Seattle Tidbits from the Metro LRP

Coach 4504 signed 44 Ballard
Metro wants this bus to turn red and go to Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy of Bruce Engelhardt.

This past Monday, Zach introduced STB riders to Metro’s new Long Range Plan.  The plan sets forth an ambitious series of large-scale goals for Metro. Most prominently, it brings truly frequent service (15 minutes or better, daytime and early evenings) within a 10-minute walk of 70 percent of King County residents.  While the plan is considerably more than a network planning vision, its centerpiece is a rough, high-level network proposal restructuring Metro service around Sound Transit’s regional projects and relying on an ambitious increase in service levels.

The proposal has two parts: a near-term “2025” vision designed around the funded projects from Sound Transit 2, and a longer-term “2040” vision that reflects King County projects included in Sound Transit’s ST3 draft plan.  The 2040 vision would bring Metro from roughly 3.5m annual service hours today to about 6m.  Metro emphasizes that neither vision “is a service change proposal” and that proposed routes in these visions need to go through much more analysis before they could become part of service changes.  In other words, this is all very much Before Seattle Process.

Still, the plan provides insight into what Metro’s professional planners think would work given local jurisdictions’ long-term plans.  Metro’s Chris O’Claire, one of the plan’s principal architects, emphasized to us in a briefing that Metro considered local comprehensive plans, growth expectations, and transit priorities, and that the plan reflected a cooperative process between Metro and lots of local and regional stakeholders.  One pleasant surprise is a very heavy emphasis on frequent Link connectivity systemwide, resulting in a major shift toward east/west service in Seattle and South King County, and north/south service on the Eastside.

The 2040 plan changes literally every route in the Metro system to some extent, so there is no realistic way for us to cover all of the changes, no matter how deep we try to dive.  Below is a grab bag of a few of the most interesting, and likely controversial, specifics I’ve found in the Seattle portion.  A suburban installment, equally full of new ideas, will be coming later.  Reach in, pick your candy, and comment after the jump.

Central Seattle

Continue reading “Seattle Tidbits from the Metro LRP”

News Roundup: Embrace the Changes

A Sounder North Rounding the Mukilteo Corner

This is an open thread.

Seattle Subway’s ST3 Draft Plan Feedback

STC__Complete-v9_Full Artboard2Seattle Subway encourages all supporters of great transit in the Puget Sound region to include the following key points in their feedback to the Sound Transit board. Please email the board with your comments, as they are now due by Monday, May 2.

Dear Sound Transit Board Members,

Seattle Subway thanks the board for proposing a transit package that meets the scale of the need in the Central Puget Sound region. As an advocacy group favoring robust, high quality, high capacity transit investments throughout the three-county metropolitan area, we also appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the ST3 draft plan. In addition to our support of the principles of the Transit Access Stakeholders group to which we are a party, we wanted to provide additional emphasis on the following issues:


  • Grade separation in urban areas is essential
  • Collaboration to reduce timelines as much as possible is critical (involves Sound Transit, action by cities before the vote and community group support)
  • Regional infrastructure should be funded regionally
  • Plan for the future, and study appropriately to help the future arrive more quickly
  • Embrace reliable community partners
  • Win!


  • Regional Infrastructure: We should recognize that both Downtown Subway Tunnels will be regional assets. Reliability challenges, left unaddressed, will have impacts on the entire system. Train delays in the Interbay section will have direct impacts all along the Ballard to Tacoma line. Interruptions on this line during rush hour will also push overwhelming crowds–up to 100,000 daily riders–into the existing tunnel that serves Everett, Lynnwood, West Seattle and Bellevue/Redmond as riders crowd just one downtown subway tunnel. This points us to a key fact: the second tunnel in downtown Seattle is a regional asset, just as the original DSTT is (which was built and funded by King County voters in the 1980s for $455 million). Resourcing the tunnel as a regional asset can ensure funding available to resolve reliability issues north of the tunnel that will affect the entire system if left unaddressed.
  • Improving Timelines: We know Sound Transit staff are working to reduce timelines as much as reasonably possible. We note the following:
    • Ballard-SLU-Downtown is the highest ridership line in the region. Every effort must be made to get the delivery timeline without reducing quality.
    • Snohomish County residents have disapproved of the timeline to Everett. Their hunger for light rail immediately can be satisfied with building direct to Everett, providing initial BRT on the Paine Field loop, and constructing light rail from the spine to Paine Field at a later date. That said, an Everett alignment West of I-5 is preferable to best serve transit dependent communities. A freeway alignment has long term costs, undermining Everett’s potential as a thriving city more than the short term construction impacts of construction near denser, walkable areas where people actually live and work.
    • City Efforts. Sound Transit should outline specific actions that cities can take to speed delivery of projects by up to three years. If cities clamoring for light rail take action prior to June to maximize these timeline savings, then the delivery timelines of projects can reflect accordingly. Tacoma, Everett, Seattle and Issaquah all have the opportunity to make a difference here.
    • New Stations. While full light rail lines take time to construct, infill stations should be an early deliverable. With this in mind, Graham St station should be built much earlier and the construction of 130th St station should be guaranteed and delivered as soon after Lynnwood Link is finished as possible.
  • Grade Separation: The Ballard-SLU-Downtown line will be one of the highest ridership lines in America, with half the ridership in the downtown core coming from across the region. Sufficient funding for grade separation through Interbay is essential, otherwise reliability for Tacoma, Federal Way, SeaTac and the downtown core will be seriously affected. That would be a bad outcome for the entire region.
  • Plan for the future. We can ensure the wait for transit is even less in the future if we do the following now:
    • EIS study and provisional status of light rail for Ballard to UW and West Seattle to Burien. Limited spending here shaves 6 years off a future construction timelines. Additionally, given that Sound Transit projects in 2016 are coming in $240 million under budget and the FTA has granted double our expected funding for Lynnwood, we should have an executable plan to efficiently use unanticipated funding. On a package of this size, cost savings could contribute to line extensions to Burien and crosstown in North Seattle.
    • Alternatives Analysis on Ballard-Crown Hill-Greenwood-Phinney-Northgate-Lake City. This line serves transit dependent communities in North Seattle and the study can be completed at low cost.
    • Alternatives Analysis on “Metro 8” serving Belltown-SLU-Capitol Hill-Central District-Judkins Park-Mt Baker. This line connects transit dependent communities in the Central District and also connects region’s highest density neighborhoods.
    • Future-proof Stations for Continued Growth. ST3 will not be the last transit expansion in the Seattle area. Stations should be funded to be built with an eye for future expandability. For example, funding should be sufficient to allow a Ballard station to be expandable both East and North, as the City of Seattle has requested.
  • Embrace Reliable Community Partners. We support expansion of the light rail system to Issaquah, partly because reliable partners are essential to building robust system. Cities and Sound Transit (as noted above) must work together to serve the public interest. While some cities hold transit hostage, others embrace best urbanist principles in planning and in code, and do so in collaboration with regional entities. Issaquah and Redmond are examples of this latter group. Their willingness to work with and for transit will produce the best possible outcomes for the region all while reducing costs to do so. We hope Tacoma, Seattle and Everett also bring the same embrace of best practices to expedite delivery of light rail, maximize quality TOD opportunities, and continue to build the dense, walkable, accessible communities that should surround such an important transit investment.

We are excited for what is possible as part of this robust transit expansion package. We look forward to the impact this has on both economic development and quality of life in great communities from Tacoma to Everett to Redmond and Issaquah, and in Seattle itself. The board has attempted to meet the depth of the challenge our region faces when it comes to transportation. We expect the board will succeed in making many of these improvements that will improve likelihood of passage of such an important measure.

Seattle ST3 Meeting + Sound Transit Board Liveblog

This morning and afternoon we’ll be at Union Station for Downtown Seattle’s only ST3 meeting, followed by the Sound Transit Board. We’ll be tweeting at @seatransitblog, and the feed will be embedded here. Follow along from 11:30am-4:00pm!

Sound Transit Presents Paine Spur Option at Everett ST3 Meeting


On Monday night, Sound Transit held an open house at Everett Station regarding its plans for Snohomish County in ST3, mainly focusing on the light rail extension from Lynnwood to Everett via Paine Field. Over the last month, much had been said over the disapproval of county residents and politicians over the proposed 2041 delivery date for light rail to reach Downtown Everett, with county leaders coming up with alternative proposals that sought to preserve service to Paine Field at the expense of any rail on Evergreen Way. ST presented its new solution to the Paine Field problem, building a spur and keeping the main line on Interstate 5 for a decade-faster delivery in 2031 at a lower cost and faster route. A spur, either a short rail line along the Boeing Freeway towards Boeing’s Everett factory or bus rapid transit between Everett Station and Mariner Park & Ride via Evergreen Way and Airport Road (both part of Community Transit’s Swift BRT network, the latter coming online in 2018).

The spur would cost in the range of $320 million (for 11.6 miles of BRT) to $500 million (for 2.8 miles of rail), bringing down the cost of the entire line from $4 billion to only $3.5 billion at most, which would help with the Snohomish subarea’s ability to fund the project without inter-subarea loans. Travel times between Downtown Everett and Lynnwood Transit Center would also be reduced by 7 minutes from 32 under the Paine Field option to 25; riding the rail spur would add 5 minutes of travel time and a few minutes for a transfer at the Everett Mall, adding a small amount of time for Boeing-bound riders. The distance between Lynnwood and Everett would be reduced from the proposed 15-16 miles to only 12.6, saving riders 50 cents per round-trip under the current light rail fare formula. Total ridership would increase under either of the Paine Spur options well into the 40,000 range if not higher when including the two spurs, with the slower and longer BRT option netting 7,000 to 9,000 daily riders and the light rail spur only 1,000.

Turnout at the Everett meeting was high enough for Sound Transit staff to use their prepared overflow room, just down the hall from the main meeting space on the fourth floor of Everett Station. A dozen or so local politicians were on hand to make speeches and have their opinions be heard, including representatives from cities outside of the Sound Transit district such as Marysville, Lake Stevens, and Stanwood. Many in attendance were wearing t-shirts distributed by the Light Rail to Everett group, funded by the Economic Alliance Snohomish County, reading “Light rail to Everett…in our lifetime”; the group’s official position is similar to that of the Snohomish County politicians on the Sound Transit Board, who want both sooner delivery of light rail as well as service to Paine Field’s employment center. The question-and-answer session was handled at a much faster pace than a previous session I observed at the similarly-contentious Ballard meeting, though it did continue well past the scheduled end point as people were happy to stay and listen for longer as a majority of those wanting questions answered were heard. ST CEO Peter Rogoff seemed eager to inject a healthy amount of his humor into his responses to various questions that would have been better left unanswered for their irrelevance. With the exception of an attempted filibustering from an anti-rail speaker, who had his microphone rescinded by staffers, questions touched on concerns ranging from the upcoming Tim Eyman initiative and its possible effects to ST’s plans, to possible annexation and extension of Sounder and Sound Transit Express to Marysville and Smokey Point (where the former would be time-competitive with existing peak express service).

At the end of the night, many in attendance seem to come away satisfied with the new proposals and their timeliness as well as their preservation of Paine Field service. While the lack of any rail options on Evergreen Way may disappoint those who push for TOD in Snohomish County, an Interstate 5 alignment (with Paine Field spurs) is ultimately the lesser of two evils and would be wholly acceptable and palatable to all parties in Snohomish County, from commuters to businesses and leaders.

Capacity crowd at Everett Station, Monday night (photo by author)

Reduced Expectations for I-405 BRT

I405_BRT_STB2When Sound Transit released studies of I-405 BRT in December, many observers were surprised to observe the “intensive-capital” option produced no more ridership than the minimalist “low-capital” alternative despite a gap of up to $2 billion in capital investments. While some questioned the results, it greatly complicated the case for making a large investment in I-405.

The Eastside cities asked for a hybrid between the low and intensive capital alternatives. The scope, they argued, needs to “provide sufficient access for the line to operate as an efficient BRT facility” including a dedicated transitway with inline flyer stops, an additional station south of I-90, direct access to Tukwila Sounder Station, and an inline station at NE 85th Street in Kirkland.

They may be disappointed by the less ambitious proposal in the draft plan. The capital cost is $735m. Essentially, this buys the December “low-capital” proposal, plus a flyer stop at NE 85th St, and some modifications south of Renton that didn’t appreciably impact the total cost. Ridership estimates, previously pegged at 13-18K, are reduced to just 11-13K. Total travel time end-to-end is 87 minutes, 13 minutes faster than the comparable December estimate, probably because the BRT no longer goes to downtown Renton.

Continue reading “Reduced Expectations for I-405 BRT”

Metro and SDOT Cut a Deal on the SE Seattle Restructure

Route 38 at Mount Baker (SounderBruce – Flickr)
Route 38 at Mount Baker (SounderBruce – Flickr)

Several independent sources have confirmed that the city and Metro have come to agreement on an expanded restructure of Metro bus service in SE Seattle for the September service change. The city had balked at partially funding the initial restructure on policy grounds, with disagreements largely centering on the merits of extending MLK bus service to the International District via Rainier/Jackson. Unable to fund the larger restructure on its own, Metro came back with a scaled back version that seemed to please no one, cutting Route 9 to fund a weekday-only Route 38 extension while leaving the remaining network untouched.

The new compromise has not been published yet, but our sources say the city will fund additional Route 124 trips and will acquiesce on the IDS extension. There seems to be a mutual understanding that the 106 extension would be a temporary (but indefinite) measure, waiting until things like interagency fare policies align and transfer hubs like Mt Baker improve, which unfortunately may be 4-5 years away. Longer term, an MLK-Downtown route may (rightfully) endure if Routes 48 and 7 are consolidated as laid out in Metro’s new Draft Long Range Plan.

We’ll find out more when the amendment to the prior proposal is introduced (likely at May 3rd’s TREE Committee meeting), but here’s the broad outline from what we’ve heard:

  • Routes 38 and 106 are combined and run from Renton to the International District via Skyway, Rainier Beach, MLK, Rainer, and Jackson, with weekday frequency of 15 minutes
  • Route 107 is extended to Beacon Hill Station via 15th Avenue S, with a short out-and-back over I-5 to serve Georgetown
  • Route 124 is boosted to have 15-minute service more of the day (with Prop 1 funds)
  • Route 9 is cut back to peak-only

Though our objections to sending the 106 downtown remain – we worry about reliability on Jackson and Rainier and would prefer better overall frequency on MLK – the rest of the restructure would do lot of good work providing new connections between Renton, Skyway, Rainier Beach, South Beacon Hill, and Link. We’ve been moving towards a frequent transfer network in Seattle, with the ULink restructure as the most prominent example of that, and reinstating a mostly redundant service is disappointing. The same riders the new 106 is intended to benefit will suffer on evenings and weekends when the extension forces their frequency down to 30 minutes. But no restructure is perfect, and the proposed changed are likely a net win for riders in SE Seattle.

Draft West Seattle Plan: A Good Start, Let’s Make it Great


The West Seattle light rail line proposed by Sound Transit as part of the draft ST3 package will revolutionize transit on the peninsula. The proposed alignment in West Seattle is excellent, with the highest possible reliability due to a fixed 140’ bridge over the Duwamish River and no traffic crossings in SoDo or on the West Seattle Peninsula. The extension to Alaska Junction will serve more than just the area around the stations; the line will enable a major bus restructure allowing Metro to refocus resources toward improved bus service across West Seattle. This is why we advocated for the North Delridge stop and were excited to see it added in later drafts.

While rail to the Alaska Junction is a great start for West Seattle, there are still opportunities to improve the draft plan for West Seattle and the region:

  1. Planning for a second extension from the Junction to Burien, formerly referred to as option C-13, must include funding for a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and record of decision, which would shave up to six years off future construction of this line at minimal cost. This would enable project delivery just 9 years after any future vote to fund the Burien extension. The “investment study” included in the current draft provides none of the engineering or environmental studies required to expedite construction of the line.

  2. The draft plan for ST3 provides voter authority for “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available in the twenty-five year duration of ST3. The Junction to Burien and Ballard/UW lines must be designated “provisional projects.” Just this year alone, Sound Transit projects will come in $240M under budget receive $600M in unexpected federal grants. Our economy is booming, and twenty-five years of growth could add hundreds of millions of additional funding to ST budgets. Let’s authorize engineering and construction of “provisional projects” now, to maximize the benefits of any savings on other projects.

  3. Reach West Seattle as fast as possible. Did you know that if we work together, the line could be completed in 14 years or less? Here are some ways to speed it up:

-The draft plan promises rail reaching West Seattle in 17 years. As we have mentioned in the past, the City of Seattle can reduce delays in the planning process by classifying Light Rail as a “permitted use,” instead of requiring Sound Transit to apply for expensive (and slow) permits for every new line. Seattle should eliminate permitting requirements, today, so that voters are guaranteed faster delivery by November.  

-Seattle should also cooperate to minimize the number of alternatives studied during the EIS process by eliminating low-quality options (like at-grade rail) that should be rejected out of hand. This can speed up the process by as much as three years–cutting nearly 20% off the delivery timeline. To achieve this win, the neighborhoods, business community, and City of Seattle must be united and unswerving in their efforts to reduce local barriers to completion. This is much preferred to what happened in the Bellevue East Link process, where infighting delayed their project completion from 2021 to 2023.

-Allow 24/7 construction. Large parts of the West Seattle alignment are in industrial areas where there would be no impact from construction after normal business hours.  

-Financing has an impact on the project timelines presented by Sound Transit.  If the new downtown transit tunnel is funded as a regional asset (with contributions from all the subareas that will use the tunnel), it would clear the way for faster timelines in Seattle. Seattle would be able to spend its money on lines for its own residents in West Seattle, rather than subsidizing riders from the other subareas.

Transportation problems in West Seattle largely stem from a lack of access and resiliency. Entry points to the West Seattle bridge are clogged during rush hour. Whenever there is a disturbance anywhere near the bridge, it also causes a cascading transportation nightmare. The Link extension to the Junction will be a great step toward solving both of those issues, but not the final step. Join us in urging Sound Transit and the City of Seattle to improve the final plan for West Seattle.

How can you help?  Please do any or all of the below!

  1. Email the Sound Transit board with your input
  2. Fill out the online survey
  3. Attend the West Seattle Open House, Tonight, Tuesday, April 26th, from 5:30-7:30, with a presentation at 6pm.
  4. Email Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council (CMs Herbold, Harrell, Sawant, Johnson, Juarez, O’Brien, Bagshaw, Burgess, González) asking them to step up to the plate before November with clear commitments to remove barriers and speed Seattle lines to completion.
  5. Encourage community, business and neighborhood groups of which you are a part to support the best practices above to fast-track light rail in Seattle. It can only help us solve our transportation mess and get light rail to your door faster.

Everett should choose speed and utility for ST3



Light Rail to Everett will provide a fast and reliable transportation option in a corridor where congestion is currently getting worse to the tune of a minute every three months. Business and political leaders in Everett have long favored a detour to Paine Field over a more direct line to Everett, in order to serve the Boeing Industrial Center and Paine Field, which is expected to have passenger air service in the future. We agree that ST3 should provide rapid transit to Paine Field but it is clear that the current Paine Field detour has unacceptable time impacts on transit riders, and the alternatives are much better for Snohomish County.

The Paine Field alignment would add nearly 10 years to the schedule for delivery of light rail to Everett. Once constructed, the detour would add 13 minutes to a trip from Everett to Seattle (and add fifty cents to the distance-based passenger fare). Further, the sprawling nature of the manufacturing center the Paine Field detour attempts to serve has so many “last mile” problems that most employees will continue driving to work, with or without light rail.

A better alternative for Everett

  1. Build a direct rail alignment with a junction for later rail expansion to Paine Field. This is a similar setup to both the Oakland and San Francisco airports, which have 3 and 14 times, respectively, the air traffic that is anticipated at Paine Field.
  2. Serve the Boeing Industrial Center with a robust BRT connection integrated into Community Transit’s popular Swift network, including Swift II, which is scheduled to begin serving Paine Field in 2018. Since the Boeing Industrial Center is so vast and dispersed, a combination of BRT routes would serve it better than a single rail stop. While the precise alignments require further study, BRT could allow new connections from downtown Mukilteo’s ferry dock and Sounder Station, through Paine Field, to the light rail “spine.”

This option would:

  1. Reach Everett up to 10 years before an alignment with a Paine Field detour;
  2. Reduce the length of trips to Everett by 7-13 minutes, while providing better service to dense South Everett destinations that will increase light rail ridership;
  3. Serve more areas of the Boeing Industrial Center than the Paine Field detour would allow; and
  4. Allow future extensions of light rail to Paine Field if and when commercial air service increases in the future

Sound Transit should also seek to move as much of the line to the west towards highway 99 as possible. This will increase the transit oriented development potential and serve more existing population centers and better serve transit-dependent riders.

Please join us in supporting this alternative plan, which provides the greatest benefits for Snohomish County and the region.

How can you help?  Please do any or all of the below!

  1. Email the Sound Transit board with your input
  2. Fill out the online survey  and encourage BRT over light rail to Paine Field
  3. Attend the Everett Open House, TONIGHT, Monday, April 25th, from 5:30-7:30, with a presentation at 6pm. IMPORTANT: Transit opponents are organizing for this meeting. You can support the pro-ST3 side by showing up.
  4. Encourage the community, business and neighborhood groups to which you belong to support light rail expansion to Everett and BRT to Paine Field. This plan will help us solve our transportation mess and get light rail to your door faster.

Sound Transit Breaks Ground on East Link Construction


On an overcast Friday afternoon at a gravel lot in downtown Bellevue, Sound Transit broke ground on the East Link light rail extension, bringing rail transit from Seattle to Overlake via Bellevue one step closer to realization.

The ceremony, attended by Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, current Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, former Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Mayor John Stokes of Bellevue, King County Council member and former Bellevue mayor Claudia Balducci, and other local politicians, was attended by a few dozen Sound Transit staff, contractors, and members of the public, who listened to a series of short speeches and enjoyed live music from the Mercer Island High School Jazz Band. Of note was the clever use of biodegradable chalk marking out the Sound Transit logo on the dirt that was dug up by dignitaries with their golden shovels for the actual groundbreaking.

Since it was approved as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot in 2008, East Link has been mired in setbacks and delays ranging from routing choices and station placements in Downtown Bellevue to lawsuits launched in opposition to the project by various groups. The $3.7 billion project, funded partially by a $1.7 billion federal loan, is scheduled to open in 2023 as the Blue Line and projected to carry 50,000 riders every weekday; end-to-end travel times between the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and Redmond Technology Center on the Microsoft campus is estimated at 29 minutes, which is as fast as existing bus service during the best of traffic conditions.

Some homes in the Surrey Downs area, near the future East Main Station at the south end of the Bellevue Tunnel, have already been demolished in preparation for the start of tunneling. Construction on the 1/3-mile tunnel through downtown Bellevue is scheduled to last well into 2020 and will be excavated conventionally by hand via the Sequential Excavation Method (SEM), a departure from tunnel-boring machines used on other Link tunnels. The Overlake and South Bellevue segments will both begin construction later this year. Other work in downtown Bellevue, including the construction of a station at Bellevue City Hall a block east of the transit center, will begin in mid-2017 at the same time as major work on the Bel-Red and Interstate 90 segments of the line, the latter of which includes retrofitting the Homer M. Hadley floating bridge and existing tunnels in Mount Baker and Mercer Island for light rail trains.

The Bellevue Tunnel segment of East Link is expected to play a large role in the proposed Sound Transit 3 expansion, with the possibility of trains from Seattle and Issaquah/Eastgate interlining through Downtown Bellevue before splitting off to serve Redmond and Kirkland. The proposed southern transfer between the lines has moved from Wilburton Station (near the Overlake Hospital east of downtown) to East Main Station, providing direct service from Issaquah to Downtown Bellevue but also inciting the wrath of nearby homeowners demanding less frequent trains. Even as East Link construction moves forward, there may be further changes afoot for the line in the near and (very) far future.

Metro Releases Draft Long Range Plan

For the first time since the merger of Metro and King County in 1992, Metro released a draft of a new Long Range Plan (LRP) last Monday, and it will update the plan every 6 years from now on. The plan looks at two time horizons, 2025 (when ST2 will have come online), and 2040 (when potential ST3 projects will have finished).

The plan is primarily an operational document, looking at planned growth, service levels, route restructures, operational needs, and technological innovation. There are issue areas you shouldn’t expect in long range plans, and sensitive discussions of governance structures is one of them. It would be awkward and indeed inappropriate to imagine changes to such things in a single-agency document. Though there is much ink spilled and good ideas presented about agency integration, it’s important to remember that Long Range Plans are invariably agency-maximizing documents. Responding to the existential question of Metro’s role in a post-ST3 world, the LRP attempts to position Metro as bigger and more important as ever.

In a briefing with Metro planners last week, they stressed that the service network is not a formal restructure proposal, but represents an integration of planners’ current thinking and the expressed desires of King County cities. Each iteration of restructures would still go through a formal process.

But it’s still fascinating. The plan assumes the passage of ST3, provides comprehensive Link feeder service, dramatically reduces the number of peak-hour expresses into Seattle, and provides a much stronger all-day network countywide and in Seattle. There are a lot of courageous choices in the plan, with Metro going nearly all-in on a citywide frequent network feeding Link. There is a lot of new service that would require substantial capital investments, such as service on NE 65th Street from Ballard-Phinney Ridge or service from SLU-Capitol Hill via Lakeview/Belmont. There are some bizarre express network choices, such as Snoqualmie-Auburn via SR 18. But overall the plan represents an agency whose thinking is heading in the right direction.

We’ll dive deeper later this week into some of the transit network proposals, but the high level numbers are:

  • 70% increase in total service hours, from 3.7m today to 6m.
  • 100% increase in daily ridership, from 400,000 today to 800,000.
  • 20 new RapidRide routes
  • Comprehensive Link restructures in 2021, 2023, and (if ST3 passes in current form) in 2031, 2036, 2038, and 2041
  • System goal of total feeder service to Link stations every 1.5 minutes on average
  • 2-3 new bus bases
  • 50% increase in parking, almost exclusively in suburban areas
  • Dramatic restructuring of peak express services to serve cross-suburban destinations
  • Redefinition of ‘local/alternative’ service to include carsharing, TNCs, and driverless cars

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Releases Draft Long Range Plan”

The Messy Humanity of Transit Politics

Streetcars in Immanuel Kant's Hometown of Kaliningrad (née Konigsberg)
Streetcars in Immanuel Kant’s Hometown of Kaliningrad (née Konigsberg)

On Friday the The Transport Politic’s Yonah Freemark had a meditation on Sound Transit 3 and the values inherent in prioritizing projects. After a piece two weeks earlier in which he took a standard performance-first approach while arguing for the priority of Ballard over other regional projects, he then stepped back a bit and used his most recent post to ask, “Which riders matter?”

At face value, the idea that we should treat each transit rider equivalently in a comparative analysis may not seem particularly controversial. Doesn’t it make intuitive sense to prioritize transit projects that serve the most people for the lowest cost?

In truth, though, riders are different. Some are taking long trips, some short ones. Some are wealthy, some are poor. Some have no choice but to ride transit, others are picking it instead of driving.

If the Ballard light rail project I noted above was filled with people already using buses to get to work and who would save just a few minutes traveling by train versus bus, while the Tacoma project was to be used by people who otherwise would be driving and who would be saving a lot of time, can we still be confident that the Ballard project is the better one? What if the Ballard project was serving all wealthy people, while the Tacoma one was designed for the poor?

How do we differentiate between riders? Who matters most? These are essential questions that we must answer when we’re picking investments. After all, given the fact that resources are limited, we must have some way to determine how to use them—whether that is through a process of reviewing quantitative statistics or through political debate.

When it comes to urban transit systems in the U.S., determining what riders matter most has a direct impact on what types of services are provided. Many large regions, for instance, have chosen to subsidize commuter rail at a higher rate per rider than other modes of transportation. Essentially that means that suburban, longer-distance travelers are being prioritized over urban travelers.

It’s a great piece and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but echoing my earlier piece on values, I’d add that this preference for the qualitative over the quantitative applies equally to process as it does to outcomes, or as much to means as to ends. That is to say that politics is the art (not science) of managing human relationships to produce outcomes. We do studies and calculate metrics, but at the end of the day this is a political business, and we have to ask, “Which riders politicians matter?”

Consider this from a theoretical ethics perspective. Wonky blogs like ours tend to take utilitarian viewpoints; we’re systems people who see inherent value in optimizing transit for the greatest good of the greatest number of people. To our minds it’s self evident that ridership-maximizing rail options are superior, or that frequent service with transfers should be preferred over infrequent one-seat rides.

But when analyzing the politics of these things, it’s helpful to remember that political systems think more like Kant than John Stuart Mill. Their ethical frameworks are based not on quantitative outcomes, but on perceived duties to one another. It’s about who is owed what and when. It’s an economy of debts, and transit just so happens to be the currency in which these transactions are settled. When cities mostly lack projects in a proposed measure, such as Renton, they get angry not because that the agency failed to appropriately rank objective criteria, but because they feel left out and devalued.

Uncomfortable with the nakedness of this reality, we attempt to buttress our intended actions with studies and metrics and numbers, but it’s remarkable how little weight these numbers usually end up carrying; no one will prioritize a project because it carries a couple thousand more riders for the same money, but the issue will be decided on much more personal and qualitative grounds.

So identity matters; it matters who is asking for what, and for whom they’re asking it. And governance structures matter too, because they frame the range of acceptable outcomes, decide who gets seats at the table, and determine who is entitled to a share of projects.

This may be a cynical frame, but it’s also one less likely to lead to unnecessary disillusionment (it’s a pre-emptive disillusionment, if you will). In such a case a premium should be placed on the importance of organizing over argument, for superior arguments only win the day if accompanied by a much more basic emotional weight for the agencies involved: the threat of embarrassment, the possibility of electoral defeat, or the fear of conflict. That’s why agencies live and die by their ability to put out fires. What emerges from the ashes of our competing concerns is what we get to vote on. If that sounds dark, consider the autocratic alternatives.

Win-Win With a Wye Junction (or Spur)

The current ST3 plan

[UPDATE: PLEASE do not overreact to the original alliterative title. As the the text makes clear, I am agnostic as to whether this is a spur or a wye.]

The fundamental ST3 tension in Snohomish County is between extending to Everett via I-5 or via I-5/Paine Field/SR99 (see map above). I-5 offers the cheapest construction and fastest trip between Everett, Lynnwood, and points south. Paine Field is a major, if sprawling, jobs center and the most obvious destination in the area. It also contains Snohomish County’s hopes for broadening its economic base beyond Boeing,* and has a chance to be the region’s second commercial airport. The SR99 option, superior in many ways, is dead due to perceived impacts on existing businesses.

The downsides of Paine Field are the construction expense (which would push arrival in Everett to 2041) and the added distance (with a trip that is 10 minutes longer and a fare $.50 higher) for Everett-Seattle trips. Together these make it less competitive with other modes and cancel out the ridership gains from Paine Field itself. So the choice is: wait 25 years to serve relatively speculative development, or build faster via I-5 and forego much of that chance. Local leaders recently floated an idea to speed things up a bit (make it cheaper) by avoiding travel on SR 99 altogether. This might save a few years, but both exacerbates the lost development opportunities and likely increases travel time even further.

It seems straightforward, however, to get to Everett faster while also avoiding difficult travel time tradeoffs. A rail spur or wye junction allows Everett-Lynnwood travel to follow I-5. Moreover, ST could build that segment on essentially the same timeline as a pure I-5 alignment,  delivering real progress faster. The Paine field branch would follow later as development necessitates, probably around 2041.

Continue reading “Win-Win With a Wye Junction (or Spur)”

News Roundup: Breaking Its Promises

Downtown Seattle City Lights Panorama  + Ferry in Motion

This is an open thread.

Just a Month Old, ULink is Already Breaking Records

Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

After a couple weeks of staff nonchalantly dropping ULink ridership numbers in meetings, this afternoon Sound Transit released its first official tally. And ULink is already breaking records. Opening day saw just shy of 70,000 boardings, and was eclipsed only 3 weeks later. April 8 saw a record 72,000 riders, with an assist from ComicCon, Mariners opening day, and our insanely unseasonable spring. That edges past the previous one-day record of 71,500 for the Seahawks Super Bowl parade.

Average weekday ridership is up a whopping 61%, from 36,000 in the weeks before ULink to 58,000 today. Saturday ridership has nearly doubled and is approaching weekday levels, with Opening Day (March 19) and the 520 Bridge Opening ceremonies (April 2) leading the way, but with the other two Saturdays near 50,000 as well. Sunday ridership looks to be settling near 30,000, growth of nearly 50%.

Data from Sound Transit
Data from Sound Transit

ST3 Parking: $661M at $80k Per Space

parking pieThe Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan includes a lot of parking. Just how much? The agency plans to build 9,700 new stalls (8,300 net) in 16 new parking garages and two new surface lots. The total cost is $661m in 2014 dollars, or a staggering $80,000 per space. Taken in aggregate, each commuter using these new stalls could park every day for 50 years, and Sound Transit would pay them $4.38 for the privilege (and that’s on top of the capital costs of their bus or train ride, of course). If 2041 ridership attains its expected 500,000 per day and each of those 8,300 new stalls were filled daily, that’s just 1.6% of the system’s users.

We’ve been fairly hostile to Park & Rides on these pages over the years, and mostly with good reason. Parking adjacent to transit directly reduces all other means of access, reduces affordable housing potential, necessitates hostile adjacent land uses, increases transit operating costs, reinforces residential auto dependency, and (when unpriced) represents an exorbitant subsidy that the relatively wealthy enjoy at the expense of others’ access.

To my mind, there are two good rebuttals in favor of Park & Rides. The first is on social justice grounds, namely that the suburbanization of poverty displaces persons to locations with anemic local transit, forcing vehicle ownership upon them and necessitating that they access high capacity transit by car. Pricing parking can help lessen the subsidy for wealthy parkers –and it’s reassuring that the ST Board and CEO Rogoff seem comfortable with the idea – but it also competitively prices out those who have no other options. The second argument stipulates that as a transitional land use easily torn down later, Park & Rides facilitate lifestyle change while car-dependent locales await the retrofits necessary to make them succeed without cars. Whether you think that’s true largely depends on your time horizon, and on the relative value you place on access for a few today versus access for far more people later.

But not all Park & Rides are alike. Some of Sound Transit’s ST3 parking plans are reasonable investments in overcrowded facilities, others seem like pure political pork, and most are somewhere in between. Let’s break them down one by one.  Continue reading “ST3 Parking: $661M at $80k Per Space”

Late Night Service Survey

King County Metro is running a survey on late night service from now until May 4.

Metro bus service nearly universally evaporates after 2 am. Even the routes that continue to run do so less than hourly, making them nearly unusable.

Routes that shadow Link Light Rail trips (not including the dozens within the downtown core) include the A Line, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 36, 38, 43, 48, 49, 50, 60, 106, 124, and the First Hill Streetcar. Of these, the A Line, 7, 36, 43, 49, 106, and 124 have a trip between 2 am and 4 am, but all have a gap of over an hour before their morning schedule starts up.

Other routes with trips between 2 am and 4 am are the C Line, D Line, E Line, 4, 11, 40, 44, 120, 150, and 180. All have that hour gap between their last night-owl run and their first regular morning run.

The last survivors of the dreaded 80-series routes — 82, 83, and 84 — also come more than an hour apart, with only six trips total between the three routes. Even Stephen Fesler over at the Urbanist admits it is time for those routes to go away.

Which routes would you like to see run overnight, and how often would you like to see them run? Where do you hope the funding comes from?

Ballard to Downtown Must be Done Right


This evening, Sound Transit will be holding the first of its open houses on the ST3 draft plan. Being in Ballard, a key point of discussion will be the downtown to Ballard light rail extension. Ridership on the 7-mile line from SODO to 15th and Market in Ballard is going to be very high, with a projected 114,000 to 144,000 riders from across the entire region. How significant is this?

Imagine moving the entire population of Bellevue along this corridor every weekday. In fact, these 7 miles of track would carry more passengers than the entire 69-mile MAX system in Portland or 58-mile light rail system in San Diego. It is equivalent ridership to LA’s busiest (17-mile) line and competitive with major corridors in SF’s BART, where 423,000 riders are split between 5 lines. The ridership between Westlake and Ballard alone (60,000-74,000 riders) is higher than many lines in the above cities. Only select subway lines in Boston, Chicago, DC and New York have clearly higher ridership than what ST is proposing to build in this 7-mile section.

Sound Transit is preparing to construct a second serious subway line through Seattle in ST3. Such a workhouse route requires high quality rail, which admittedly come at a cost. Though ST is not deciding precise alignments prior to the vote, the representative alignments they do choose (for budgeting purposes only) may effectively eliminate certain alignment choices due to budget restrictions. Therefore, doing the right thing on this corridor requires a few changes to the current ST3 draft plan. Here is your guide to key points of feedback to Sound Transit for the Ballard corridor: Continue reading “Ballard to Downtown Must be Done Right”