4th of July Service Change-Ups

He should have taken light rail.
He should have taken light rail.

On Monday, we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the colonies’ Brexit. Of course, forming a nation took a few years longer, but not as long as it has taken, and will continue to take, to build grade-separated high-capacity transit to Ballard, West Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma. There are those who think we should take even longer to build these lines, or rather, not build them.

This Monday will continue our celebration of freedom to get between downtown and North Seattle quickly for fun stuff like watching amazing pyrotechnic shows over Lake Union.

But it won’t be a day we ride transit freely about the countryside, as many smaller transit agencies shut down for the day.

King County Metro will be on a Sunday schedule, will re-route some routes including 26 and 32 after the fireworks, will have 25 extra buses after the show, and is offering advice on how to get home. Along with the extra bus service, the South Lake Union Streetcar will run until midnight.

My advice is to enjoy the walk to UW Station if you need to head south, and let those who aren’t up for the walk have space on the 32 and 44 buses. The last southbound train is scheduled to leave UW Station at 12:36 am. The last train to UW northbound leaves Airport Station at 12:04 am and Westlake Station at 12:42 am.

Light rail naysayers are going to have a hard time convincing people around the region that they have a better transit plan than Sound Transit does, now that this single line is transporting far more passengers every day than every other transit agency in the state besides Metro and Washington State Ferries, and will certainly be outperforming all the closed-down transit agencies Monday.

The list of which transit agencies are open, and which are closed, Sunday and Monday, is below the fold. Continue reading “4th of July Service Change-Ups”

Angle Lake Station Nearing Completion

Angle Lake Station under construction, June 2016

With the dust starting to settle on University Link, some have turned their attention towards to the other end of the Link light rail system–the south end–and the upcoming opening of Angle Lake Station in SeaTac. With only weeks remaining until the anticipated opening in September, construction on the station and the 1.6 miles of track leading to it from Sea-Tac Airport look just about complete and the first train tests have started. Sound Transit reports that the project is 94 percent complete, with the only substantial construction left for the station being the installation of electrical and mechanical systems, the parking garage, and street-level finishes such as bike lanes and sidewalks.

While the station is not expected to garner much more than a fraction of University Link’s ridership, it brings the system one step closer to Federal Way and points south, to be funded fully by ST3. A station at South 200th Street has been on the books since Sound Move in 1996, having been selected as the original southern terminus of the light rail system until significant revisions to the plan happened in 2001. The $383 million project was funded in the 2008 ST2 measure, with an anticipated completion date of 2020, but was accelerated using federal TIGER grants. Most of the design work wrapped up in 2012 and construction began in 2013.

Angle Lake Station escalators and stairs

Many of Angle Lake Station’s features herald a return to the architecture and design of the initial Central Link segment, sharing more in common with Mount Baker Station than the likes of UW and Capitol Hill’s new stations. Each entrance has only one escalator, which will presumably be set in the up direction, and a set of stairs up to the platform. The somewhat functional and ill-designed LCD screens introduced with University Link, is replaced with the two-line electronic signs used installed at most stations since 2009, lacking the ability to display real-time arrival information; for the time being, the signs will be sufficient, as they will only need to indicate which parked train will be the next to leave.

Continue reading “Angle Lake Station Nearing Completion”

Is UW Sleepwalking into a Transportation Disaster?


The U-Pass transit program for UW Faculty and Staff has been on an unsustainable financial trajectory for years, with a perverse reliance on parking revenue that cannibalizes funding as it succeeds in reducing driving. Rules against the gifting of public funds also require that these and other programs (such as ORCA Business Passport) be revenue neutral, with program costs rising with usage. (Though also partially funded by parking revenue, the student U-Pass has been on stable financial ground ever since the 2011 decision to make it a universal pass rather than opt-in.)

Much like health insurance premiums, non-riding UPass participants allow reduced individual rates. The more successful the program is in changing behavior, the heavier the financial outlay for UW. Indeed, UW achieves the best modesplits in the region, with its 20% drive-alone rate handily besting Downtown Seattle (31%).

But the decade-long financial storm has come to a head in the past few months, with several issues converging simultaneously to produce a complex and unsettling situation.  First, in 2011 there was a failed push to exempt UW from Seattle’s Commercial Parking Tax, which ended with the City agreeing to subsidize the UPass for 3 years instead. Ironically, then-State Senator (and UW employee) Ed Murray lobbied for the change in Olympia, but was successfully opposed by then-Councilmember Sally Clark, while today it is Murray that represents the city as enforcer and Clark that represents UW.

Then a City audit found that UW had raised parking rates by implementing a 63% “Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Fee” in 2011 on all parking transactions, but wasn’t paying Commercial Parking Tax on that revenue. This year UW settled with the city for $4m, and will now pay an additional $3-4m per year as long as that fee is in place.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 7.04.20 AMProposals to raise UPass fees (from $150 to $215 per quarter) to close the funding gap were met with such vociferous objection from SEIU and other groups that the proposal was quickly withdrawn, and the tension led in part to the abrupt forced resignation of UW Transportation Services Director Josh Kavanaugh back in April.

Unable to raise fees and now unable to avoid parking tax on its TDM fee, UW is left in a bind. Not only is the Faculty/Staff UPass program threatened, but anything the TDM fee funds is now threatened, including many of UW’s transportation planners, its Commute Concierge program, its Commute Trip Reduction activities, and key staff  liaisons between UW, Metro, and Sound Transit. Multiple sources have confirmed that UW may soon scrap its Commute Options and Transportation Planning staff. 

Beyond the immediate effects on modesplit, this has very worrisome longer-term implications. The remainder of the Burke-Gilman trail rebuild may be in jeopardy, as UW likely cannot afford it despite a $16m infusion from the state transportation package, money it may never claim. This September, the UW will release its draft Campus Master Plan, and it is likely to aim for aggressive growth of 20% in 10 years. Like all Major Institution Master Plans (MIMPs) – such as the torturous process recently played out at Swedish Cherry Hill – these plans tend to center on transportation impacts.

Both the Campus Master Plan and the big UDistrict Rezone are likely dependent on aggressive strategies to maintain or reduce total vehicle volumes, which in a growth context means sharply reducing drive-alone rates below their already low 20%. So at the time when UW must be most aggressive and visionary, it is risking taking many steps backwards at once. Potentially, it could cut faculty/staff UPass, cut its non-facilities Transportation Services staff, and respond to new incentives to maximize parking revenue on currently underused lots (such as E-1).

In addition, cutting transportation planning and programs staff will further exacerbate bureaucratic tensions between UW, Metro, and Sound Transit. The list of conflicts is long, with recent examples being months of process to add bus stops on Rainier Vista, UW’s insistence on parking retention at Husky Stadium reducing bus restructure possibilities, and lack of institutional support for HOV or transit priority on Montlake Boulevard. There is also the back-and-forth about siting Pronto at UW Station, with UW unwilling to give up any of its massive parking lots, and Sound Transit unwilling to use its expensive easement for a 3rd-party capital installation (though we hear there may be movement on this). Sources tell us that a substantial restructure of bus service at University District Station in 2021 is already likely off the table, with the powerful Office of the Campus Architect taking a page from Mercer Island and pre-emptively squashing any hopes of turnaround space for buses.

SDOT staff close to the situation told STB on Wednesday that while the issues are real, the City doesn’t intend to let the snowball roll very far. Both the city and UW have strong incentives for the UDistrict Rezone and Campus Master Plan to go through, and many seem to think that at the end of the day, this clarifying reality will cause forward-thinking heads to prevail. But much is unnecessarily at risk because of the state’s failure to adequately fund UW (which forces this kind of nickel-and-diming), and UW’s failure to fix longstanding and well-known financial problems. But UW’s possible solution  – an axing of very successful transportation programs and staff just when it needs them most – would cut off its nose to spite the face. UW spokesperson Sally Clark is on vacation and her office was unable to comment for this story.