Early Wins: Something for Nothing?

Last month’s ST3 letters had lots of requests for projects not strictly required to have a functioning rail line serving the stops the corridor concepts enumerate. Cities up and down the corridors have asked for help on station access — parking, feeder bus improvements, bike and pedestrian work and so on. A number of stakeholders came together to ask ST to prioritize affordable housing — even if it means taking less than fair market value for land. Most notably, Seattle asked for “early wins” — including bus rapid transit improvements in corridors for which rail would be a decade and a half away.

All of these projects are laudable. Moreover, attached projects are nothing new in Sound Transit’s history: widespread park-and-rides, totally rebuilt roadways on MLK and Broadway, and legal requirements surrounding TOD have all been done before, some things stretching all the way back to the beginning of Sound Transit.

But these concessions come with a cost. ST Spokesman Geoff Patrick cites a staff rule of thumb that each dollar of spending at the beginning of a package eliminates two constant dollars at the end of a package. A truly huge number of small projects could eliminate a very large one; a smaller number may delay delivery of headline projects. Overall, in a given period of time, buying projects early means we buy half as much overall.

Interestingly, Patrick added that the financial plan assumes no revenue from property sales, so concessions to housing won’t affect the package that goes before voters. However, it’s still real money that will reduce fiscal flexibility.

Depending on the project, a tradeoff like that might be worthwhile. But it’s a tradeoff that the board should make consciously, rather than viewing it as something for nothing.

It’s Here: ULink Opening Day

It’s finally here! We’ll see you at 10am at Capitol Hill Station with Mayor Murray to kick off the public launch, and we hope you have a great time at today’s all-day party in Capitol Hill and at UW. Please share your thoughts and reflections in the comments in today’s Open Thread, and we’d love it if you’d add your photos to our Flickr pool.

We’ll be too busy having fun to do a full liveblog, but STB authors will be chiming in periodically throughout the day with photos and anecdotes about the biggest day in Seattle transit since 2009. We’ll also be tweeting from @SeaTransitBlog using hashtag #ULink2016.

And we’ll see you starting at 3pm at Charlie’s for our all-ages Launch Party!

9:00am: Here’s video of the Golden Ticket ride and UW Station opening, featuring CEO Rogoff and Executive Constantine. Immediately afterward, two 3-car trains traveled together to Capitol Hill on each track. 


Light Rail: A Long and Winding Road

by GREG NICKELS

There are those who believe the debate over light rail in Seattle began in November, 1851 with the landing of the Denny party at Alki. Seattle Mayor Bertha Knight Landes (1926 – 1928) created a committee of businessmen to  study rapid transit. However, most point to the defeat of the 1968 and 1970 Forward Thrust bond issues as the time when mass transit became political road-kill for a generation. Seattle’s federal match went to Atlanta to build MARTA.

How far we have come. Since 2009 thirteen stations have served thousands of passengers every day (currently over 36,000 boardings a day), and we’re just getting started!  This week we celebrate the completion of stations on Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium, and soon, South 200th. This second round of station openings is a game changer. A person on Capitol Hill will be able to get to the University or Downtown in five minutes by light rail! A UW student can live in Des Moines and get to the University on LINK.

As the Sound Move package essentially completes its mission this year, I’d like to share one perspective on the prickly history of our region’s debate, its starts and stops, and the challenge of building consensus on our path to light rail.

bassett_lr_planning4I got involved in 1988, co-sponsoring an advisory ballot asking King County voters whether to build a light rail system to open in 2000. Nearly 70% said yes and it broke the political logjam.

After several more years of planning and the creation of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority in 1993, the first vote to fund Mass Transit in 25 years was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 special election. In addition to Commuter Rail, the RTA plan contained a surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood and east across Lake Washington on I-90 to Bellevue and Redmond.

That measure went down to defeat and history repeated itself – mass transit once again was treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political road kill.

Despite a close outcome, the votes were not evenly distributed. Seattle overwhelmingly passed the measure – but the rest of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties voted no. Some say that Prohibition would have polled better than the RTA did in Everett. Politically it was necessary to show broad support, not just from a Seattle-dominated electorate.

Continue reading “Light Rail: A Long and Winding Road”

ULink Launch Day Details

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Saturday’s ULink launch promises to be a hell of a party. Here’s what you need to know to have a great time celebrating a historic day for Seattle’s transit.

8-10am: Golden Ticket Ride

If you won a Golden Ticket to be on the first train from UW, check in at UW Station between 7:30-8:25am. You’ll get a golden lanyard and commemorative ORCA card with 2 weeks worth of fare loaded, and in the event of queues during the day on Link trains, the pass will allow you to skip to the front of the line. You can freely tour the station until 8:25, after which riders will head to the UW platform for an 8:45 ceremony and departure to Capitol Hill. After a 9:00 ceremony on the Capitol Hill platform, Golden Ticket riders can remain and tour Capitol Hill Station until 9:30.

10:00: ULink officially opens

Join Mayor Murray at the North Entrance to Capitol Hill Station for the official countdown, with confetti cannons and much nerdy rejoicing.

Please note that if taking transit to the festivities, agency trip planners have Link operating all day. This is a technical error. You will not be able to use Link to reach Capitol Hill or the UW until 10 a.m.

Fares and ORCA

Fares are free all day if you have the above ticket either printed out or available to show on your phone.  ORCA-to-go will be available at both stations all day, offering regular ORCA cards in addition to youth, RRFP, and ORCA Lift verifications. And this is just the beginning, as ORCA-to-Go will be serving ULink stations through April 16.

Food and Drink

Come for the trains, stay for lunch. ST will have a variety of food trucks, including Snout & Co, Moto Surf and Raney Brothers BBQ at UW Station and Athena’s, Jemil’s Big Easy, and Street Donuts at Capitol Hill Station.

In addition, you can get a taste for the Broadway Farmer’s Market’s permanent home adjacent to the station on Nagle Place. The market will host a pop-up version from 9am-5pm, with a wide variety of vendors including Nash’s Organic ProduceTonnemaker Family Orchard, Sno Valley MushroomsNature’s Last Stand, El Chito‘s, Loki Fish Co.’s, Mystic KombuchaMiri’s Poffertjes.

Music

Sound Transit has booked 6 DJs and more than a dozen other performance artists, and they’ll be playing all day at the station concourses and mezzanines. See the full lineup here.

Game Zones

Each station will host a Game Zone with a variety of all-ages activities. UW Station will host a bicycle petting zoo (to show off unusual and unique bikes), a Build-­a-Train station, Funhouse Selfie Station, Giant Jenga, Giant Connect Four, and Chess & Checkers. Capitol Hill Station will have similar offerings (minus the bike petting zoo).

Expo Pavilion

Both stations will also have an “expo pavilion” with a series of information tents including Sound Transit’s Art , Bike, and Security programs, Cascade Bicycle Club, facepainting and temporary tattoos, Jet City Improv, and agency reps from Metro, Pronto, SDOT, Seattle Children’s, Sounders FC, WSDOT’s 520 project, the Capitol Hill Chamber, Gerdling Edlen (Capitol Hill Station’s housing developer), Seattle Central College, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and Swedish Hospital.

The Marketplace

The “Marketplace” section at UW will host Sound Transit and nearly 100 volunteers with Transportation Choices Coalition to discuss ST3. BikeWorks will also host a bike valet with free tuneups at both stations.  At Capitol Hill, the pop-up Broadway Farmer’s Market will also be in the Marketplace section.

Afterparties

The most important part of the day, of course, is Seattle Transit Blog’s all-ages ULink Launch Party at Charlie’s from 3-5pm, with various other groups, such as the Sierra Club and Seattle Subway hosting their own parties nearby for their staff, volunteers, and activists. Start with ours before heading to theirs!

Blog Open Thread

After a morning guest piece reflecting on the long road to get to ULink, the blog will have a day-long open thread with photos, anecdotes, and more.

After #ULink2016, we’ll do this all again 5 years from now with 3 new stations for #NorthgateLink2021.

Proposed Kirkland “Compromise” a Bad Deal for Transit

Cross Kirkland Corridor - 15

[UPDATE: In a development inconvenient for my thesis, Save Our Trails utterly rejected the compromise proposal today, for reasons good and bad.]

If the numerous corridor studies have shown anything, it’s that a small transit capital investment in transit for Kirkland wouldn’t be a disaster for the region. Projected ridership just isn’t that high. Despite interest group pressure, Sound Transit hasn’t shown any interest in a studying the investments in dedicated right-of-way that might make Kirkland service a game-changer.

The proposed Kirkland “compromise” would have only modest transit investment in Kirkland: I-405 BRT with an added stop near downtown; and a useful, but not game-changing, BRT connection to Redmond. Omitting the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) wouldn’t destroy the vision of a region connected by high-quality transit. Or rather, it won’t if doesn’t cost votes in Kirkland that bring the package below 50%. There are enough cities desperate for improvements that Sound Transit ought to find a place to spend the CKC money to yield more votes elsewhere. Indeed, even a popular Kirkland package that also spurs organized opposition from trail neighbors may yield fewer votes than the alternatives.

This is particularly the case if voters in Redmond, Bellevue, and Issaquah, who presumably would get a big investment in ST3, don’t develop an “Eastside” identity that gets prickly when “their” dollars leave East King County to help out in the 522 corridor, South Sounder, Ballard/UW, Burien, or somewhere else productive.

In truth, I’m relaxed about whatever outcome occurs in Kirkland for the reasons above. The bus advocates have some good points and the rail advocates have some good points, and the real difference between them is whether or not Sound Transit can create a good rail alignment instead of the current one. “Save Our Trail”‘s position is understandable, though (in my view) disastrous for Kirkland as a whole. I believe the Kirkland City Council sincerely thinks BRT on this corridor is best for Kirkland, and I sympathize with the idea that it’s technically superior to the current rail concept. But let’s call this newest Kirkland “compromise” what it is: not a compromise, but a plan that essentially gives “Save Our Trail” exactly what it wants: no transit on the CKC. If that weren’t enough, ST would spend $200m on trail improvements rather than high-quality transit. Whatever the merits of this as an access project, it’s also yet another carrot for trail neighbors.

The Kirkland City Council hopes planning money will commit the region to build transit there. Regardless, no funding for construction effectively kicks CKC transit into the long grass. Whether there will even be a regional ST4 package someday is a subject for another post, but the exact political forces that have changed the CKC debate from bus-rail to transit-or-not will be present the next time around. There’s no way to commit a grassroots movement to support transit at a specific point in the future, or future leaders to execute a plan that today’s leaders do not. Residents along the trail will have the exact same incentives they do today, future residents will not feel bound by deals made in 2016, and the trail will have been vehicle-free for decades instead of months. Limiting investment in Kirkland may or may not be the right thing to do, but deferring transit on the CKC is likely killing it forever.

Kirkland’s Compromise ST3 Offer

The nearest point on the CKC to downtown is 0.5 miles away and surrounded by low-density uses.
One reason to favor BRT is that the nearest proposed light rail station would be 0.5 miles from downtown and surrounded by low-density uses.

On Tuesday evening, the Kirkland City Council approved a letter to the Sound Transit Board offering a compromise to resolve the impasse over transit on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). The letter (significantly revised from the draft Zach reported on Saturday) seeks an investment in trail access from Kirkland to the Wilburton Link Station and Kingsgate BRT station. These trails would be designed to accommodate transit, carefully signaling the integration of transit and other uses on the corridor. At the same time, ST3 would fund planning and development for high-capacity transit on the corridor, leading to a record of decision for transit in the next regional package.

The “Kirkland Compromise” includes:

  • A Regional Trail connection from Sound Transit’s Totem Lake terminus to Sound Transit’s Wilburton Station in Bellevue along the CKC and ERC. This would be a fully developed permanent trail built to the specifications of the Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan in Kirkland and King County’s ERC Regional Trail Master Plan in Bellevue.
  • Trail planning aligned with transit planning to clearly define a future transit envelope in the CKC and ERC in Bellevue. Planning the trail and transit together ensure the trail would not be disrupted in the future.
  • Design money allocated for transit design on the CKC/ERC to achieve a record of decision.
  • BRT on I-405 to include an inline station at NE 85th along with transit service directly connecting downtown Kirkland to Redmond along NE 85th in exclusive lanes.

The Compromise commits all parties to future transit on the CKC, even if delayed (Kirkland reiterates its preference for BRT on the Corridor in ST3). It accelerates development of Kirkland’s primary walking and biking corridor, and advances access for walk/bike to I-405 BRT at Kingsgate and East Link at Wilburton.

Continue reading “Kirkland’s Compromise ST3 Offer”

Everett Transit Proposes Changes to Service in North Everett and Silver Lake

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Everett Transit has laid out plans for some major service changes to its bus routes in North Everett and Silver Lake, slated to take place this August.

Under the new proposal, the North Everett Circulator (routes 4 and 5, which run in opposite directions in a loop around the neighborhood every hour) would be split and partially merged with existing route 17 (Everett Mall to Everett Station via Beverly Boulevard and Colby Avenue) to provide bi-directional service. The western half would become an extension of route 17 to College Station, while the eastern half would be route 4; as a result of the change, route 17 service would be extended into the weekend and run at similar times to the current route 5.

The second part of the proposal is a minor adjustment to route 7, one of the busiest routes in the city, in downtown Everett. Taking advantage of the newly-rebuilt Broadway Bridge, it would eliminate a few extra turns near Everett Station and restore the original route on Broadway used before 2012.

The third and final part of the proposal is the rerouting of all route 29 trips to serve the southern portion of Silver Lake, which is served by roughly half of the route’s trips on weekdays and a third on weekends. This would increase travel times by about five minutes, according to the current schedule.

Everett Transit is taking comments on the proposals until April 1 via an online form at EverettTransit.org, e-mail, phone calls and mail. The agency is also holding four public meetings discussing the changes, to be held at Everett Station and two other venues on the next two Wednesdays and Thursdays. The final proposal will be presented on May 13 at a public meeting to be held at Everett Station.

Public meetings

Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Everett Station
3201 Smith Ave. Room 412 – Dan Snow Room (4th Floor)

Thursday, March 17, 2016, 4 – 6 p.m.
Everett Public Library Evergreen Branch
9512 Evergreen Way – Activity Room

Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 5 – 7 p.m.
Everett Station
3201 Smith Ave. Room 412 – Dan Snow Room (4th Floor)

Thursday, March 24, 2016, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
The Vintage at Everett
1001 E Marine View Dr. – Lobby

First Ride on ULink

Four days out from launch, yesterday Sound Transit invited local media to take a preview ride on ULink. The hourlong event included station tours at UW and Capitol Hill, and a roundtrip ride between UW and Capitol Hill. Like clockwork, the southbound trip took 3 minutes and 56 seconds, with smooth acceleration and great ride quality after the initial jostle of switching from the northbound to the southbound track upon departure. I heard a couple gasps from TV crews as we arrived at Capitol Hill, with an exclamation of “Already?!” and wide smiles all around.

On the return trip, the train was 2 minutes late (likely due to bus interference northbound at Westlake) and took 4 minutes and 30 seconds to reach UW. Sound Transit is looking for ways to improve northbound tunnel operations, including surfacing westbound Route 550 during the PM peak beginning March 28. Route 550 trips leaving Bellevue Transit Center from 2:35-5:25pm will drop off on 4th Avenue.

Immediately north of the UW platform, we were also given a look at the retrieval shaft where tunnel boring machine (TBM) Brenda will arrive in a couple weeks. Sound Transit’s Executive Director for Construction Management Ahmad Fazel said that damaged TBM Pamela has been running well under reduced load, and is now just ~150′ from breaking through at UDistrict Station.

According to Link Transportation Manager Marie Olson, during peak periods when 6-minute headways are in effect (and likely also during special events), trains departing UW will alternate platforms, just as is done at SeaTac/Airport today. During base 10-minute headways, most trains will depart from the southbound platform, meaning northbound trips will cross over just prior to arrival.

Though not much new was learned, it was still a great experience to ride the train and get a gut feel for its transformative power. For maximum contrast, after the ride I rode my bike to Montlake Freeway Station to catch a 255. 29 minutes after boarding, my bus arrived at Westlake, immediately behind a train that left UW 20 minutes after my bus. Bring on Saturday.

Action Alert: Kirkland City Council to Vote to Oppose Light Rail This Evening

Seattle Subway LogoSEATTLE SUBWAY

Tonight the Kirkland City Council is planning on voting to ratify a letter that, among other things, contains the following statement.

“If light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor is included in the ST3 package, Kirkland would have to oppose the ballot measure.”

The Council’s opposition to light rail is a tactic to try and force Bus Rapid Transit, which is extremely unpopular among Eastsiders. To be be fair the situation isn’t helped by early Sound Transit Study work that Seattle Subway has been trying to improve since 2014. Yesterday Zach took it a step further and suggested an incredible Eastside network, which should be the starting point for any Eastside transit discussion moving forward. This is what the City Council should focus on implementing.

However, due to their opposition to light rail and pressure from anti-transit homeowners near the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) the Kirkland City Council is planning ask Sound Transit to spend $250 million on trail improvements while completely punting on transit until ST4.

Let’s be clear, there will be no ST4. Once the spine is completed, there will be no major projects left for the suburban subareas. This is the last regional package from Sound Transit as we know it.

So the Kirkland Compromise of punting on transit until the next regional vote is no compromise, it is capitulation.

If you live, work or play on the Eastside, please show up and let the Kirkland City Council know you want a rail extension in ST3.

Kirkland City Council Meeting
Tuesday 3/15, 7:30 PM
Peter Kirk Room
123 Fifth Avenue
Kirkland, Washington 98033

Show up and be heard – the fate of ST3 could hang in the balance. If you can’t make it, please send email comments to and the Kirkland City Council and to the entire Sound Transit Board, or email Eastside Boardmembers Balducci, Butler, and Marchione. Tell them you want new rail connectivity to Kirkland, and that you don’t want intra-Eastside politics to jeopardize Link to Everett, Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle, or a second Downtown Transit Tunnel.

City Council Saves Pronto in 7-2 Vote

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Monday afternoon the Seattle City Council approved $1.4m to purchase Pronto Cycleshare’s privately-held assets. The buyout gives Pronto a needed infusion of cash to keep service going while the City prepares to financially restructure the struggling bikeshare service. The City will retain the private operator (Motivate Co) through the remainder of 2016, and will issue an RFP to take over the contract and expand the service in the coming years.

Councilmembers Burgess and Herbold were the lone dissenters, sponsoring a failed amendment that would have allowed Pronto to go bankrupt on March 31, liquidate its assets, and apply those proceeds towards debt service, with the City on the hook for separately repaying a $1m federal grant. In his comments, Burgess preferred a fully private operator focused on profitability and worried about mission creep creating ongoing financial exposure for the city beyond the $1.4m buyout. Herbold, meanwhile, criticized the purchase of what she considers outdated capital assets. Noting that Portland is piloting a free-floating bikeshare system similar in structure to Car2Go, she made the analogy that the City was proposing to spend $1.4m to “buyout the contract for a flip phone so we can bid on a smartphone. Why not just buy the smartphone?”

The Council majority honestly conceded Pronto’s operational issues multiple times, but ultimately spoke in favor of a seamless transition, ensuring continuity of service, and an ongoing public stake in bikeshare. Indeed, in many of the subsequent amendments (all of which passed unanimously), Councilmembers indirectly made the case for public ownership. Councilmember Gonzalez passed an amendment to spend $50,000 on low-income and multilingual access for bikeshare, and Councilmembers Juarez, Johnson, and others spoke numerous times in favor of expanding low-income access, citywide expansion, and more. Each of these are laudable social justice goals, but none of them are performance-enhancing requirements. By voting unanimously for values that privilege access and equity over performance, Councilmembers effectively showed why such a system is better off in at least partially public hands. That is a trade I am perfectly comfortable with as long as those values are transparent and we evaluate the system’s performance accordingly.

O’Brien also passed an amendment requiring that 5 specific stretches of protected bike lanes be constructed prior to any expansion, including completing 2nd Avenue from Denny to S Washington St, completing the Westlake cycletrack, and completing the cycletrack on 9th Avenue North between Westlake and Denny that would effectively be a continuation of the Westlake corridor.

Now the fun begins, as the buyout gives us a chance to take stock of the current system’s shortcomings and reimagine its future in Seattle. In the meantime, 150,000 annual riders can keep riding.

A Field Manual for Renewed Streets

streetfightFormer New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution isn’t quite in STB’s wheelhouse. As New York City has a mature transit system, and not under her supervision, the emphasis of her work (and the book) is on street design rather than transit architecture. And yet, the story of the movement that spawned initiatives like Vision Zero is a good read with lessons for Seattle and elsewhere.

The book serves three basic purposes. First, it makes the argument for what we usually call “urbanism:” density and de-emphasis on fast-moving cars. As most readers will already be convinced, this thankfully gets the least treatment. Indeed, while someone like me finds little to quarrel with, committed car advocates will find many arguments unconvincing. The argument that “increasing the supply of road space doesn’t alleviate traffic; it almost always allows more people to drive more” sounds dystopian to someone conscious of the externalities of driving. For others, it just shows how badly more road space is needed.

The second purpose of the book is to serve as an accessible manual for how to build a street. Many of the concepts will be familiar to fans of STB and similar blogs, but it’s pleasant to see it coherently presented in one place. There’s a fine discussion of lane narrowing, a technique that hasn’t gotten much press here.  A tool that Seattle has barely touched is one-way streets. In places where the right-of-way is quite narrow given the purposes we allocate to it, converting a street to one-way immediately halves the space the city has to dedicate to cars, allowing other uses without creating 100-foot-wide monstrosities. I’d like to see Seattle look at more places it can recover street space with one-way traffic, as it’s considered near Mount Baker Station.

The chapter on bike share is of particular contemporary interest. Her list of tips for successful bike share is a list of things Seattle didn’t do: avoid helmet laws, pack stations densely, and start with a big system instead of a limited one. Interestingly, a key success for CitiBike was structuring it as a revenue contract, so that each bike station placement wouldn’t become a heavily politicized land-use process. One wonders if Seattle’s proposed takeover of Pronto will create those kinds of problems.

The final, and most appealing, purpose of the book is to provide a political strategy for change through anecdotes about the fights in New York. This portion really could have a used a chapter to distill the lessons Ms. Sadik-Khan learned into a coherent blueprint. She is also not very reflective about the one big failure of the Bloomberg era, congestion pricing, content to blame the legislature and move on rather than dissect what the city might have done differently. Nevertheless, a careful reading reveals some insights, many of which surpass statements of the obvious:

Continue reading “A Field Manual for Renewed Streets”

A Grand Bargain for Kirkland in ST3

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Drawing of Purple Line in Maryland

On Saturday I wrote about conflict between the City of Kirkland and Sound Transit on proposed transit investments in Sound Transit 3. If you’re new to this issue I suggest you read that piece before this one, but to reiterate, the basic issues are as follows. Kirkland developed a detailed Bus Rapid Transit plan for its Cross Kirkland Corridor in response to two perceived limitations of light rail, namely that a small capital package would render light rail unaffordable and that light rail was inappropriate for a rail-trail corridor that misses the heart of downtown Kirkland. The City and Sound Transit are at an impasse on the project, with Sound Transit preferring light rail given the likelihood of a larger package and because the preponderance of public comment strongly favored light rail over BRT. Kirkland has remained steadfast despite these new realities, threatening to publicly oppose the ballot measure (pages 12-13) if light rail is included. Meanwhile, citizen activism via the Save Our Trail group threatens any transit investment in the corridor, which in turn threatens the strength of Eastside projects needed to deliver a ‘yes’ vote on Sound Transit 3.

What follows is an attempt at a third way, a grand bargain that builds an appropriately scaled intra-Eastside rail line that is likelier to motivate voters, that permanently secures a world-class walking and biking trail from Woodinville to Renton, and that responds to both the concerns of the City of Kirkland and the adjacent homeowners of Save Our Trail. The following proposal isn’t perfect, but I believe it’s a good-faith triangulation of competing needs that builds a quality project while offering substantive mitigation to Kirkland residents. The proposal is in 5 parts: Continue reading “A Grand Bargain for Kirkland in ST3”

Kirkland and Sound Transit Struggling to Agree on ST3

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Photo by the Author

Sound Transit 3’s politics require a delicate dance between keeping subarea dollars local and funding the most productive and popular projects. Some subareas are long on projects and short on funds (Snohomish County, and to a much lesser extent Seattle), while others are relatively flush with cash but lean on popular projects (East King County, and to a lesser extent Pierce County). Like a fragile ecosystem held in a tenuous equilibrium of competing needs, small disturbances can jeopardize the whole endeavor. Indeed, without strong advocacy now, the City of Kirkland may be endangering ST3.

Kirkland’s situation is peculiar. Its downtown is difficult to serve under the best circumstances, its alluring historic rail right-of-way (the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, or CKC) barely misses the heart of the city, and its designated growth center (Totem Lake) is a growth center much more in name than reality. The city government’s strongest support has been for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the CKC, arguing that the flexibility of BRT would make it easier to serve multiple destination pairs, such as both Totem Lake and Downtown Kirkland.

As a technical matter, they have a point, but politically it has been a complete non-starter. Residents adjacent to the trail have argued loudly and often against any type of transit in the corridor (though their greatest ire has been reserved for buses), despite the corridor’s undisputed legal status as a transportation corridor and whose (lovely) non-motorized trail is hardly historic, opening barely over a year ago. Meanwhile, Sound Transit wants rail, believing the Eastside’s high revenues would make it an odd choice to dilute transit quality, or its self-identified brand, by settling for buses. Take note of just how peculiar this is. The organized residents are saying they want nothing, the Kirkland City Council wants millions spent on buses, while Sound Transit and regional stakeholders want to give them billions in trains.

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Photo by the Author

In addition to the effective organizing of the Save Our Trail group, a draft Kirkland council memo describes a March 1 meeting in which Dow Constantine and Boardmembers Balducci, Butler, and Marchione lobbied Kirkland to drop BRT and support light rail instead. Kirkland is apparently holding firm, and in response the draft threatens to actively oppose ST3 if light rail is included against its wishes:

The wrong transit is worse than no transit on the CKC at this time. If light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor is included in the ST3 package, Kirkland would have to oppose the ballot measure. (Page 13)

Eager to avoid conflict and apparently unwilling to endure another East Link experience, the Board appears ready to take the path of least resistance.  STB has learned from two independent sources that the Draft System Plan may include no transit on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, and possibly no investment at all within central Kirkland. Continue reading “Kirkland and Sound Transit Struggling to Agree on ST3”

Rob Johnson to Host Restructure Forum Saturday in the UDistrict

Photo by @eboperator (Twitter)
Photo by @eboperator (Twitter)

One week before ULink’s opening, there is still significant education and outreach to be done in communities affected by the major restructuring of bus service. Tomorrow (March 12), Councilmember Rob Johnson will host a forum at the University Heights Center (5031 University Way NE) from 10am-noon to discuss the opening of ULink and the associated restructure.

If you still have questions about how the restructure will work for you, complaints or praise for planners, or simply want to engage your council member and agency staff on transit issues, it’s a good way to spend a couple hours of your Saturday. Johnson will be there early on (10:15-10:45), but for the remainder of the event several knowledgeable staff will be on hand, including Metro’s DeAnna Martin and Jeremy Fichter, UW Transportation Director Josh Kavanaugh, SDOT Transit Deputy Director Bill Bryant, and Sound Transit’s Craig Davison and Trinity Parker.

Full media release from Johnson’s office after the jump. Continue reading “Rob Johnson to Host Restructure Forum Saturday in the UDistrict”

The Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Starting to Take Shape

In the shadow of Bellevue’s Wilburton Trestle, King County Executive Dow Constantine announces the draft master plan for the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail on February 29 (Photo by Author).

Last week, King County Parks published a draft master plan for the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail. The County aims to develop a permanent paved trail on over 16 miles of the corridor.

As the trail plan enters a public comment period, Sound Transit is finalizing its own draft system plan. That will clarify how portions of the corridor may be shared with transit. Across the Eastside, efforts to bring the corridor into public use are accelerating. Legacy freight tracks will be removed in 2017, and trails are being expanded. Snohomish County has agreed to buy 12 miles of corridor and is expected to build a trail alongside the active rail line. A once contentious political debate over rails vs trails has been mostly replaced by a consensus that the ERC will serve both (though it still echoes in Kirkland where transit opponents have coalesced around “Save Our Trail” rhetoric).

Since being rail-banked in 2009, ownership has resided with several jurisdictions. The cities of Redmond and Kirkland mostly own the segments within their respective city limits. Sound Transit owns a 1-mile section where East Link will be built. The balance of the rail-banked area is owned by King County. The County is also the trail sponsor in the Sound Transit area. Sound Transit and other utilities retain easements along the ERC. Owners and stakeholders collaborate through the ERC Regional Advisory Council.

Here’s a flavor of what’s going on: Continue reading “The Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Starting to Take Shape”

News Roundup: Rattling Houses

Seattle Streetcar 303 Inekon Trio (Obliteride/Fred Hutchinson wrap)

This is an open thread.

Metro’s ULink Service Change Page Is Now Live

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[Post has been updated with minor clarifications on Routes 24, 28, 33, 48, 62, 73, 75, 78, and 373.]

With ULink launching next weekend and Metro’s huge service change happening one week later on March 26, Metro released its official service change information page this afternoon, and County Executive Dow Constantine has issued a media release about the changes. Those familiar with the service change website will notice a number of substantive improvements to the interface, including station area maps and the ability to filter routes to see only additions, deletions, reductions, extensions, and more.

There are a number of ULink related changes we’ve covered exhaustively, but also a number of grab bag improvements across the system. Wi-fi has now been added to the Downtown Transit Tunnel as a Metro project, with Sound Transit adding cell service in all tunnel stations coming this summer.

Metro’s info is clearer and more user-friendly than we’ve seen, and you should check it out. But here are the basics on one page. Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes or left anything out.

Continue reading “Metro’s ULink Service Change Page Is Now Live”