12 Housing Bills Face February 5 Committee Deadline

Fourteen affordable housing bills, sponsored by a mix of Democrats and Republicans, have gotten, or are scheduled for, committee hearings in Olympia. Two of these bills, HB 2585 and SB 6211, have passed out of their original committees. Any bills that don’t get out of a policy committee by next Friday, February 5, are dead, barring any special procedures. Bills in the fiscal and transportation committees get until Tuesday, February 9.

Rep. Joan McBride
Rep. Joan McBride

House Bill 2395, by Rep. Joan McBride (D – Kirkland), would authorize cities to impose a fee on condominium conversions. The money collected from the fee would be deposited in a fund established by the city for affordable housing development.

The condominium conversion fee would be determined by multiplying the square footage floor area for all units in a residence by the following rates:
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For a 2 unit residence: up to $0.95 per square foot floor area;
For a 3 unit residence: up to $1.42 per square foot floor area;
For a 4 unit residence: up to $1.90 per square foot floor area;
For a 5 unit residence: up to $2.38 per square foot floor area;
For a 6 unit residence: up to $2.85 per square foot floor area;
For a 7 unit residence: up to $3.33 per square foot floor area;
For a 8 unit residence: up to $3.80 per square foot floor area;
For a 9 unit residence: up to $4.28 per square foot floor area;
For residences with 10 or more units: up to $4.75 per square foot floor area;

The fee would also apply to any condominium conversion on property owned by a city that is imposing the fee, unless it has adopted a suitable plan to develop affordable housing on the site or a suitable alternative site. Local housing authorities and local, regional, and statewide nonprofit housing organizations would be exempt from the conversion fee.

HB 2395 got a hearing on January 18 in the House Committee on Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs and is scheduled for committee action Monday afternoon.

Continue reading “12 Housing Bills Face February 5 Committee Deadline”

51 New Double Talls Coming to Puget Sound

Table 1: Quantity of Buses

51 new buses–with options of up to 92 more–are soon coming to the Puget Sound. Sound Transit recently released a Request for Proposals for a joint procurement of double deck transit buses. This joint procurement includes Sound Transit, who currently operates five double deck buses; Community Transit, who operates 45; and Kitsap Transit who evaluated one last year. Presumably Kitsap Transit’s testing went well, despite a driver’s inadvertent attempt to wedge it underneath the overhang at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal.

All three agencies have used the Alexander Dennis Enviro500, which is one of the few double deckers is currently able to meet the contract’s stipulation of the FTA’s “Buy America” regulations, stating that the vehicles must be assembled in the United States and be assembled with 60% domestic content.

Four of the vehicles being purchased by Sound Transit are funded with a Washington State Regional Mobility Grant, and the first 16 vehicles ordered by Sound Transit will hit the streets no later than July 1, 2017. Schedules for Community Transit and Kitsap Transit will depend on contract negotiations.

While the RFP does not specify which routes each agency plans to run them on, based on past usage they can be expected to run on commuter routes.

If you’re looking for some weekend reading, the 272 page RFP details nearly every aspect of every component of the vehicles.

Seattle on ST3: Build for the Future, But Don’t Forget the Now

Buses stuck in Interbay without transit priority – Photo by Martin
Buses stuck in Interbay without transit priority – Photo by Martin

In the long journey to a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure this November, the Draft System Plan is the next step. Expected in March before a Final System Plan is adopted early this summer, the draft plan will select a suite of projects from the list of Candidate Projects that matches the intended tax authority that ST will ask for at the ballot. We have covered the candidate projects extensively – see Kirkland-Issaquah rail, Kirkland-Bellevue BRTI-405 BRT, Federal Way-Tacoma, SR 522 BRT, Downtown-Ballard, etc.)

Just as they did last summer when ST solicited feedback on ‘conceptual’ studies that informed the Candidate Projects – (see our summaries of Seattle, Snohomish, South King, East King, and Pierce – ST again asked jurisdictions to submit formal comment on the Candidate Projects by January 21st.

The letters not only provide ST with project-level feedback, but collectively they also help the Board gauge the regional appetite for the package’s size, whose options range from 10-30 years and total revenue of $26-48B. As the letters are made public, we’ll cover each of them in detail. But first, here’s Seattle’s feedback.  Continue reading “Seattle on ST3: Build for the Future, But Don’t Forget the Now”

News Roundup: Close to Launch

Streetcar 402 entering service at Occidental Mall

This is an open thread.

Renton Proposes a New Transit Center

The proposed location of the new center (in green) is surrounded by auto-oriented land use. Image: Google Maps.
The proposed location of the new center (in green) is surrounded by auto-oriented land use. Image: Google Maps.

The City of Renton is proposing to relocate its transit center as part of ST3. The new center would be located at Rainier Avenue South and Grady Way, just north of the intersection of I-405 and SR 167. It would replace a smaller downtown transit center, adding much more parking and easing access for park-and-ride commuters from the south and east. However, it is likely to eventually reduce service for Renton’s downtown and developing North Renton neighborhoods.

The new center would be more accessible for buses or drivers approaching from SR 167, and could include 1,500-2,000 parking stalls, potentially the largest transit parking facility in King County (Eastgate has 1,614 stalls). It would be funded, in part, by giving up a deferred ST2 project to build HOV ramps from N 8th St. The property is a disused former auto dealership, and is adjacent to an existing 370-stall Metro park-and-ride. Renton officials perceive potential for transit-oriented development, though that would require a far-reaching overhaul of the area’s current development pattern.

ST566Map
ST 566 serves downtown Renton and The Landing. How many buses would do so if the transit center were next to I-405? Map: OneBusAway

Commuters who drive to buses would prefer a transit facility closer to highways and with more available parking. The current center is perceived as having an adverse effect on downtown. Buses and drivers to the transit center parking add to downtown traffic (Metro leases 150 stalls in a city-owned structure). When the downtown transit center was opened in 2000, the hope was that it would draw commuters to downtown businesses, but few stay long in the area. Now Renton is studying a festival street on S 3rd St, and restoring two-way traffic on S 2nd and S 3rd, making them arguably less suited to commuter bus service.

The downtown transit center is served by two ST Express routes (560, 566), Rapid Ride F, and a dozen other Metro routes. How many of those routes would continue to serve that area? Renton believes it can maintain local Metro service through downtown, but would prefer the primary location for transfers be elsewhere. It’s unlikely Metro or Sound Transit would wish to serve downtown so intensively once the transit center is relocated. Indeed, Metro opposed locating a transit center in downtown when it was first built, not wanting to have buses navigating downtown streets. Many commuters who would rely on the new transit center will view downtown Renton as a detour and will prefer their buses get on the highway as promptly as possible.

Routing buses through downtown Renton supports service to growing mixed use neighborhoods in North Renton such as The Landing. Just last week, construction started on Southport, a large new office complex near Boeing and The Landing. The N 8th St HOV access project was supposed to ease their access from The Landing to I-405. With an expanded transit center south of downtown and easy highway access there, it’s likely that future service will skip downtown and the growing northern neighborhoods.

Continue reading “Renton Proposes a New Transit Center”

University Link Opens March 19

ULink2016.org
ULink2016.org

We now have a date: University Link will open at 10am on Saturday, March 19. Just 52 days from now.

Sound Transit (ST) will be throwing a full day of festivities from 9am-5pm, with a “tailgate party” at UW Station and a “street festival” at Capitol Hill Station. ST has also released a new website, ulink2016.org, that provides information on schedules, trip times, event details, and more.

In the spirit of its Annapurna walking tours, ST will also allow riders to enter the chance to win a “golden ticket” to be among the first riders to ride ULink on the 19th. If you want to ride a packed inaugural train with happy politicians in black peacoats, now’s your chance. Word is that the ‘golden ticket’ will be a commemorative (and fully functional) gold-colored ORCA card. You can enter to win 3 ways:

Continue reading “University Link Opens March 19”

First Hill Streetcar Launch Observations

First Hill Streetcar inaugural day

As a Capitol Hill resident I spent a good chunk of the weekend observing the belated launch of the First Hill Streetcar, both actively as a rider and passively as a nearby pedestrian. Though anecdotal observations should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, anecdotes confirming widely-acknowledged structural characteristics should be a bit more trustworthy. Here are a few things that I noticed:

  • People love the ride quality. In a city of rough pavement, especially on major bus corridors, I consistently heard praise from riders about the quiet, comfortable ride offered by the streetcar. The comparison to, say, Route 43 on the potholes of Bellevue Avenue is quite favorable to the streetcar.
  • Even on Day 1, I saw plenty of local circulation. I was surprised by how many local trips I saw between 5th/Jackson and 12th/Jackson, for example, with riders waiting on the corner to quickly decide between a curbside 7/14/36 or a center-running streetcar. On Capitol Hill, this was less the case, with curious riders packing weekend trains, but with mostly empty trains when I rode during Monday AM and PM peak.
Photo by the author
Photo by the author

Continue reading “First Hill Streetcar Launch Observations”

HB 2757 Would Make WSDOT Consider Transit Impacts

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon

The State Environmental Protection Policy Act (SEPA) requires the Washington State Department of Transportation to consider the effects on traffic and parking in its impact statements before construction projects. Impacts to transit operations have not been something WSDOT is required to look at, but House Bill 2757, by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D – Burien), would fix that oversight.

Three of the eight co-sponsors are Republicans (Dick Muri – Steilacoom, Drew Stokesbary – Auburn, and Teri Hickel – Federal Way).

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon in the House Committee on Environment.

ACTION ALERT: Time to Start Pushing HALA Through

by RENEE STATON

Line5452 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
Wikimedia
2016 started with a new, energetic Seattle City Council focused on implementing the Grand Bargain and other recommendations in Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda (“HALA”). The new year appears to have also renewed efforts by those who oppose the HALA recommendations.

Last Wednesday, anti-HALA organizers Greg Hill and Catherine Weatbrook presented their perspective on HALA to an estimated 150 people gathered for a Wallingford Community Council meeting. No City of Seattle presenters were invited to speak, though Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4) attended and listened to the presentation and public comment. Unfortunately, people who went with an open mind to learn more likely walked out of the Wallingford meeting equipped with one-sided, misleading information.

For the HALA recommendations to pass, urbanists need to provide the other side of that conversation over the next two years. HALA and the Grand Bargain represent the best opportunity Seattle has for achieving greater housing affordability in one of the fastest growing U.S. cities. The HALA policy recommendations will produce and preserve a record number of income-restricted units in Seattle, will accommodate projected population growth without sacrificing affordability, and will leverage our significant public investments in light rail and bus transit by providing households of all incomes a place to live within easy access to jobs and schools.

That process kicks off at a city-wide event tomorrow. Those who want to see HALA recommendations implemented should attend tomorrow’s meeting and stay vocal and engaged in the months ahead. It will be a long process, and supporters need to remain visible in their support. Some of the HALA recommendations, especially those that involve zoning changes or that impact parking, are controversial. Opponents are well organized and it will be extremely important for pro-housing urbanists who support these changes to attend meetings, to speak at them, and to write the Mayor and Council expressing support. Organizing in support of HALA is essential if we want to keep our city great and ensure that Seattle stays affordable and accessible for our children, baristas, teachers, and newcomers to our city.

Important upcoming ways to show your support for HALA and housing affordability in Seattle:

Seattle at Work: Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda
Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave, Bertha Knight Landes Room
https://www.facebook.com/events/1116203131753630/

Telephone Town Halls with Mayor Ed Murray
Mayor Murray will host three Telephone Town Halls. Call-in numbers and additional details will be updated as announced.
North, January 31st 4-5 pm
Central, February 2nd 6-7pm
South, February 4th 6-7pm

Writing to Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council
Send a quick note to council@seattle.gov and seattleatwork@seattle.gov to let them know that you support housing policies and programs that give more opportunities for people of all walks of life to live and work in Seattle. Tell them that you support the HALA recommendations and want to see them implemented in your own neighborhood and citywide.

Renee Staton lives in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood where she has organized on issues related to land use, transportation, affordable housing and parks.

Why Don’t ST Reliability Investments Score Higher?

I-405 BRT Corridor OptionsAmong the most interesting results of Sound Transit’s BRT studies was essentially no ridership benefit from “high investment” BRT options that spent more to dedicate right-of-way for buses.

I asked ST spokesman Geoff Patrick if the ridership model gave a bonus to routes that were more reliable. All models have to ignore certain effects, but omitting this one would have drastic implications for the computed value of bus capital investment.

The short answer is that the models do account for it, but perhaps not as much as someone like me might like. ST’s ridership model takes travel time as an input, and in general a bus with priority treatments will go faster. Moreover, the model assesses a higher ridership penalty for waiting time when compounded by uncertainty about the next arrival. However, specifics of the study corridors negate this time advantage.

In the case of 145th, the short distance means the potential time difference is small. Priority treatments like signal priority and queue jumps will make the usual time difference vs. a true bus lane negligible. And of course the vast majority of the route, on SR 522, will have dedicated lanes.

Meanwhile, on I-405 the investment is used to change the route, not make it faster. The high-investment scenario would add stops, and serve Tukwila Sounder and the planned dense neighborhood at Southcenter. These deviations increase end-to-end travel time enough to reduce ridership just as much as the new destinations increase it. Regrettably, the Southcenter plan doesn’t include Bus option “B2”, which would get buses out of Southcenter muck with the addition of a single on/off ramp.

This is somewhat ironic given Sound Transit’s primary purpose is to build 100% dedicated right of way, mostly light rail and commuter rail, without forcing every block of those alignments to justify those investments with a traffic study. On the other hand, new ROW is expensive, and the choice to use BRT is in practice a choice to cut costs and sacrifice reliability.

Although I don’t have a mathematical model to point to, one of the great things about truly dedicated ROW is that it reduces tail risk. When 145th st backs up because of an accident on I-5, one bus configuration will proceed with minimal delay and one will collapse in congestion. There’s no single answer for how much that peace of mind is worth. Some insist on grade separation; others will take the usually-good-enough priority treatments. For me, true dedicated right of way is the threshold between reliable transit, and not.

First Hill Streetcar Launches January 23

SDOT Photo (Flickr)
SDOT Photo (Flickr)

UPDATE 1:31pm: The first train will be “approximately noon” on Saturday and service will be free until the Grand Opening.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 1.32.27 PM

UPDATE: 1:15pm:

SDOT has officially announced the launch in a media release, and The Stranger and Seattle Times also have more details.  We are still awaiting details on when the first train will be (other than ‘midday’), the duration of the fare-free period, a published weekday or weekend schedule, and the details of the Grand Opening festivities. From SDOT:

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is excited to announce promotional service on the First Hill Streetcar Line will begin midday on Saturday, January 23. This “soft launch” will feature free rides to introduce the new service, and will be followed in the weeks to come by a grand opening and community celebration.

Funded by Sound Transit, the First Hill Streetcar connects the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Little Saigon, Chinatown-International District, and Pioneer Square. The First Hill Streetcar line is just one part of the Seattle Streetcar system that will help provide new mobility options, support economic growth, and strengthen connections in the urban core.

Thank you to the communities, neighbors, and businesses along the line for bearing with us during construction and testing. We appreciate your patience and support. We are excited to see you on the First Hill Streetcar discovering Seattle’s neighborhoods and attractions, commuting to work, and linking to other modes of travel. Learn more about how to ride the streetcar. Stay tuned for details on the grand opening events to follow.

[ORIGINAL POST, 11:00AM:]

Though less than 24 hours away and with no official word from SDOT, the First Hill Streetcar might, just maybe, launch Saturday morning.

Multiple sources speaking anonymously to STB described a relatively chaotic process behind the scenes, with agency staff unable to confirm as of Thursday if the Saturday launch will proceed. News of a sudden ‘soft launch’ angered community groups who had been planning launch festivities for over a year, prompting an apologetic internal letter on Thursday from SDOT Director Scott Kubly that is still the only evidence of the planned launch. Capitol Hill Seattle obtained a copy of the letter this morning:

Dear Community Partners,

I understand that in the past couple of days there might have been confusion caused by news of a soft launch of the First Hill Street Car (FHSC) this coming Saturday. This news might have been confusing because it was unclear whether this soft launch was in lieu of the grand opening celebrations that SDOT had been working with community and neighborhood partners to plan.
I want to clarify that the intent for this coming Saturday is not to replace the celebratory events we want to hold in our neighborhoods, but to ensure that a soft launch of the FHSC is successful and we can ensure that the streetcar is in fact operational. The attached letter articulates SDOT’s commitment to this process and our continued interest in working with our community partners to finally celebrate the successful opening of the FHSC line.

Tomorrow [Friday], SDOT will be contacting the media to announce the soft launch on Saturday. We anticipate this will generate some media attention about the soft launch, but it is our intent to work with you, our community partners, to make sure that the grand opening celebrations are where we concentrate the most media attention.
If you are interested in joining us for the soft launch, your presence and participation will be welcome, but again, I want to reiterate that we are not intending Saturday to be anything other than a soft launch of the FHSC.

Sincerely,

Scott Kubly
Director
City of Seattle Department of Transportation

Director Kubly will be presenting at the city council’s Sustainability and Transportation committee at 2pm today, and we’ll update this post when more information becomes available.

Priority Lanes & Their Democratic Skeptics

A lot of commuters, irate at the ever-increasing bottlenecks due to higher and higher freeway usage, have found their scapegoat: non-general-purpose lanes of any flavor.

The problem clearly pre-dated the roll-out of HOT lanes on I-405 north of Bellevue last September.

One of my own state representatives, Steve Bergquist (D – 11th District), resisted toll and HOV lanes before the lanes went live, so his support for scuttling the HOT experiment in its infancy should not be unexpected. Indeed, he is the second signatory on HB 2312, the companion to SB 6152, which got a hearing Thursday, and which Erica wrote about on Friday. As Bergquist admits, he is skeptical of taking away general-purpose lanes:

I think we jumped out ahead of ourselves a little bit on this project. Citizens want to see a reason to have two HOT lanes instead of one or three person carpool lanes instead of two person. My original bill, HB 2289, that I dropped last year would have eased us into a transition and used data to back up moving to 3+ carpool, rather than making such an abrupt jump.

State Rep. Steve Bergquist
State Rep. Steve Bergquist

Since September, I have been experiencing firsthand the significant effect this is having on my constituents. I am a small business owner up in the Kirkland / Bellevue area. Trying to commute back to Renton now pretty much anytime between 3 & 7 via 405 from the 520 corridor has added about 15 to 20 minutes to my normal commute, or 10 to 15 if I take alternative side roads which I have been using instead. I don’t think that was the desired impact.

So I’m signed on to continue the conversation and hopefully come up with a few changes that can help everyone in the corridor have a better commute. The bill will probably not be passing in the form it currently sits. But hopefully it will help move the conversation forward and come up with some solutions to many of the constituent frustrations I am hearing about within this corridor.

Continue reading “Priority Lanes & Their Democratic Skeptics”

Achieving a Robust Transit Solution in ST3

BY SEATTLE SUBWAY

IMG_3806

Seattle Subway has submitted comments related to the Sound Transit 3 comment period that ends today for organizations and local governments.  As a signatory to the Transit Access Stakeholders letter to the ST board, Seattle Subway strongly supports the principles endorsed by this broad cross-section of community organizations.

As the Sound Transit Board develops a system plan over the coming months, we want to detail certain actions and choices that will be critical to fulfilling these broadly-supported goals.

Our additional recommendations to the board are as follows:

1. Seattle Subway supports Regional Operations Option 3:  A new Downtown Seattle light rail tunnel with a new operating plan to support regional transit capacity.

2. Provide a light rail connection between Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate in ST3. Unlike E-03, this connection must provide stops in downtown Bellevue without requiring downtown users to transfer at Wilburton Station.

3. Include contingency lines in ST3. Our well-run transit agency can deliver projects under budget. We have seen this during the construction of University Link and further such opportunities are likely to arise even after we put a robust plan to voters. Good project management, along with local, state and federal grant funding over the course of the program can be used to build a more comprehensive system. Contingency lines could make the following possible if additional funding becomes available:

Continue reading “Achieving a Robust Transit Solution in ST3”

News Roundup: Causation, not Correlation

Pioneer Square Transit Tunnel Station, Seattle WA

This is an open thread.

ULink’s Weekday Schedule

4-Car Train at Capitol Hill Station (Sound Transit – Flickr)
4-Car Train at Capitol Hill Station (Sound Transit – Flickr)

While we wait for ULink’s opening date to be formally announced, I thought it’d be good to share ULink’s weekday schedule so riders can start planning their new trips for late March and beyond.

Though the official schedule hasn’t been published, Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray confirmed that there will be no new net service to existing stations, as ULink will extend service to Capitol Hill and UW using the same frequency and span of service Link currently offers. This allows us to extrapolate ULink’s full schedule from the existing one (see Excel file here for the full schedule). With the Sodo base being the only Operations and Maintenance (O&M) facility until 2023, much of the same schedule dynamics will likely endure until East Link opens.

The first 3 southbound trains will still originate in Beacon Hill, with the first train of the day (4:22am) remaining a ‘sweeper’ train limited to 25mph. The first UW to SeaTac train will depart UW at 4:49am.

The first 4 northbound trains will originate in Sodo and run every 12 minutes to UW between 4:48-5:24am, with the first SeaTac to UW train departing SeaTac at 5:04 and arriving at UW at 5:50am.

The duration of 6-minute peak service will vary depending on the station, as peak service will start earlier in the southbound direction and end later in the northbound direction. For example, riders at UW or Capitol Hill headed Downtown will see 6-minute service from roughly 6:00-8:30am and 3:00-6:30pm, whereas riders headed from Downtown to Capitol Hill or UW will see 6-minute service from 6:00-9:30am and 4:00-7:30pm, respectively. Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley riders headed to the airport will continue to have a frequency bonus afforded by being near the O&M facility, with 6-minute service starting at 5:30am.

The last trains of the day will be 12:34am from UW to SeaTac, and 12:04 from SeaTac to UW. The last 3 northbound trains will continue to terminate at Beacon Hill.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.22.37 PM

Assuming planned bus routes keep their same frequency and span, once Capitol Hill Station is closed Route 49 will continue running every half hour until 2am, while Route 10 will run one or two additional trips beyond Link’s closing time. Once UW Station is closed, the only access to either Downtown or Capitol Hill will be for riders to walk to 15th Avenue NE to catch Route 49, whereas current Route 43 runs at least every half hour until 2:30am (though primarily because trolley coaches are deadheading in service back to base). In fact, many of those coaches will likely still be deadheading to base as Route 44 along the Route 43 pathway, and it may be worth exploring running those routes in service to continue late-night service between Montlake and Capitol Hill, as the marginal cost of doing so is very low.

It will remain to be seen how other connecting routes at UW Station will be handled for first and last trains, but hopefully major routes replacing the 70-series will have timed connections that afford riders at least the same span of service they enjoy today.

November 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report: Link up 13%

Link’s weekdway ridership was up an impressive 13% in November. It’s looking like Link will finish up the year with around 8% growth. This is especially impressive when you consider that 2014 saw growth of 14.2%.

November’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 35,420 / 22,522 / 23,852, growth of 13.2%, 2.1%, and 9.6% respectively over November 2014. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 11.4% with ridership increasing 17% on the North line and 11% on the South. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased -0.1% with overall ridership up 1.4%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up .3%. System wide weekday boardings were up 5.3%, and all boardings were up 7.4%. The complete November Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the break.

Nov15Weekday

Continue reading “November 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report: Link up 13%”

Spokane May Go It Alone on Transit Funding

STA 45
Route 45 Bus in Spokane – Zachary Ziegler (Twitter)

For all the vast differences between Western and Eastern Washington, many political dynamics endure. Much like Seattle vis-à-vis suburban King County, Spokane often finds itself an island of pro-transit urbanity within a largely hostile, anti-transit county. STB (especially former writer Bruce Nourish) has fawned over Spokane Transit Authority (STA) in the past, praising the agency for cutting-edge mapping, customer information, and graphic design, as well as running very efficiently and productively for an agency of its size.

STA lost its STA Moving Forward (full plan PDF) vote in April 2015 by a heartbreaking margin, 50.3% to 49.7%, or just 572 votes. The .3% sales tax boost would have funded an ambitious and even revolutionary proposal for mobility in Spokane and the Inland Empire, including:

  • Operational funding for the $70m Central City Line, a frequent electric trolleybus service between Browne’s Addition, Downtown Spokane, WSU-Spokane, Gonzaga University, and Spokane Community College
  • Bringing Spokane-Cheney/EWU service up to frequent service standards
  • Construction of a new West Plains Transit Center to connect Cheney, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, and Spokane Airport without the need to go to Downtown Spokane
  • Boosting evening service to midnight or later on core routes
  • Implementing articulated buses and Rapid Ride style treatments on the busiest routes on Division and Sprague 
  • Improving all-day, two-way express service between Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake
  • Introducing pilot service to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (which also happens to be my hometown)

Within Spokane – 78% of STA’s ridership – the measure passed modestly but healthily, 54-46. Emboldened both by those results and by the resurgent economy, Spokane is getting ready to try again. The Spokesman-Review reports that the Spokane City Council is looking at a Spokane-only vote this year. Since last November, STA’s 10-year revenue forecast has improved by $26m, giving the agency the ability to ask more transit-friendly voters for less authority than before (from .3% to .2%).

Precinct-level results from the 2015 STA Moving Forward Vote (courtesy Spokesman Review)
Precinct-level results from the 2015 STA Moving Forward Vote (courtesy Spokesman Review)

Much like Seattle’s Prop 1, cities and their distinct mobility needs should not be held back by rural voters within a transit district who are neither likely to be persuaded nor well-served with transit. A city-only measure would hurt some pro-transit voters, too, especially those in Cheney who voted for the previous measure even more strongly than central Spokane. But Spokane is nonetheless right to go it alone, and perhaps interlocal agreements can be forged to boost service to Cheney/EWU. In the meantime, Cheney could direct their ire toward the likes of Spokane Valley, whose anti-transit and generally backwards politics are only getting worse.