Reuven Carlyle’s Misguided ST3 Opposition

Rep. Reuven CarlyleOn Thursday, State Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-36) wrote a strongly-worded editorial on Publicola opposing Sound Transit 3 (ST3). By using much of the remaining property tax capacity, Carlyle says, ST3 “will suck the oxygen out of the room” and jeopardize the state’s ability to respond to the McCleary decision:

I am unsettled that the package consumes the oxygen in the room on taxes for virtually all other public services at all levels of government for years to come. The plan moves to among the very highest sales tax in the nation along with a major property tax increase. We need to be honest that the ability of cities, counties and the state to utilize the sales tax in the future as a new revenue source is effectively ended with this plan…

The Sound Transit financing plan arguably works well for Sound Transit. It’s reasonable and understandable that they feel strongly they are operating within their authorizing environment of our current tax system. But it’s a bold 21st Century spending plan with a lethargic 1990s financing plan. Why didn’t they choose to be as courageous and innovative on the revenue side as they at least attempted to be on the spending side?

As a state legislator I cannot in good conscience support an inequitable and unstable financing plan in one isolated silo of public services—no matter how valued and important to our future—that I believe will have substantial negative implications for public education in the years to come.

As well-intentioned as this is for Carlyle – he’s a long-time advocate for more progressive tax sources – it stings a bit more coming from a Democratic ally opposing a project with immense benefits to his own district. The 36th stands to get 6 new rail stations, a direct airport connection, and a traffic-free subway through Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and Downtown. Already set to take 19 years to complete, Carlyle would have us wait even longer on account of $.25 per $1,000 of property tax authority.

Let’s appreciate the deep irony of his criticisms. Carlyle is part of the only legislative body with broad authority to create new tax sources, and yet he is criticizing Sound Transit for not being “courageous and innovative” enough to reject the only choices made available to them. It’s a strange day when the cooks in the kitchen are upset that the diner orders off the menu they themselves wrote.

The property tax cap he cites as sacrosanct is not a constitutional amendment, but a simple legislative act like everything else, changeable with a simple majority vote in both houses. Passing ST3 surely complicates the McCleary funding puzzle, but the bottom line is that the legislature always has options, and Sound Transit doesn’t. 

Carlyle was absolutely right to raise these issues during the funding debate over the transportation package that authorized an ST3 vote. But having lost the battle to implement an employer tax instead, opposing ST3 now doesn’t make a McCleary resolution any closer (and the highways get built regardless). Instead, failure on ST3 would likely stifle progress on both education and transportation, setting up a dangerous series of false choices in which every civic need is pitted against every other.

Our property taxes are not high, and are in fact below the median nationally. And sure, sales tax is regressive and 10% a psychological barrier, but places like Vancouver BC do just fine with 12%. Progressives and transit advocates will be there every step of the way to help representatives like Carlyle find more progressive tax sources, so it’s disappointing to see him give in to such zero-sum thinking.

Transit Oriented Development at Mt. Baker Station

SEATTLE--113 lv Mt. Baker Station OB

Across the region, there is a conversation going on about what the area around the new light rail stations will look like. Will cities upzone and encourage more dense development to maximize the use of the stations, or will they leave things as-is? It is helpful to look back at ST1 stations and see how upzoning affected the development around the stations. The area around Mt Baker station has some lessons for everyone as ST2 continues and ST3 gestates.

Mt. Baker has had two upzones in 15 years. The first, in 2001, was a standard rezone for a light rail station. A more recent rezone in 2014 sent potential building heights even higher.

First, let’s look at the success. Mt. Baker station borders a 2 year old mixed use building, with 56 residences and ground floor retail, with artists getting preference for leases: how Seattle is that? Mt. Baker Lofts is the type of development that transit experts advocate for when they push for Transit Oriented development. Unfortunately, that’s it for anything approaching ideal.

The big employer in the area is the UW Consolidated Laundry Facility, a 65,000 square foot facility with room for parking that launders all of the medical clothing the university uses. It’s certainly a necessary service, but hardly an ideal use of valuable space around a valuable light rail station. Everything else around the station is low rise retail. A Lowe’s, QFC, and RiteAid all have huge surface parking lots. Franklin High School is a typical Seattle high school. A few abandoned buildings and fenced off lots are sprinkled between 1 story buildings that house banks, an auto parts store, a gas station, a pawn shop, restaurant and a laundromat. The only new building under construction  is hardly mixed use: it is a underground water storage tank to help better manage Seattle’s stormwater.

To its credit, the City of Seattle sees a problem. The city funded North Rainier Urban Village Assessment concluded last year:

The North Rainier Urban Village, particularly the area surrounding the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station, has not advanced towards the vision of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan of 1999. Rather than a thriving town center, the station area is defined by vacant lots and auto-oriented uses and lacks a defined character and sense of place


What’s the problem at Mt. Baker Station?

Continue reading “Transit Oriented Development at Mt. Baker Station”

ULink Ridership By Station

Sound Transit Chart
Sound Transit Chart

In addition to Metro’s recent release of preliminary bus restructure numbers, Sound Transit has also released a chart giving us a clearer picture of ULink’s station-level ridership through Q2. See above to draw your own conclusions, but here are a few noteworthy points:

  • UW Station: At 9,200 boardings per day, UW Station has the 2nd most riders, and could soon surpass Westlake this fall as the busiest station in the system. Look for it to carry a proportionally heavier burden as tourist numbers fall off at Westlake and UW goes back into session next month.
  • Capitol Hill: At a healthy 6,000 boardings per day, Capitol Hill comes in 4th place behind Westlake, SeaTac, and UW. It will be interesting to see if Capitol Hill has a lower ridership ceiling than other stations, as it’s much closer to having maxed out its zoned capacity, and transfers there will always lag behind UW for geographic reasons.
  • Downtown: ULink has been a boon to the non-Westlake downtown stations too. While Westlake boardings are up 41%, boardings are up 82% at University Street, 80% at Pioneer Square, and 70% at International District/Chinatown.
  • Stadium/Sodo/Beacon Hill: Both Stadium and Sodo still have low ridership outside of event times, but boardings are up by 50% at each station, to 1,900 per day. With event riders from UW/Capitol Hill boosting the average, Stadium is also no longer the least-ridden station. Meanwhile, Beacon Hill is enjoying 20% growth, likely a mixture of continued organic growth and riders choosing Link to Capitol Hill over Route 60.
  • Rainier Valley: Ridership in the valley is mostly flat, with Mount Baker and Othello basically unchanged over a year ago.  Columbia City and Rainier Beach have both grown by 25%. Columbia City has the highest ridership in the valley, with 2,300 boardings per day, while despite its growth Rainier Beach still slipped to become the least-ridden station, at just 1,800 boardings per day.
  • South King: Ridership at Tukwila International Boulevard is up a modest 7%, with further growth likely curtailed by no new bus service, a very low density station area, and maxed out parking. Meanwhile, SeaTac/Airport grew by 9%, from 6,200 to 6,800 boardings.

News Roundup: Hiring

Crowded Link train at rush hour

This is an open thread.

The U-Link Restructure: By the Numbers

Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

The Metro restructure that accompanied the opening of Sound Transit’s University Link was the most significant service change in a generation. It undid decades-old travel patterns, killed a handful of routes, and created several new ones. It was rightfully controversial, and we covered it each step of the way (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). And though we’ve seen release after release of Link’s ridership numbers, we’ve been wondering how broader travel patterns have changed. Though the final report on the March 2016 restructure won’t be presented to the King County Council until March 2017, we finally have some preliminary ridership numbers.

Net New Boardings

Metro, Link, and Metro-operated ST Express routes are up by 6% overall, or an additional 27,900 daily boardings (through the end of Q2). Bus ridership on restructured routes is down by 9,100 boardings (as is expected when many routes are deleted), but the net effect of the ULink restructure is an additional 18,800 boardings per day, of which 15,000 are new boardings and 3,800 are bus-rail transfers. 

Northeast Seattle Winners

Northeast Seattle travel patterns were altered drastically by the restructure, and the area saw the largest route-level ridership changes. Some routes were deleted (25, 30, 66, 68, 72), but most restructured routes doubled in frequency, bringing 15-minute service to NE Seattle for the first time.

Continue reading “The U-Link Restructure: By the Numbers”

New Riders in ST3

Link Morning Commuters at Westlake. Image by Oran.
Link Morning Commuters at Westlake. Image by Oran.

The completion of the Sound Transit 2 plan will more than double Sound Transit’s ridership from about 150 thousand today to 350 thousand, and ST3 will nearly double that again to between 561 and 695 thousand daily riders.

The ST3 plan would result in 657 to 797 thousand daily transit riders in the region in 2040. Bench-marked against a ‘no-build’ alternative, however, only 9% of those would be new to transit. Opponents of the measure repeat this factoid to argue ST3 will be ineffective in increasing transit mode share in the region, that it’s a poor value for money, and that it will not relieve congestion. Torture the data point enough, and it seems to yield a ludicrously high cost per added transit rider. But it’s a misleading number in several ways.

‘Cost per new rider’ is recognized as a terrible measure of value. The FTA discarded the measure in 2003 for a more comprehensive measure of system user benefits that includes travel time saved by all users. ‘Cost per new rider’ devalues the experience of existing riders and the time-saving and other benefits that accrue to them. Hundreds of thousands of riders will have a faster, more comfortable and more reliable journey.

Would anybody assess the value of a new highway only by counting new drivers? No. Any analysis of highway benefits would include time and money savings for all users, and so it is with transit. A focus on new riders also penalizes investments in core transit corridors (exactly where high-capacity transit needs to be). Providing alternatives to driving are important, but getting some people out of cars is not the only benefit of ST3.

Less obviously, the ‘no-build’ alternative is not the status quo. It is a highly optimistic 2040 scenario that incorporates all the long range plans of other transportation agencies and regional planners. The PSRC, WSDOT, Metro, and other transit provider plans are all completed whether currently funded or not. In this alternative world, bus service is far more ubiquitous and faster than today, and traffic is better managed to keep those buses moving reliably.

Why construct the ‘no-build’ this way? It maintains consistency between Sound Transit planning assumptions and the plans of all other agencies. But the assumptions underlying the ‘no-build’ scenario set a high benchmark that make rail benefits look smaller:

  • In the ‘no-build’ alternative, drivers face per-mile fees across the region to manage traffic levels. With better-managed traffic levels, buses move faster.
  • Travel times in HOV lanes are well-managed by raising HOV requirements as high as necessary for reliable transit speeds, or converting HOV lanes to bus only lanes. The political will to make these changes is uncertain, and not currently in evidence.
  • The ‘no-build’ alternative also assumes the complete build-out of WSDOT plans, many of which are currently unfunded.
  • Other transit agencies are assumed to complete their long range plans. Concurrent with the PSRC’s Transportation 2040 plan, the ‘no-build’ includes a doubling of local transit service. Those are only partly funded. The funding gap grows if ST3 is not completed and local agencies have to pick up the workload of the ST3 rail network.

In short, the no-build alternative isn’t free. It assumes large unfunded investments by other agencies, and those costs will grow if Sound Transit cannot build out the rail network after 2023.

Play out, if you will, an alternative where ST3 does not pass. Suppose other transit agencies are incompletely funded, or the political will for tolling and per-mile driver fees falters. In this very plausible scenario, failure to pass ST3 will reduce transit ridership by much more than 9%. In a world where buses are not faster or more reliable than today, the advantages of grade-separated rail are greater, and ridership gains are correspondingly larger.

Sound Transit June 2016 Ridership: Link Finding Its New Normal

The author's daily 2-minute commute
The author’s daily 2-minute commute

Yesterday Sound Transit released its June ridership numbers, and Link appears to have found its new equilibrium: 65,000 weekday riders. Weekday ridership was nearly identical to may (down 0.7%), while total Link ridership of 1.8m boardings was up 1% over May 2016. These figures still represent 69% growth over June 2015.  However, June did set one Link record, being the first month in which Link averaged 40,000 Sunday riders.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 3.29.12 PM

On-time performance has slowly degraded in 5 of the 6 months this year so far, falling to a low of 88.6%. Interestingly, since bus volumes are down due to the ULink restructure and because Link isn’t taking any additional tunnel slots,  Sound Transit attributes the decline in performance to passenger crowding slightly increasing dwell times.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 3.43.20 PM

Sounder continued its healthy climb, with 16,000 daily boardings (up 11% over June 2015), while ST Express (slow growth) and Tacoma Link (slow shrinkage) continued their recent trends.

ST Selects Contractor to Operate Permit Parking Program

Angle Lake Station aerial view

Angle Lake Station parking garage, to feature $5/month carpool parking permits starting Opening Day – Sounder Bruce

The Operations & Administration Committee of the Sound Transit Board took action Thursday on several contracts, including the selection of the contractor to operate Sound Transit’s soon-to-be-permanent permit parking program.

Republic Parking Northwest submitted the winning bid to operate the program. RPNW will administer the permits, patrol the permitted stalls at the lots, issue warnings, and tow cars when appropriate. RPNW operates several public and private parking lots in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Everett, Oregon, Idaho, and Hawaii. The contract is for one year, with four one-year extension options.

The program will just be for carpools for the first 6-9 months, charging $5 per permit per month. Permit holders will have to provide ORCA card numbers for their passengers, which will be used to determine whether an average of at least three of them are riding, when permits are up for renewal.

Setting a permit fee for SOVs will require a separate Board action in the coming months. Part of the SOV permit fee discussion will be about recouping the cost of the program, which could run as high as $3.1 million for the five-year life of the contract. The background material offers this bit of optimism:

Of peer agencies offering monthly permit parking, SEPTA charges $20/month, LA Metro charges $20-$39/month, BART charges $30-$115/month, CTA charges $40-$129/month and DART charges $50-$60/month. Under any of these fee structures, Sound Transit would be able to fully recoup permit parking management costs, and may be able to generate net revenue.

The lots covered by the program will include Angle Lake Station from the first day it is open, Tukwila International Boulevard Station, all five Sounder station lots from Puyallup to Tukwila, Federal Way Transit Center, Issaquah TC, and Mercer Island Park & Ride. Up to 50% of the stalls at each lot could eventually be brought into the program.

Sound Transit had a parking permit pilot project from 2013 to 2014.

King County Metro is considering following suit. Its survey on the topic continues through August 19.

Committee Chair Paul Roberts quipped, “There is no finish line insofar as parking is concerned.”

Other contracts for which the committee gave final approval were renovation of the basement in Union Station, and replacement of cracking concrete at Auburn Station.

The committee also recommended approval of the Draft Transit Development Plan (TDP) 2016-2021 and 2015 Annual Report, which goes to the full Board next for final approval on August 25.

UW Parking, Biker Discounts, & Free Rides for Military on Seafair Weekend

Blue Angels over the I-90 floating bridge

Closed bridges mean bus reroutes between 12:30 and 3:30 pm (Sounder Bruce)

Seafair Weekend logo

Seafair weekend (this Friday-Sunday, August 5-7) will once again feature free Metro-operated shuttles between Columbia City Station and the main gate for viewing the hydroplane races at Genesee Park. The shuttles will run 5:45 am to 8 pm all three days.

As an incentive to discourage parking on top of the playfields at Genesee Park, those riding their bikes will get a 50% discount off the price of admission to the main gate. Cascade Bicycle Club will have a secure bicycle pavilion there, and be giving out complimentary bottles of water to those parking at the pavilion.

Members of the armed forces, in uniform or carrying military ID, get to ride free on Sound Transit, King County Metro, and Pierce Transit now through Sunday, August 7.

The University of Washington will open up two parking lots to the general public, E12 and E19, just south of UW Station. Parking at these lots will be $15 on Friday, $10 on Saturday before noon, free after noon Saturday, and free Sunday. Compare that to $19 for all-day parking at the airport, with a coupon, and free parking in most of the stalls at Tukwila International Boulevard Station until it fills up.

If you are planning on taking an I-90 bus between 12:30 and 3:30 pm Friday-Sunday, be sure to check out Metro’s reroute plan.

The Building Boom is Smaller than the People Boom

Islands in Single-Family Land
Islands in Single-Family Land

When I read Erica Barnett’s piece yesterday about a small Phinney Ridge apartment project sent back to Design Review for a 4th time,  I thought of my religious upbringing and Jesus’ lament in Matthew 23:24 : “You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” Despite recent positive moves toward a more aggressively pro-housing stance, including defunding the change-averse neighborhood councils and passing the Housing Levy, etc, our instincts are still to miss the forest for the needles on each tree.

The project in question is a rare multifamily development in the heart of Craftsman land, and residents have objected loudly and often to things like the lack of A/C (the norm in Seattle) and the terrifying possibility of commerce. From Barnett’s piece:

One woman was concerned that the building’s two live-work spaces would create traffic and crowd nearby sidewalks. “If you’re maybe somebody who has clients coming and going [from the] live-work units, going in and out, and if you’re on Greenwood, they’re going to be crossing the sidewalk.

Others suggested an aesthetic test, with neighbors as judge and jury:

Give us a building that gives us joy to walk by. It’s like that saying, ‘I don’t know what art is but I know it when I see it.’ Well, I don’t know what good architecture is, but I know it when I see it.

There has been some noise lately that the ire directed at single family zones and neighborhood councils is misdirected, that it’s cynical to lay the blame upon them in the midst of an unprecedented building boom. And it’s true, we’re building roughly 13,000 new units per year, a record pace, and 9,000 planned for each of the next 3 years.

But it doesn’t really matter that we’re building. What matters is how much and where. Seattle is growing by 16,000 people per year, so 13,000 units is likely just enough to tread water, as recent slowing in the rate of rent growth shows. The more worrying sign is the 26,000 units planned for the next 3 years, and the 45,000 people likely to move here in the same period. That leaves a lot of (mostly well-paid) people, with nowhere to turn, bidding up the rent in our “naturally affordable” housing stock.

4 rounds of process doesn't exactly help affordability.
4 rounds of process doesn’t exactly help affordability.

Despite our best intentions, it seems that the momentum toward upzones in exchange for Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) will induce very few new units in our multifamily zones, and that most developers will either walk away or pay the fee. With 1). these new fees likely to be passed directly into market-rate rents, 2). single-family zones remaining mostly untouchable, 3). a clear shortage of planned units, and 4)  angry neighbors holding back production on account of laundry/unit ratios, it’s hard to be optimistic about our ability to keep up with growth.

We need to get to the place where housing at all levels is seen as a social good, and that the burden of process should be on those who wish to restrict it.

Sound Transit 3: What Does It Cost?

st3mapNow that we’ve itemized three waves of projects that ST3 would deliver (1, 2 ,3), you might wonder how much this project will actually cost. There are a lot of numbers, some of them very large, that have circulated over the last year or so. But how much is it really going to cost?

I don’t want to read this whole article. How much is it going to cost me?

The easiest value to understand is the cost per individual. The median adult in the Sound Transit District will spend about $169 per year, or 46 cents per day. If you have your financial records together, you can use this Seattle Times calculator to compute your individual tax burden. Obviously, this bill will vary over time as car values, taxable spending, and house prices change.

I’ve used up my pageviews. How can I compute it?

An annual tax of 0.8% of the assessed value of autos, 0.5% on taxable purchases, and 0.025% of the assessed value of real estate. The last amounts to $100 a year on a $400,000 house.

I’ve been paying close attention to your series, and all the projects add up to maybe $20 billion. What’s this $54 billion figure I see in the paper?

Inflation. The individual project studies are priced in 2014 dollars because the studies aren’t attached to any completion date. The reporting convention is that the overall package is quoted in YOE (Year of Expenditure) dollars. The same project costs more when it finishes in 2030 than if it finished in 2025, because the purchasing power of a dollar declines.

You might wonder how you’re supposed to have any sense of whether a billion 2040 dollars is a high or low expenditure for infrastructure, and you’d be right. That’s why I’m a firm supporter of the individual cost estimates at the top of this article.

I thought the legislature authorized $15 billion in taxes. How can ST afford $20 billion, much less $54 billion?

Once again, this relates to reporting conventions. The original ST3 concept would have completed in 15 years, presumably with many fewer projects. As a shorthand, legislators referred to total tax collections in 15 years as a handle on the size of the package. Even in that case, some of that figure is 2017 dollars and some are 2031 dollars. And as it happened, various amendments to the bill chopped a few percentage points off the sum that Sound Transit can actually realize.

However, the tax was never going to stop after 15 years. In that period, Sound Transit would have sold bonds that it would have paid off with taxes collected after 2031. So overall, it would have been able to fund something like $25 billion of projects.

The last big leap in size occurred when they added projects that would arrive in up to 25 years. This accomplished two things. First, it meant they would accumulate capital for a longer period of time. Second, in the second half of those 25 years most of the ST1 and ST2 bonds expire, freeing up the revenue streams that pay off those bonds.

Sound Transit also expects billions in federal grants, amounting to about 13% of the total capital cost. This is in line with past experience.

So is it worth the money?

ST3 is the most plausible path to deliver wide-ranging alternatives to congestion and to direct growth into more sustainable corridors. We are just now reaping the seeds planted by the generation before us, and have the opportunity to do the same for the next. Whether that outcome is worth the investment is something for each voter to decide, although you’ll hear more from us about this soon.

News Roundup: November’s Ballot


This is an open thread.

First Primary Election Results

Washington Governor’s Mansion (wikimedia)

The initial vote counts are in. STB Endorsees are in bold.

Several statewide results are of interest to transit and density advocates: Jay Inslee leads Bill Bryant 49-38 and Patty Murray leads Chris Vance 53-28. In the 7th Congressional District, Pramila Jayapal (38%) will face either Brady Walkinshaw (21%) or Joe McDermott (21%).

In the 43rd District, House Pos. 1, Nicole Macri is leading Dan Shih 49-26. In the 1st District: Senate, Mindy Wirth (40%) against either Guy Palumbo (21%) or Luis Moscoso (21%); House 1, Derek Stanford over Neil Thannish (50-23); and House 2, Jim Langston over Shelley Kloba 40-31. In the 5th, Position 2, Matt Larson will not advance to the general.

In Seattle measures, the Housing Levy is winning comfortably 68-32, and the Viaduct Park Initiative is losing decisively 19-81.

In Pierce County, Rick Talbert leads the Executive race over Bruce Dammeier 46-30. Pat Jenkins will not advance in County Council District 2. In District 6, Doug Richardson leads Linda Farmer 50-32.

Madison RapidRide: Now with More and Better Bus Lanes

SounderBruce (Flickr)
SounderBruce (Flickr)

This week the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will debut its 30% design for Rapid Ride on the Madison Street corridor between 1st Avenue and MLK. Back at the 10% concept design late last year, we lamented the reliance on Business Access and Transit lanes in the downtown core, as well as the complete lack of transit priority on the eastern 36% of the route (between 15th-MLK). Noting that there is garage access on nearly every block and bus lane enforcement is woefully lacking, the project seemed headed for another watered down, sort-of-priority corridor.

But in the updated design SDOT will debut later today and in 3 open houses over the next week, bus priority has gotten much better. In an email, SDOT’s Emily Reardon told STB that

In the 10% design we had about 42% bus only lanes between First Avenue and MLK and 24% BAT lanes. In the draft 30% design, we have maximized red bus only lanes to approximately 60% of the same route, with approximately 4% BAT lanes. As we spoke about, most of that transition from BAT lanes to bus only lanes is in the downtown area, while still maintaining access to all driveways.

So how does SDOT hope to achieve this? While we haven’t seen the full channelization, the updated design will move the outbound bus lane from the north side of Spring Street to the south curbside, and the lanes will be fully bus-only. Access to garages will be maintained by vehicles turning across the bus lane to/from the center-right lane, rather than queuing in the bus lane itself. Having curbside stops (such as at Seattle Public Library) also saves a bit of right-of-way, as the need to have island platforms (to serve both Madison RapidRide and Metro’s Route 2) is eliminated.

At the horribly congested stretch of Spring Street between 4th and 6th Avenue, SDOT has a creative idea for getting buses through. From the curbside stop at SPL, the bus would move to an exclusive center-right lane, and it would enjoy its own signal phase, allowing the bus to jump ahead of traffic queuing for I-5. The two queueing lanes for cars would be maintained, but one would be curbside and one would be center-left. So the bus would split the difference and proceed straight on its signal, while cars would have lanes on either side and have their own signal as well. Though I remain skeptical that the transition from SPL to the bus lane will remain free of cars, I also see that this design wouldn’t preclude physical barriers to car entry, even if just bike-lane style plastic posts.

The 30% design level also is the time that the corridor-level study zooms into the nuts and bolts of stop placement, ADA access, curb cuts, and the like. The open houses will feature very detailed channelizations for the public to consider.

SDOT hopes to progress to final design by early 2017, begin construction in 2018, and have the project up and running by 2019. Much of the $120m cost comes from repaving, curb cutting, laying fiber optics for real-time information and off-board payment, buying new 5-door articulated trolleybuses, and hanging roughly 20 blocks of new trolley wire. SDOT confirmed that the bus will indeed be branded RapidRide, and that Metro will be the operator, so the route should be fully integrated into the transit network.

Funding for the project is still piecemeal and unsecured, as are most projects around here. $19m has been secured through Move Seattle ($15m) and a state Connecting Washington ($4m) grant, enough to complete final design, purchase a portion of the needed fleet, and fund any needed easements or property acquisitions. SDOT hopes to fund over half the project with federal grants, including up to $60m from the federal Small Starts program and smaller amounts from various other grants. Finally, Sound Transit 3 (ST3) provides an $85m “capped contribution” to Rapid Ride C, D, and the Madison Corridor. Assuming successful federal grants, ST3 funding would likely fall in the $40m range. Without the grants, an ST3 contribution would need to be higher, potentially pitting Ballard and West Seattle improvements against the needs of the Madison line. And of course, if ST3 were to fail, the project would have a large funding gap and the project could be delayed.

So come out to the open houses and see the updates for yourself, but the design seems headed in a better direction for transit riders.

Open House details below the jump… Continue reading “Madison RapidRide: Now with More and Better Bus Lanes”

Everett Transit and Pierce Transit to Buy Electric Buses

Proterra electric bus at Eastgate P&R

Everett Transit and Pierce Transit are the lucky recipients of federal grants to purchase new buses powered by electric batteries, similar to those operated by King County Metro on the Eastside. The Federal Transit Administration’s “Low or No Emission Vehicle Program” awarded $55 million in grants to 21 transit agencies nationwide.

Everett Transit will use its $3.4 million grant, which requires a $600,000 match from the city budget, to purchase four buses from Proterra, but will not build a fast-charging station like Metro’s at Eastgate Park and Ride in Bellevue. The new buses will replace the agency’s 4 oldest high-floor buses, dating back to 1994 and 1996, and will be used on the city’s busiest routes, including route 7 on Evergreen Way. Everett Transit cited the high cost of diesel fuel, which has now become the largest operations expense for the system, as a reason for their pursuit of the grant.

Pierce Transit, meanwhile, will only receive $2.6 million after it had requested $6.3 million. They will be able to afford only two electric buses from Proterra, as well as a fast-charging station. The agency already uses a fleet of buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), which are cleaner burning than traditional diesels, but the new electric buses will further reduce emissions.

Across the mountains, Link Transit in Wenatchee is also set to receive $3.8 million from the same program to purchase five buses and a fast-charging station. They already operate electric “trolley replica” buses on their frequent circulator routes in downtown Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, funded in 2010 by a different FTA grant.

Without Plausible Enforcement, Surface Transit is Hopeless

Howell Street "Bus Lanes"(Sounder Bruce)
Howell Street “Bus Lanes”(Sounder Bruce)

When I drive my Subaru downtown, which I do several times a week for business, I feel something I don’t often feel as a transit rider: I feel respected. Not only do I have all the traditional power of wielding heavy machinery, but I have vast city resources at my disposal. Despite taking up an enormous amount of space, most of the right-of-way is mine alone. At every major parking garage entrance, a uniformed police officer stands ready to hold others back for my access. Loud, dissonant warnings accompany my every move: “Caution, vehicle exiting!”. And I can drive wherever I please – in bus lanes, turning left on red against a bike lane, etc – with the near assurance that I won’t get caught.

When the grid gets backed up during PM peak, I know that I can cheat a little, blocking the box to make sure I get through during the next cycle. If there are buses behind me crush loaded with commuters, that’s their problem not mine. You see, I have places to be and space to take up.

And so it was on a hot, sunny day last week that I found myself needing to get to Green Lake during the afternoon rush. I left my business vehicle parked in Belltown, thinking that the priority of red bus lanes would make for a speedier trip. How could I have been so foolish?

As I stood in the heat watching 3 individuals in 3 cars claim their entitlement to civic space, backing up nearly a dozen buses and a couple hundred passengers for 20 minutes, I thought of all the officers who helped them out of their garages as an off-duty courtesy instead of enforcing basic laws relating to transit priority.

And this is the joke of surface transit. The mobility of the many subjugated to the whims of the few, or the one. The integrity of the network dependent on the social cooperation of each individual, each of whom has every incentive to cheat and little fear of getting caught. Hundreds of buses sitting in traffic costing taxpayers $2.50 per minute, and agencies that need to come back to us for more funding because a minority of people claim a majority of space.

And in a backhanded way, all of our efforts into protected bike lanes and bus lanes actually reinforce the supremacy of cars. We only need to carve out small modal slices for non-cars because we assume the right of free car access as the baseline condition. Instead of freedom through open access (woonerf-style calming), we tend to over-engineer our streets (cough, Broadway) and take away their resilience because we are working at cross purposes, trying to be pro-bike and pro-transit progressives while maintaining priority for the movement and storage of cars.

So until we get serious about enforcement and I feel as respected on a bus as I do in my Subaru, I just won’t have much of an ear for “Buses or BRT can be as good Link” type arguments, and if I have the privilege of other options I’ll exercise them. You won’t catch me on a peak hour bus, and definitely not on a streetcar. Give me grade separated transit or give me my bike. But our half-million bus riders a day deserve better.


Vote by 8 PM Tuesday

ballot drop box

Tuesday, August 2 is primary election day. It’s time to fill out your ballot and mail it in (with 1st class postage, worth at least 47 cents), take your ballot to the nearest drop box, or get in line at an accessible voting center.

You must get your ballot postmarked by Tuesday, drop it at a drop box by 8 pm Tuesday, or get in line at a voting center by 8 pm Tuesday. Don’t forget to sign, date, and put your email or phone on the return envelope.

29 ballot drop boxes are available around the county, and around the clock, including one at the King County Administration Building, 500 4th Ave.

Accessible Voting Sites are open today until 7 pm and tomorrow until 8 pm at Union Station (upstairs from International District / Chinatown light rail station), King County Elections HQ in Renton, and Bellevue City Hall. Voting opens at Elections HQ at 8:30 am, and at the other two sites at 10 am.

For Pierce County, click here for a list of drop boxes and accessible voting sites.
For Snohomish County, click here for accessible voting sites and here for drop boxes.

Feel free to check out STB’s endorsements before filling out your ballot.

For questions about voting in King County, contact or call 206-296-VOTE.