urban transgressions of years past. But if the UW truly wants to improve Seattle transportation, there are plenty of opportunities in its own backyard.

Community Transit Announces New Service Scheduled for March 2016

Obstructed view of route 880, which will see all trips extended to the Mukilteo ferry terminal beginning next March. (photo by author)

The official results of the November 3, 2015 election have been certified, with Community Transit victorious in their campaign to fund additional transit service with a 0.3% sales tax increase. Just over 100,000 residents in the taxing district cast their ballots, approving Proposition 1 by 51%.

Although the new sales tax will not be collected until April 2016, and not received until June, Community Transit will be using some of its reserve funds to add 3,300 hours of new service beginning March 13, 2016. The agency is planning a major service expansion in September 2016, which will require months of public input as well as time to prepare more buses and drivers.

The March 2016 change will add 15 new bus trips, extend 6 existing trips, and increase the span of service on some routes:

New trips

Route 413 (Swamp Creek-Seattle) – One weekday southbound trip will be added at 5:48 a.m.

Route 415 (Seattle-North Lynnwood) – One weekday northbound trip will be added at 3:15 p.m.

Route 421 (Marysville-Seattle) – One weekday southbound trip will be added at 5:15 a.m.

Route 435 (Seattle-Mill Creek) – One weekday northbound trip will be added at 3:55 p.m.

Extended span of service

Swift (Everett Station-Aurora Village)– Two early morning trips are being added to the Swift bus rapid transit line along Highway 99. One new trip will run in each direction starting at 4:40 a.m.

Route 240 (Stanwood-Smokey Point) – One weeknight eastbound trip will be added, leaving Stanwood at 8:25 p.m.

Route 271(Gold Bar-Everett) – One weeknight westbound trip will be added, leaving Gold Bar at 8:55 p.m.

Improved midday service

Route 112 (Mountlake Terrace-Ash Way) – Seven weekday trips will be added between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to provide 30-minute frequencies throughout the day until 7 p.m.

Extended trips

Route 880 (Mukilteo-University District) – All trips will terminate at Mukilteo Ferry Terminal, extending six truncated trips north from Lynnwood.

News Roundup: Happy Thanksgiving

2015 debuts: new trolleybus, new streetcar, new double-decker

This is an open thread.

HALA Legislation Takes Shape

SHA’s Tamarack Place (by the author)

The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), a Mayor-Murray inspired “grand compromise” between for-profit developer and affordable housing interests, started to take legal shape in the last few weeks with a series of new council bills.

The first item, approved September 28th, was a work plan to address the HALA recommendations (with the notable exception of allowing duplexes and triplexes in some single-family zones). Broadly speaking, the Council plans to enact various affordable housing programs in the near term, with the upzones happening in 2017. According to Sarra Tekola of Mike O’Brien’s office, “The upzones in 2017 are not delayed, with the environmental review, DPD and public process this will take a year.”

There are a total of 15 separate pieces of legislation in the plan, a number of reports, and two additional bills may be required.

In 2015, the Council planned passed “framework legislation” for the Commercial Linkage Fee on November 9th 9-0. It also renewed and revised on September 28th the Multifamily Property Tax Exemption (MFTE), a tax break to encourage inexpensive housing construction. These items do not come into effect until the upzones do in 2017. Still to come, the council will also adopt an agreement with regional partners to set up a revolving loan fund for transit oriented development.

In the first half of 2016, the Council would pass legislation authorizing a much larger Housing Levy on the ballot and authrorize a “credit enhancement program” for Yesler Terrace. New laws would also remove barriers to housing for people with criminal records, strengthen Tenant Relocation Assistance if a report calls for it, and reform both Design Review and Historic Preservation Review.

Later next year, the Council would amend the standards to encourage construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and regulate the “short term rental” (e.g. AirBnB) market, based on a report earlier in the year. It would outlaw discrimination against renters based on source of income. It may also create a formal program to preserve existing affordable housing, based on the outcome of a staff report.

2017 is when the best stuff comes: upzones and changes to development standards linked to the Commercial Linkage Fee and MFTE in the deal, as well as reduced or eliminated minimum parking requirements  in urban centers, urban villages, and frequent transit corridors.

Throughout the whole period the Council will seek to transfer public property for development via specific legislation, where possible. Missing, of course, is course is the bulk of the HALA committee’s recommendations on single-family zones, withdrawn soon after the proposal, despite it being the best tool to accommodate larger families in Seattle.

Despite Heavy Rains, Passenger Trains Keep on Rolling

Rail -- Landslide Mitigation work October 2015

As rain pounded the Northwest last week, and thousands of newly transplanted Californians started to question their life choices, it seemed inevitable that a landslide along the BNSF corridor between Everett and Seattle would force cancellations of Sounder North and Amtrak Cascades trains. For those of us who remember recent winters, when the mudslides seemed to come every other day, triggering a 48-hour waiting period before passenger trains were allowed back on the tracks, it seemed like only a matter of time.

And yet, so far this year, the trains have kept running, due in no small part to a series of mitigation efforts WSDOT, BNSF, and local municipalities have undertaken in the last few years.   Since 2013, as part of the larger high-speed plan for the Amtrak Cascades corridor, and with the help of $800M in federal stimulus funds, WSDOT has been reinforcing a half dozen of the worst spots in the Seattle-Everett corridor.  The last of those two projects wrap up at the end of the month, according to Barbara LaBoe at WSDOT.

Landslide Mitigation Projects (WSDOT)
Landslide Mitigation Projects (WSDOT)

When I spoke to LaBoe, she was understandably reluctant to take a victory lap – “we’re working with Mother Nature and gravity,” she said, “there are no guarantees” – but she did add that WSDOT was “cautiously optimistic.”  In addition to the mitigation work on the slopes themselves, the catchment walls along the tracks could stop small mudslides, should any occur.

Additionally, LaBoe noted that the state appropriated more funds for landslide mitigation in the latest budget, and WSDOT is currently determining where to best use those resources.  Since “95% of mudslides happen in the Puget Sound area,” it’s a likely the funds will be used on the Cascade corridor, she said.

By the time the 20 HSR projects are done in 2017, we will see an additional two round trips between Seattle and Portland, with a full 10 minutes shaved off the schedule and enhanced reliability.

Sounder North, with its high subsidies and low ridership, is the red-headed stepchild of regional rail routes, but the aggregate subsidies are small in the grand scheme of things, and the marginal utility of taking just one additional car off of that stretch of I-5 during rush hour is actually pretty high.  If the mitigation efforts are successful, we might even consider amping up DMU-based Everett-Seattle Sounder service in the future. Heck, the BNSF tracks already serve Paine Field.

SDOT’s New Streetcar Maps: Where’s the Transit?


As testing for the First Hill Streetcar has proceeded, the final station touches have been added, including frosted glass and station amenities such as maps and rider information. Yet in a triumph of form over function, the well-designed maps omit just about every important piece of transit information that a rider might want to know. Their modal isolation – showing only two disconnected streetcar lines miles apart – bears no relation to the reasons riders would consult the map. Very few people will stand at Broadway & Marion and ask, “Is there another streetcar in this city somewhere?” as opposed to “Where can I travel to from here, and how long will it take me?”

For a project whose putative intent was to connect neighborhoods to Link, amazingly Link is nowhere to be seen on the map. Despite 6 frequent transit connections along the line’s length – at Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Union, Pine, and at Capitol Hill Station – none of these are shown. In the above example, there is a legend item for “Metro Bus” with a single stop shown at Broadway and Madison, both inaccurately representing its location (which is a block east) and failing to say which route stops there, how often, and where it might take you. Such partial information is worse than outright omission, implying that the services shown are the only ones that exist.

If SDOT doesn’t see the line as part of a network of connections, that speaks volumes about both the utility of the project and the isolation in which it has been considered. This is another example of the need for systematic integration between our agencies when it comes to mapping, design, and wayfinding standards. I love the design, but the content is what matters, and can anyone say that these maps tell you what you need to know to get around First Hill?

Thanksgiving Service

I give thanks that transit operates 365 days a year here in Seattle. Some in transit get the day off, some do not.

The day after Thanksgiving is now designated Mark McLaughlin Day by King County, in honor of the operator who was shot and killed by a passenger 17 years ago. The bus went off the Aurora Bridge, and miraculously landed upright in a clump of trees. Only three people died — McLaughlin, the gunman, and one passenger.

The safety record of public transit is something for which I am grateful. I tell the operator “thanks” every time I ride the bus.

Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26

Numerous transit agencies will not be in service on Thankgiving Day: the monorail, the South Lake Union Streetcar, the King County Water Taxis, Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Whatcom Transit, Clallam Transit, Intercity Transit, Twin Transit, Mason Transit, Jefferson Transit, Greys Harbor Transit, and Kitsap Transit. Nor will Sounder or Community Transit commuter buses be running.

The remaining agencies will be running on Sunday schedules: King County Metro, Sound Transit’s other services (Link Light Rail, ST Express, and the Tacoma Link streetcar), Pierce Transit, Community Transit’s local routes, and Everett Transit.

Macy's Parade route
The Day After Thanksgiving, Friday, November 27

Sounder will be running on a special limited service schedule, including a mid-day round trip to serve the parade.

Most agencies will be back on their normal weekday schedules: the South Lake Union Streetcar, the monorail, Pierce Transit, Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Whatcom Transit, Clallam Transit, Intercity Transit, Jefferson Transit, Greys Harbor Transit, and Kitsap Transit. ST Express, the Tacoma Link streetcar, and Community Transit local buses will also be on weekday schedules.

The only Community Transit commuter routes running will be routes 402, 413, 421, and 855.

Mason Transit and Twin Transit will be on Saturday schedules.

Everett Transit will be on its Sunday schedule.

King County Water Taxis will not be in service.

King County Metro will be running a Reduced Weekday and Reduced UW schedule, so if your route is one of the dozens affected, check your route’s schedule to see which trips are indicated as being cancelled.

The permanent advice for Washington State Ferries is to check the schedule for your route, and make a reservation, if driving and if your route takes reservations.

Sunday, November 29

The monorail will open early, at 6:45 am, for the Seattle Marathon.

Route 42, Back from the Dead?

Back from the dead? (Martin – Flickr)
Back from the dead? (Martin – Flickr)

This morning, Metro has begun soliciting feedback on a proposal to connect Renton, Skyway, Rainier Beach, Mount Baker, and the International District with frequent service 7 days a week. The proposal resurrects a largely meritorious idea from the old transit cuts packages, merging the southern half of Route 8 (soon to be 38) with Route 106 while bringing the whole line up to 15 minute frequency. It also extends Route 107 to Beacon Hill Station, cuts Route 9 back to peak only, and adds peak trips on Route 124 to make up for some of the lost service in Georgetown. Disappointingly, the proposal also functionally resurrects Route 42 by extending the new 106 from Mount Baker to the International District along Rainier and Jackson.

Continue reading “Route 42, Back from the Dead?”

New TCC Director: “For Our Movement to Succeed, We Need to Build Power.”


At a few minutes after eight on election night, November 3, Shafali Ranganathan, deputy director at Transportation Choices Coalition, was a bundle of nerves. Standing behind a pool table set up with computers and a projector in an upstairs room at the Belltown Pub, Ranganathan and about 100 supporters of Move Seattle, the biggest transportation levy in Seattle history, had their eyes glued to the screen at the back of the room, where TCC staffer Carla Chavez was updating the “results” page on King County Elections’ website every few seconds. 0.00. 0.00. 0.00.

TCC, and others who had worked for months on Move Seattle, considered the measure a tough sell, and many told me they expected to end the night several points in the red. As if to emphasize that point, many in the room had been in the process of getting loaded since earlier that afternoon. But Ranganathan was the quiet, focused center of the room, and when the results came in–57 to 43–the 5-foot-tall deputy director issued a surprisingly fierce roar of victory, then quickly composed herself and went off to face the cameras.

Another winner that night was Rob Johnson, TCC director, Ranganathan’s boss, and, as of next January, council member for Northeast Seattle’s District 4. After the election, I called Ranganathan one of the major victors that Tuesday night, not only because her group prevailed on Move Seattle (a victory that can only help the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure in 2016), but because the win solidified her position as the “heir apparent” to Johnson at TCC.

On November 12, TCC announced that Ranganathan would be the group’s new director. A few days later, I sat down with her to find out what the leadership change will mean for the group, how TCC plans to shift its focus in the future, and what it means when a mainstream transportation organization is run almost entirely by women and people of color.

Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Rob has been at TCC for more than a decade, and has obviously made his imprint on the organization. How will the organization change under your leadership, in terms of strategy or mission?

Continue reading “New TCC Director: “For Our Movement to Succeed, We Need to Build Power.””

ST Board Confirms New CEO and Fares

Peter M. Rogoff, Next CEO of Sound Transit
Peter M. Rogoff,
Next CEO of Sound Transit

You can plan for growth, or you can be overwhelmed by it. This community is planning for it. — Peter M. Rogoff, next CEO of Sound Transit

The Sound Transit Board held its monthly meeting Thursday, featuring a hotly-debated fare change on ST Express and Sounder and the confirmation of Peter M. Rogoff as the new CEO of Sound Transit.

Sound Transit staff had just held a party for outgoing CEO Joni Earl Wednesday, on her 15th anniversary at ST. When Rogoff was given a chance to speak just after the board voted unanimously to confirm him, he looked back on the interview, when he was asked why he was the best candidate for the job. “I thought about it, and then answered that I’m not the best candidate. The best candidate is a healthy Joni Earl.”

Rogoff is currently Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, a post to which he was appointed by President Obama in January of 2014. Previously, he led the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) from 2009 to 2014.

Rogoff was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Transportation Equity Award from the Transportation Equity Network, in 2010, for helping overturn restrictive transit funding guidelines and allow livability, equity, and sustainability to become criteria in funding major transit projects.

Continue reading “ST Board Confirms New CEO and Fares”

Sound Transit begins double-decker bus service in Snohomish County

Coach 91501 on display at Union Station yesterday afternoon. (Photo by author)

This morning at Everett Station, the first of five new double-decker buses began regular service on Sound Transit Express routes. The double-decker buses, ordered in March 2014 for approximately $5 million and first proposed in November 2013, are identical to the second generation of Alexander Dennis Enviro500s that Community Transit debuted last month and will be operated by the agency’s drivers on contract with First Transit.

Measuring 42 feet long and 13 feet, 6 inches tall, the buses can seat 82 and accommodate some standees on the lower deck. The stairwell has a monitor with four camera feeds of the upper deck, allowing riders to know if there’s room upstairs. There’s a few backwards-facing seats at the back of the bottom deck over the wheel wells. Out front is a triple bike rack manufactured by Sportsworks.

The buses will be used on crowded runs of routes 510, 511 and 512, with some possible testing on other ST Express routes able to move forward once the full fleet is in service.

The first coach, numbered 91501, features a wrap around the upper deck with the hashtag #SeeingDoubleST, which is being used to promote the new buses.

News Roundup: Revamping

Link Red Line strip map

This is an open thread

Metro Sells Convention Place for $147M: What Does It Mean for Transit?

Steve Shelton Images (photo from
Steve Shelton Images (photo from

Yesterday, County Executive Dow Constantine announced the long-expected sale of Convention Place Station (CPS) to the Washington State Convention Center for a price tag of $147M. The long-expected move provides the WSCC with the largest parcel required for its vision of a $1.4B expansion (financed primarily by $1.1B in 30-year bonds) that would be the largest such development project in state history. Bounded by 9th Avenue, Pine Street, Olive Way, and Boren Avenue, the full block parcel will likely begin construction in 2017 and be completed by 2020.

The move clearly has massive implications for transit, as CPS provides the northern bus access to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), the only transit-only access to the I-5 express lanes, and the single largest bus layover facility in a downtown where such space is becoming ever dearer. Though bus service has long been planned for removal upon Northgate Link opening in 2021, some agency voices had called for the WSCC to find another property so that Metro and Sound Transit (ST) could retain joint rail/bus operations in perpetuity, noting that as long as Link headways don’t drop below 4 minutes, excluding buses wastes the capacity of the tunnel in an increasingly congested downtown.  With this sale, that option is now off the table. So what could losing CPS mean for transit? 

Find out after the jump… Continue reading “Metro Sells Convention Place for $147M: What Does It Mean for Transit?”

Regional Fare Coordination and ORCA LIFT

ORCA LIFT on ST ExpressLast week, I explained how the proposal to implement a low-income (ORCA LIFT) fare on all ST Express routes and raise fares to keep up with partner agencies would not just increase ridership, reduce operating costs and travel time, and lower barriers to accessing public transit, but would also almost certainly increase fare revenue.

Some commenters took the opportunity to complain about the complexity of fare structures for other agencies, and among the agencies.

Sound Transit’s fare policy lays out some goals for regional fare coordination:

Coordination with other regional transit systems – fare media and pricing are integrated regionally among partner transit agencies to:
o avoid conflicting pricing;
o facilitate customer and transit employee understanding;
o minimize fare payment confusion as a barrier to regional transit use;
o promote regional consistency in provisions for low income and transit dependent riders; and
o promote public safety

The proposal for raising ST Express fares and implementing a LIFT fare on all routes follows from these goals. The proposal to implement LIFT fares just on routes operated wholly within King County (522, 540-567, and 577) confuses the situation and contravenes some of these goals.

It is useful to chart out how fares on all the agencies that accept PugetPass would look before and after the various proposals, including a proposal pending before the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners.

Continue reading “Regional Fare Coordination and ORCA LIFT”

ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!

Metro 236
Metro 236 near the Eastside Rail Corridor in Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood

Kirkland residents and workers, and anyone else interested in the future of mobility in Kirkland, should attend the City of Kirkland’s ST3 open house tomorrow night (Thursday, Nov. 19).  The open house is at the Kirkland Performance Center in downtown Kirkland, one short block from Kirkland Transit Center, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  Frequent Metro bus routes 234/235, 245, and 255, as well as other routes 236, 238, 248, and 540, all serve the location, with one-seat service from throughout the north Eastside as well as downtown Seattle.

Attending this meeting is critical because the city of Kirkland needs to hear support for rapid transit service along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) between Bellevue and Totem Lake, which is the only realistic option for fast and frequent transit that will serve Kirkland communities. Full background below the jump.

Continue reading “ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!”

Madison BRT Is Good, But Let’s Fight to Make it Great

SDOT Director Scott Kubly introducing the project
SDOT Director Scott Kubly introducing the project

Last night SDOT hosted a crowd of nearly 200 people to hear the latest Preferred Concept Design for the Madison Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. SDOT staff and Nelson Nygaard walked attendees through the rationale for the project (inclusion in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan), the preferred alignment, stop and facilities treatments, fleet plans, funding, and alignment.

Much of the discussion would have been familiar to those who had attended previous SDOT meetings or read the various coverage on the project here, at the Seattle Times, and on The Urbanist. The route will run on Madison street from 1st Avenue to MLK Blvd in Madison Valley, with varying levels of transit priority between 1st and 18th Avenues, and mixed traffic from 18th-MLK.

IMG_1015 2

SDOT has a mandate to go big.
SDOT has a mandate to go big.

Analysis and commentary after the jump. Continue reading “Madison BRT Is Good, But Let’s Fight to Make it Great”