39 Replies to “Podcast #26: Expand the District”

  1. Why is it such anathema for Seattle to go it alone?

    For Ballard – UW and SLU, there is quite a lot of development within the range of the proposed line. It seems like a special development district to fund the line could help provide a chunk of the local match.

    In fact, a fair number of lines in various parts of the country have been built without a plan for region-wide lines scattered about the region.

    1. Seattle needs taxing authority from the state. The state leg knows that Seattle is a reliable pro-tax pool of voters, so the incentive has been to tie any Seattle demands to regional or state-wide needs.

      Relatedly, other cities have state legislatures who value urban transportation and choose to fund it without continually holding it hostage in exchange for a pound of flesh. Sadly, we do not.

      1. MAX yellow line was built by:

        74% federal FTA grants (the FTA was seriously tired of dumping operating money into the diminishing returns on bus route #5)

        11% regional transportation funds

        7% TriMet capital funds left over from budget surplus

        8% urban renewal district funds that were approved by the taxing district.

        There were no additional property taxes that needed to be approved. It was an allocation of funds that were already there.

        Sure, it was a surface line that was built cheaply, but the area through which it was built was also horribly depressed and not capable of producing much in the way of its local urban redevelopment funds. The pool of money wasn’t great.

        There is far more density from Ballard to the UW, and thus a local urban redevelopment district could produce far more funds for that 8% local match.

        These types of local districts have to be approved at the state level first in Washington?

      2. Glenn, I imagine if we knew for certain that 3/4 of the cost of the in-city lines would come from federal funds, we’d be moving quite rapidly towards design and construction right now instead of waiting for ST3. I’d love to see that–and if it happens it’s a huge boon to the system as a whole, but I don’t think even the Capitol Hill/UW segment got anywhere near that percentage.

      3. The 44 is in the same category as TriMet’s former 5: slow and eating federal operating money.

      4. Washington state law allows for Local Improvement Districts, but there are specific (and somewhat complicated) criteria for using them. For example, the tax rate paid by any single property must be in direct proportion to the benefits received by that property. This calculation is the subject of intense discussion and often litigation. Relating the “special benefit” derived by individual properties in the LID to the assessment is problematic when projects are excessively expensive. The benefit received is tiny compared to the costs incurred (they must be proportional).

        Since ST cannot build projects the voters haven’t approved, and since ST can generally build the voter-approved projects within the bounds of their direct taxing authority, there’s really no reason for ST to jump through the hoops an LID would require. A city (such as Seattle) trying to finance a specific project on its own would have difficulty meeting the “special benefit” proportionality test, making a local LID unlikely.

      5. Thanks for the explanation.It seems that if the so-called “important” parts of ST3 are to be done separate from the rest of the region, there is no easy route to do that.

      6. Don’t personally like the idea of even suggesting breaking up a State. But if the rest of the State doesn’t mind treating us as if we’re not part of the State, while expecting more than our share of the taxes, would one or two uncooperative budgets on our part make our point?


    2. There have long been plans to extend the South Lake Union along Westlake across the Fremont Bridge on its way to Ballard.

      With reserved lanes and good signals, a connecting line along the north shore of the lake could probably get through passengers to the U-District faster than a bus through Wallingford along 45th.

      Also, we should start doing some research on soil conditions, and the latest developments in tunneling. In the eight or ten years before we could start digging at the soonest, digging could get both cheaper and faster. The Swiss probably have the world’s most experience with this.

      And while they’re here, they’re good on aerial tramways too.


  2. I wish that some sort of greater streetcar master plan for a Euro-style streetcar network had emerged at some point, instead of just this one not-totally-convinced-that-it’s-useful mega-line, and I’ve never understood why not. There are a lot of potentially useful branches possible to create a bunch of distinct service lines (e.g., continue east on Jackson to 23rd; up 1st to Belltown, extend to Eastlake), but I get the feeling that not having exclusive ROW has forever soured people on what should be a well-considered transit mode.

    You guys even mention it, if you can squint far enough into the future — perhaps Ballard-UW is a bit ambitious, but why not Fremont to UW (say 34th, Stone, 45th, and into the U-District to connect with Link)? California Avenue? Lake City to Northgate? Greenwood? 85th? Beacon? A lot of this is covered by future Link or bus plans, I know, but the point remains that streetcars — built properly, with exclusive street ROW — should be desirable.

    1. In Europe, Adam, and just about everyplace else including Ballard, it was common to start with separate private companies that eventually merged into the same system. So in that sense, we’re already ahead.

      Main difference is that the Europeans built more car-lines after the Second World War, while we “disappeared” just about all of ours. Mainly because people thought that the United States was big enough that cars would let us all finally get out of each others’ way.

      Especially Americans who had been in Europe, either before or during the war, where they saw the remains of a lot of streetcar lines and transit oriented development.

      Also the equally misguided thought that streetcars, buses, subways, and commuter trains would always take enough load off the new highways to guarantee that even fewer people got irritated by everybody else.

      You’re right, though, that everybody who ever says “separate agencies” to take the load off common sense ought to be put in not only the same agency, but the same office. Where turf wars can be confined to who gets the less repulsive cubicle.


    2. There was something resembling a plan from council back in like ’08, Adam. Some documentation can still be found at the bottom of this page: http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/network.htm

      You are spot on in that Seattle has apparently not yet learned the danger of initially half-assing things (bike share) and poisoning wells of support.

  3. With regard to the fares, how about:

    + reduced ORCA prices across the board, not just ORCA lift?

    + increasing the allowed transfer time?

    1. Sorry, Martin answered the ORCA price question after I thought you had moved on to something else.

    2. As always, Glenn, good suggestions, from a system with a lot of lessons for us. But let’s do what’s always easiest and best.

      Money up-front, as many outlets as possible. And except for monthly passes, basic fare arrangement an all-day pass. Age and income considerations, and any other complication, taken care of before purchase.

      Amount of operating time and good-will saved might let us lower fares. But I think permanent and complete aggravation-relief will put people in mood for a reasonable increase if needed. I’d rather put my hand into blackberry vines than poison oak. I know TriMet’s got blackberries. But is the other one only a problem around BART?


      1. One of the things TriMet did after it had recuperated from the recession a bit was increase the allowed transfer time from 2 hours to 2.5 hours.

  4. 1. Sounder to Olympia? Take an overnight fact-finding trip. Motel on Capitol Avenue a block from a bus stop. Next morning, take the bus to work in Seattle. Especially if you work in South Lake Union. Or ride to Sounder at either Lakewood or Tacoma Dome.

    See how funny you and your boss think idea of a freeway-free transit line is. “Fact On The Ground”, as successful military aggressors put it, is that traffic effects of current housing economy have killed subarea equity problem. Because we’re all a subarea of the whole Pacific Northwest now. Connected by daily-lengthening miles of steel and rubber hall rugs. (Fiberglass fenders too.)

    Also, first Portland bound AMTRAK train southbound out of Lakewood Station will prove that Lacey station is ten minutes south of Dupont. Lacey can be a twenty minute express bus ride to Downtown Olympia. Since us refugees can vote, replacements for recalled recalcitrant commissioners will quickly put Thurston County in Sound Transit.

    2. “Density”? Into every station area, build expandable transit-served towns, complete with homes, schools, and most important, workplaces, on every line across the Seattle City limits.

    The developers of Cleveland’s Shaker Heights “acquired the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road) in order to secure the right of way needed to establish a rapid transit interurban streetcar system that would carry residents of Shaker Heights to and from downtown Cleveland.” Wikipedia. Station used to have world’s best corned beef sandwich too.

    3. How about making Jeff Bezos pay taxes for transit like everybody else? It’ll save him the wages of the public police officers he’s using for parking guards. And if he doesn’t like it, he’s already built South Lake Union a lot of office space for the more transit-friendly employer trade him an also-exiting property in Oklahoma.

    4. SR 520 to SLU? Send the 540 and the 545 past UW Station to Pacific, and put five minute express trolleybus service on the Route 70. Reserved lanes, signal pre-empt and all. Will be faster than a half hour traffic jam under the lids, and the four lane right side “slalom”. Which nobody who ever drove a passenger vehicle any size will laugh very hard at.

    Transit-lane from Mercer Street exit to Fairview and the Streetcar lane on Westlake might make best possible replacement for Convention Place and its approach. Events on 4th prove SDOT might not say no, and it really is their call, not Jeff’s. Or CEO’s of Expedia, or the rest of the Postindustrial world.

    5. The end of CPS will put the 255 out of its misery. As UW station will do for its passengers, via a two minute bus ride off of 520. And a park-friendly, bike-carrying trailside streetcar line can connect Totem Lake and Google with South Kirkland Park and Ride- and possibly elevators to I-405 BRT stops. Better speed than local bus that route. And done right, could lower hostile signs by raising property values.

    6. Nothing big is either going to or not-going-to happen. Whatever repulsive body-language accompanies his verbal kind in public, when he’s talking with his strategy team, one current Presidential candidate probably doesn’t shrug very often. Or use the grammatical “Passive Voice.”

    Mark Dublin

  5. Ok, so this is probably off-topic, but I got no answer from an earlier post in a recent thread:

    What are the boarding figures for the new Angle Lake Station? And how much has the new Angle Lake Station increased total Link boardings per weekday so far?

    Supposedly this information was going to be put out yesterday by Sound Transit, but I have not seen anything about it in other media. I was hoping someone on this blog could give that to me. Am I the only one who is curious about this? When the UW and Capitol Hill stations opened, we got boardings and ridership figures within a few days. How is the new Angle Lake station doing?


    1. My understanding it that they were supposed to be discussed, but I have not heard anything about it. Seems like everyone is on radio silence out there.

      Please note however, numbers this soon after its opening would be fairly unreliable. They might satisfy a certain amount of curiosity, but they wouldn’t be very meaningful.

      1. ST gave stats for the UW station and Capitol Hill station within a couple of days of those stations opening. Were those stats they gave very meaningful? I think it turned out that the stats from the first couple of days of those 2 new stations were pretty accurate. I just find it annoying that ST seems to be keeping this information a secret. ST seemed very eager to get out the stats on the UW and Capitol Hill stations. Why the reluctance on the Angle Lake station? ST was very excited about the Angle Lake station opening. Ok, so tell use how many people are using it. I don’t get it.

      2. It’s a big giant conspiracy. Obviously ST has something to hide. Maybe ST hid the data in the same place that they hid all of Hillary’s deleted emails. Both are missing, coincidence? I think not!

        Or maybe you should just ask ST for the data.

  6. The discussion about three-seat rides (Kirkland) at the end of the podcast is actually a looming issue — not only for South Lake Union but for SeaTac too. It will also be an issue for Issaquah/Eastgate riders in addition to Kirkland riders if ST3 passes.

    Failure to demonstrate if there would be a second I-90 line or if Eastside rail transfers would have a timed cross-platform transfer as part of ST3 really hurts its appeal for the Eastside.

    1. Eastside to SLU might be best handled by SR520 express buses.

      Lots of things could happen that isn’t shown on the Link map.

    2. Have you seen what the traffic is like getting off at the Mercer St. exit today? The express is usually no better than the general purpose lanes, and when the new Google and Amazon buildings finish, it’s only going to get worse. Meanwhile, the completion of the Montlake lid will allow for an HOV 3+ exit ramp from 520 to Montlake, and peak-hour frequency of UW->downtown and downtown->SLU on the trains will be as good as 3-5 minutes.

      Even today, I’ve ridden Lyft a couple times from the U-district to SLU and sat in traffic for about as long as it would have taken to ride Link downtown and backtrack north on a bus.

      I honestly believe that in a 2035 world with ST passing, the fastest way from downtown Kirkland to SLU in a post-ST3 world will, in fact, be a 3-seat ride. Bus (following today’s route 540)->train (UW Station to Westlake)->train (Westlake Station->SLU). For Bellevue->SLU, the quickest route would probably be EastLink.

      But, for the interim period before 2035 (or if ST3 fails), I guess express buses sitting in long lines of cars for the Mercer St. exit is probably quicker than anything else out there.

      1. When I was in Potsdam, Germany I noticed that they do a lot of this type of thing. The outer ends of many of the tram routes have are served by two lines. The Babelsberg line is served by one that goes through the main part of town and another that provides a one seat ride to the central train station.

        Considering the density of Seattle vs everywhere else, I see it being desirable to mix something like Bellevue to Ballard and West Seattle to Northgate into the mix to put the most service where it will be most needed. This also provides some one seat rides on routes that otherwise require a transfer.

      2. I-90 might be ok for downtown proper, if it were really a one-seat ride all the way, but for any destination north of the ship canal, it’s a huge detour, adding 30+ minutes compared to straight-shot bus down 520.

        And, the one-seat ride all the way is questionable. A rail line through Kirkland won’t stop nearly as frequently as the 255 does – the latest proposal I’ve seen had no stops between Google and South Kirkland P&R. As I’ve mentioned before, congestion on the local roads through Kirkland is not that bad, and outside of rush hour, almost non-existent.

        I still favor an all-day, frequent, 540, plus a downtown Kirkland->downtown Bellevue express bus that would take the freeway all the way. The existing route 540 is hamstrung by the fact that the more frequent 255 is sucking up most of the riders. If the 540 were all-day and frequent, and were *the* way to get to downtown Seattle, people would ride it. It might also be necessary to have a peak-hour express bus to SLU, but if the bus is going to sit there for 20 minutes waiting in line to get off the freeway and onto Mercer, operating such a bus might be pointless. Just drop people off at the Link station and let them ride the train to bypass the traffic.

  7. Frank,

    There IS a way “to get across the northern end of the downtown region without getting stuck in traffic.” Now grant, it’s not free, but it is a very good way to do it. Read my post of suggestions in ST3-What If It Loses. A single-lane, bus-only bridge (or more expensive but lower impact underpass) at Aurora would link Roy and Valley, making a “natural” high-speed, low congestion route between the U-District/Eastlake through North SLU and Lower Queen Anne and out to Smith Cove. You wouldn’t even need bus lanes across South Queen Anne because Roy has been demoted since Mercer is now two-way. Put RapidRide on it.

    Even if ST3 passes, it makes sense.

  8. Why no Ballard to UW bus tunnel?

    Is it a matter of reliability (inside the tunnel)? Expense?

    If a bus tunnel could lead to more stations I would prefer it to a regional ST type line with only a 2-3 new stations betwixt the ST3 station in Ballard and the ST2 station on Brooklyn.

    Wouldnt a tunnell be able to delivere something like (east to west) – entrance near bluffs west of U Village, Brooklyn Ave-ish, 7th Ave NE, Meridian Ave, Stone Way, Fremont Ave, 8th Ave NW, 15th Ave NW, 24th Ave NW exiting thereafter?

    The numbers are there for rider ship.

    1. I mention this in a comment a few weeks (so I think that was a shout-out woohoo!). I meant it partially as a troll for Ross, because if he’s so insistent on a bus tunnel downtown, why not a bus tunnel for Ballard-UW? And I think Frank* took it this way

      *Or Martin? I honestly can’t keep track of which one of you says what…

      But also, if the whole point of Ballard-UW is because the 44 is unfixable, why not just create grade separated ROW for 44? A bus tunnel does exactly that. (though a Madison BRT type treatment would be way cheaper, with center running lanes in Ballard & around I5, which are the two chokepoints I believe).
      And then a bus tunnel gives one seat rides across 520 without needing to build rail on that bridge… though as Frank says, that might be a bug, not a perk.

  9. RE: Amazon not following Google & simply having offices on both sides of Lake Washington – recently announced that Amazon is 100% leasing up a new 16 story office building in downtown Bellevue. No word on what parts of Amazon where be based there, but it could simply be a satellite campus for people who don’t make the drive.

  10. I think with respect to the suburbs having enough projects to pair with Seattle for a ST4, I think politicians can easily drum up enough projects to balance regional equity. Plus, Seattle is growing faster than other subareas in terms of population & wealth, so it should get a bigger slice of the pie going forward.

    Really I see only East King as the limiting factor given the lack of obvious new station locations, but that can easily be fixed with another Lake Washington cross, or if parts of 405 BRT get upgraded to rail (like run a line from South Kirkland to Bothell). Also, remember Renton is in East King, so a Burien to Renton line can consume a chunk of East King money.

    1. Making Renton part of the east side could help. You’d have to get Seattle to agree to more frequent trains in the Rainier Valley but an extension from there down to Renton would be good.

  11. Man, 2018 seems the downtown Apocalypse. Buses out of the tunnel, construction of the CCC, and a couple of other delights that have escaped me happening at once. Can we map that?

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