News Roundup: YIMBY


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WSDOT Says HOV-3 “Difficult to Justify”

One criticism of stringing light rail lines along freeways is that one could achieve similar transit outcomes at vastly lower cost, by simply taking a freeway lane for transit. Failing that, adjusting HOV lane thresholds so that speeds remain high would achieve much of the benefit of entirely new right-of-way, except when an incident or construction congests the lane. This observation is entirely, unequivocally true.

An alert Everett Herald reader, through the newspaper, asked WSDOT if they would consider this. Bus commute times are rising due to congestion in those HOV lanes:

Either of those fixes would certainly solve HOV congestion, but at the expense of the general purpose lanes, making bad congestion there even worse.

Keeping the regular lanes moving — even if it’s at a snail’s pace — is still a priority, too, with lots of economy-driving business in the corridor. Not everyone can accommodate a second occupant, much less a third. Think also of the semi-truck driver moving freight, who is banned from the HOV lane regardless.

“We need to be looking at the system as a whole. … They’re all great customers. They move a ton of people,” said Travis Phelps, a WSDOT spokesman. “It’s a balance that we have to keep going.”

First of all, shame on WSDOT. This argument undercuts the entire rationale for HOV lanes, which is that it encourages high-occupancy (including transit) through higher operating speeds, increasing the overall person-throughput of the highway. Of course, WSDOT has every incentive to think this way, as the legislature (especially Republicans, but many Democrats) doesn’t care about transit throughput.

Secondly, ordinary transit advocates ready to oppose ST3 because of more cost-effective right-of-way options ought to have a theory of change on how to ensure free flow of buses. In Seattle, it’s possible to win an argument by pointing out the effects on transit (but not always). But initiating change at the state level requires a different rhetorical and interest-trading toolbox. I haven’t seen anyone articulate one, much less successfully execute a strategy. In the absence of such a strategy, relying on freeway expresses is spending less to build crappier transit, which is not transit advocacy worthy of the name.

[UPDATE: The article also reveals that state policy requires WSDOT only to “consider” lifting the threshold when speeds fall below 45mph. There is a federal requirement to do so only in the case when the lane allows single-occupancy vehicles, i.e. a HOT lane.]

The Southeast Seattle Bus Restructure Responds to Community Input

By King County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Larry Gossett

County Councilmember Joe McDermott
County Councilmember Joe McDermott

King County aims to deliver public transportation that grows access to jobs and education. Transit transforms communities and economies, helps address inequity, and plays a role in mitigating displacement. As STB has covered, the County Council is currently considering multiple changes to the bus network which includes enhanced service to South Seattle neighborhoods and South King County communities. We are both very supportive of transforming the network to better work for our communities and to protect cultural anchors, businesses and institutions as we grow and change.

King County is changing. We are quickly growing and demographics are shifting. Gentrification is occurring in South Seattle and the suburbanization of poverty to South King County is evident. King County is working in partnership with the City of Seattle to make sure our bus system is adapting to increased and changing needs.

County Councilmember Larry Gossett
County Councilmember Larry Gossett

A significant amount of public input shaped this service change. The new network is a result of years of community engagement. The engagement included a community advisory group, online surveys, community meetings, and input from thousands of impacted residents. The input received from the community was received and the routes were analyzed using Metro service guidelines. The result of all this work was passed out of committee Tuesday and will be considered by Full Council on May 16th. Before the Full Council, we will advocate for its passage.

This restructure proposal addresses long standing community concerns and meets Metro’s service guidelines. It fills gaps in service from Southeast Seattle, Renton and Tukwila to Downtown Seattle. It eliminates low-performing service. The Rainier Valley will enjoy enhanced, frequent service along MLK Jr. Way South, Rainier Avenue South, and South Jackson Street to the International District. Georgetown will receive a net increase of trips to and from Georgetown while maintaining connections provided by the current Route 106 with service improvements to the 124 and extension of the route 107 into Beacon Hill. Proposed improved weekday and Saturday service, Route 124 will operate on an even schedule and common pathway, with trips arriving about every 15 minutes throughout the day.  Added service frequency on Route 124 will not only benefit Georgetown but also double the service between Georgetown and Tukwila, including the E Marginal Way S corridor with improved access to employment and education sites and connections with other transit service and Link at the Tukwila Station.

Since 2009, and discussion around the elimination of the bus route 42, Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS) and the Filipino Community Center along with other community groups and organizers have worked with Metro to provide excellent transit service to Southeast Seattle. This spring, Puget Sound Sage and Got Green published Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle. The report was a culmination of nine months of research and outreach in South Seattle/King County. They interviewed 175 residents and engaged 30 organizations that work in the communities. When asked about community concerns, the lack of public transportation and affordable housing were two of the top three concerns. Increasing bus service in South Seattle and South King County is crucial. Rainier Valley residents use bus service more than higher earner areas of the County. Increasing service provides more direct access to jobs and education, but is also helps root current community members, cultural anchors, businesses and institutions. We have heard for years from impacted communities about the cultural neighborhoods and institutions that need more bus service. Now, we are responding to these concerns.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is the chair of the Metropolitan King County Council. He represents West Seattle, Vashon and Maury Islands, Burien and parts of Tukwila on Capitol Hill on the County Council. King County Councilmember Larry Gossett represents the Central Area, Beacon Hill, the Rainer Valley, Skyway and parts of North Seattle and Capitol Hill.

Extending Rail to South Kirkland

Transit-Oriented Development at the South Kirkland Park-and_Ride, pictured from the adjacent rail corridor.
Transit-Oriented Development faces the parking garage at South Kirkland, pictured from the adjacent rail corridor (photo by author).

Sound Transit and Kirkland are considering a possible light rail station at the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride. After the draft system plan was released on March 24 without the hoped-for service to Kirkland on the Eastside Rail Corridor, the Eastside Board members wrote the city suggesting study of a short rail extension to South Kirkland. Staff analysis on both sides is underway.

Preliminary analysis envisions extending the planned Issaquah line from Wilburton to South Kirkland along the ERC. The travel time to Bellevue would be 7 minutes. The extension would cost $307 million, serving 2,500 daily riders, perhaps truncating some Metro routes. A 500-stall parking structure would add another $28 million to the capital cost.

The symbolic relevance of the proposed station is obvious. For Sound Transit, it suggests the Issaquah-Totem Lake rail line will be completed in ST4 (the draft plan also includes an environmental study of transit on the corridor). For Kirkland too, it’s an affirmation the city will finally see high-capacity transit in ST4, though rail rather than the BRT which the City expects would be more productive. For homeowners who opposed transit “on the trail” in ST3, it means transit plans were not defeated, only deferred.

Pending a future transit package, how would the spur line fit in the network? After all, this could be the terminus of the rail line for a long time. There are some obvious questions:

Is South Kirkland a viable destination? The planned station mostly targets riders arriving via Metro routes from the north, along with drivers to the expanded parking facility. Current local land use is primarily office with extensive surface parking and little near-term redevelopment in the pipeline. On the other hand, proximity to Bellevue will surely help redevelopment before rail service begins (anticipated at the very end of the ST3 program in 2041). Zoned heights on the Kirkland side of the station max out at 65′. But, with few residential neighbors and an adjacent highway, the path to more aggressive zoning may not be difficult.

Added parking comes with well-understood trade-offs, but replacing some of the existing surface lot with a 500-stall garage would hardly be decisive. Both Kirkland and Bellevue (the P&R is mostly within Bellevue city limits) should be having a land use conversation, even if Sound Transit’s immediate analysis must rely on current PSRC projections.

What does the transit network map around a South Kirkland rail station look like? Most riders to Seattle would prefer a cross-lake bus to UW station in any scenario. Kirkland-Bellevue riders will be served by Rapid Ride (by 2025 per the Metro LRP). Would that be improved upon by having riders exit the bus to a train, with the associated transfer penalty?
Continue reading “Extending Rail to South Kirkland”

Run a Link Bus Overnight

poster on board train of late-night bus service serving BART stations
Link in, Bus out?

Today is the last day to fill in Metro’s Late Night Transit Service Survey if you haven’t already. It takes only a few minutes. Notably absent from the list of routes in the survey, which includes the streetcars and other ST buses, is Link light rail, despite a public petition calling for expanded service hours.

Sound Transit says it needs the few hours when Link is closed for system maintenance. Reducing maintenance hours increases costs not just for operating later service but also for the maintenance itself. The challenge of dedicating enough time for essential maintenance is why many cities around the world shut down their subways overnight. It is not unique to Seattle.

What other cities do instead is run night buses that emulate rail service. Philadelphia, the Bay Area, and Toronto take this approach and it works well from my limited experience. After a night out on South Street in Philly I had to get back to my hotel which was on the other side of town off the Market Frankford Line, which closes between midnight and 1 am. As soon as the last train left the station, buses start running, serving all stations along the line every 15 minutes until the first train of the next day. The buses were well used enough that SEPTA began running all-night train service on weekends (once again). For people who are concerned for their safety of walking at night, the bus also stops in between stations.

Map of Toronto's Blue Night Network
Map of Toronto’s Blue Night Network

In Toronto, I had to catch an early morning flight at Pearson and was staying near Ossington Station on the Bloor-Danforth subway. Not a problem. Thanks to Toronto’s comprehensive Blue Night network I was able to complete the early morning trip to the airport on a one-seat ride. The 300 Bloor-Danforth night bus extends to the airport, eliminating a transfer that is required during the day.

Seattle already has the basis to do the same. It is called Route 97, the Link shuttle. Whenever Link service is expected to be disrupted for an extended period, a bus bridge is created to fill the gap or completely replace service. Route 97 operated for an entire day when Link was closed for system upgrades. An emulator bus like the 97 is easier to understand for most people than a combination of existing routes like the 7, 36, and 49 because of consistency with regular service. It serves the same stations and can accept the same fare media. A Link night bus could extend from Husky Stadium to the U District, filling the gap handled by other buses during the day. Imagine how liberating having Link, our busiest transit line, available 24/7 would be.

map of Route 97 Link Shuttle (pre U-Link)
Rt 97 map (2011 Metro route book)

The Link night bus would be slower than Link light rail because it can’t use the fast running ways that the train has. I estimate an all-stations trip from UW to the airport to take about 74 minutes, including 30-60 seconds dwell time at each station. That’s 30 minutes slower than Link but with better access than current night bus service. By my really ballpark estimates, if the service ran every 15 minutes between Angle Lake and U District stations from last train to first train, at least thirteen buses would be needed to operate the service and it would require at least 19,000 service hours annually. At $142 per vehicle hour, it would cost at least $2.7 million or about seven percent of what ST has budgeted to pay Metro for Link operations in 2016. Service every 15 minutes all night may be overkill but it would be needed when everyone is going home after the bars close; less frequent service could be run at other times.

Keeping our transit system in a state of good repair is necessary. Meanwhile, people want to be able to use transit around the clock for work and play, a sign of a increasingly vibrant city. Running a Link night bus is a promising solution that could balance both needs. Sound Transit is studying the feasibility of extending Link’s service hours. Whether it is a bus or a train or a combination of both, the goal should be to expand late-night transit service.

Progressive Nonprofit Coalition Submits ST3 Comments

Pete Lorimer (Flickr)
Pete Lorimer (Flickr)

The following ST3 comment letter (PDF) was submitted by a coalition of 10 local progressive nonprofits. 

Dear Sound Transit Board Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) system plan and policies. The Transit Access Stakeholder group is a growing coalition of organizations that strongly supports connecting the Puget Sound region through affordable, reliable, and sustainable transit. Together, we represent environmental, land use, active transportation, social justice, affordable housing, and transit stakeholders, with thousands of members in the central Puget Sound region. We look forward to mobilizing our memberships in support of a Sound Transit 3 system plan that is consistent with the following framework:

Bring light rail to more neighborhoods sooner. Sound Transit should work with individual jurisdictions to find ways to shorten planning processes or identify more funding in order for more communities to have access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable transportation as soon as possible. Our coalition welcomes the opportunity to support you in these efforts.

Increase investments in local transit, walking and biking access to high capacity transit. Demonstrate regional leadership by providing funding to cities to build safe, inviting, and convenient access with appropriate wayfinding, lighting, safety, and other universal design standards within a half mile minimum walkshed of stations. Investments in local transit, walking, and biking access are an affordable, effective, and sustainable way to attract riders.

Focus parking investments on cost-effective, flexible, and priced solutions. We urge Sound Transit to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment for all planned parking facilities to ensure that investments are socially equitable, reflect demand, and accommodate changes in density that will occur around station areas as land use zoning and development changes over time. Parking should be priced, with revenues reinvested to improve connections for people travelling to that station on foot, bike, or transit.

Continue reading “Progressive Nonprofit Coalition Submits ST3 Comments”

SE Seattle Restructure Passes Out of Committee

3-Car Train at Mt Baker (Photo by AvGeekJoe)

This morning the King County Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee unanimously passed an amended SE Seattle restructure for the September 10 service change. The restructure will now head before the full council later this month, where all signs point to its easy passage.

As we’ve reported previously, if passed by the full committee the restructure will:

  • Consolidate Routes 106 and 38 and extend them to the International District along the Route 7 pathway.
  • Extend Route 107 from Rainier Beach to Beacon Hill, with a short Georgetown loop added via 13th/Bailey
  • Reduce Route 9X to peak-only
  • Boost Route 124 to every 15 minutes (with an assist from SDOT)

Councilmembers were largely supportive of the changes in their comments, with Councilmembers McDermott and Gosseett noting the multiple years of outreach and the number of social service providers the restructure is intended to serve. The primary objections came from Councilmember Dembowski, who despite supporting the overall restructure questioned Metro’s prioritization of duplicative services in SE Seattle just a month after an extensive and politically painful transfer-based restructure in his NE Seattle district.

Metro Deputy GM Victor Obeso said Metro can afford the roughly $4m outlay due to Seattle’s temporary 2-year contribution (intended to be capped at roughly $1m), the improved economy, and lower fuel prices. With a frustrated smile on his face, Dembowski then asked Obeso to remember Metro’s new affluence when his district comes asking for a similar amount of service hours.

My views on this remain largely the same, namely that this restructure has wrung net positive change from a duplicative and wasteful extension to the International District, and that the overall proposal deserves our support. My fondest hope would be that Metro would live-loop the new 106 at Mt Baker instead, investing every ounce of possible frequency in the Renton-Mt Baker corridor to provide the frequent evening and weekend service that the IDS extension renders unaffordable. Such a live-loop would provide a level, ADA-compliant transfer to/from Link in both directions from the current Route 7 stop on southbound Rainier, answering the transfer-related concerns from the admittedly awful built environment around Mt Baker Station. But the IDS extension is the only piece of the proposal to endure throughout every iteration of the  process, and is unlikely to be removed.

Answer the Parking Question by Selling the Land

“Diamond parking” by smohundro

Sound Transit 3 is likely to spend nontrivial amounts of money on parking. The argument against agency-built parking is that it is among the least cost-efficient ways to spend money getting people to a station or bus stop. Furthermore, the land used for parking would best be used for dense development, which is revenue-positive. It creates ways for riders to live, work, and play within walking distance. Walking scales very well.

The soft version of this argument is that any agency-provided parking should charge a fee. This defrays some of the operating costs, discourages drivers that have other good options to free up room for those with none, and also encourages carpooling. With a properly set price, a pay lot should support more ridership than a free one.

The extremist pro-parking position, predictably held by the Seattle Times editorial board ($), is innumerate and silly.* But there are practical reasons to build parking. Many voters may see the train as useful only if they can visualize getting to it, even if they couldn’t all use the finite number of spaces every day. Not every station area is ready for a burst of new development: parts of the Rainier Valley, in year 8 of light rail, are still waiting for it. So why not provide parking in the meantime?

Perhaps development is the highest and best use of station area land. Perhaps parking is. In either case, both sides should have confidence in their position, and let the free market decide. Build neither TOD nor structured parking; sell the land to private entities. This is the system Seattle stumbled into in the Rainier Valley, and parking is in a nice equilibrium as development climbs from zero.

If “no one” wants to live in an outer station near the freeway, then by all means store cars there for a few bucks. If patterns change in the coming decades, it will be much easier to convert that land to housing, offices, and/or retail if the existing parking is in private hands. Meanwhile, if people are vying to live in transformed neighborhoods, by no means should we prevent that with a parking structure. I trust the price signal much more than ST Board horse-trading to get the balance right.

* The Times’s entire argument is that some people won’t use transit if ST doesn’t build them a space. But of course, if parking construction money leads to less rail, or fewer bus, bike, and pedestrian improvements, that will cause many more people to lose their access, including many with cars, as free parking at attractive locations is inevitably finite. As usual, people attached to their cars are “us,” and people using other modes are the “other.”

Rapid Ride C & D Ridership Way Up

SDOT Photo
SDOT Photo

Late last week Metro released initial ridership data for the newly-split Rapid Ride C and D lines. Though ridership had already been seeing Link-like growth rates hovering around 10%, Metro says that in the month since ULink opened and the restructure split the lines and added 50,000 new service hours, C-Line ridership is up a whopping 26% and D-Line ridership is up 21%. 

Extrapolating from 2015 weekday ridership numbers, this means C-Line ridership has grown from 8,300 to 10,500, while D-Line ridership is up from 11,700 to 14,200.  The two lines now combine for 25,000 riders per day, roughly what Central Link generated back in 2012.

Much of this can be attributed to the additional destinations now able to be served. No longer tied to the Viaduct, D-Line riders have a much better connection to South Downtown, the stadiums, and Pioneer Square. And of course, the C-Line now serves South Lake Union on the successful Westlake bus lanes, giving riders in the corridor a frequency dividend, enabling them to take whatever comes first between the streetcar, Route 40, and the C-Line.

Sinkhole Opens Above Northgate Link, Two Homes Evacuated

Approximate location of the sinkhole. Graphic via Jacobs & Associates.
Approximate location of the sinkhole. Graphic via Jacobs & Associates.

A sinkhole has opened up just South of the Roosevelt Light Rail station on Sunday evening.  According to a release from Sound Transit:

Crews for Sound Transit’s Northgate Link light rail construction contractor are taking steps to fill a small sinkhole that emerged in front of a home on 12th Avenue Northeast near 62nd Street Northeast above tunneling that took place last year. The sinkhole, with an opening about six feet long, will be filled with cement this evening. Crews will conduct ground-boring tests in the area to assess whether there are other issues in the area above where one of the contractor’s tunnel boring machines passed approximately 50 feet below last fall. Sound Transit and its contractor will be working closely with the City of Seattle on follow-up.

A sinkhole opened up on Beacon Hill in 2009, just as Central Link was opening, a year or more after tunneling had completed.  Sound Transit’s contractor filled the hole at a cost of $1M.   The Times has a good graphic from that episode showing how sinkholes can occur when the tunnel boring machine hits sandy soil and too much fill is removed.  The Beacon Hill tubes were 135 feet under the surface where the sinkhole developed.

The problem-plagued Bertha, tunneling the new Highway 99, was stopped after sinking was discovered in Pioneer Square in 2015 and on the waterfront in 2016.