Holding the Line for Transit

By Transportation Choices Coalition

The 2017 Legislative Session has been incredibly challenging for Sound Transit. On the heels of the passage of Sound Transit 3 in November, the agency has had to defend a host of bills designed to dismantle the voter approved plan and change its governance structure. Last Friday, the Senate passed ESB 5893 which slashes Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax authority from 1.1% to 0.5% among other things. TCC opposed that bill.

TCC Executive Director Shefali Ranganathan

In the House, legislators are considering a relatively more modest proposal, HB 2201 which will create a $780M direct revenue gap in the Sound Transit 3 finance plan or an estimated $2.3B impact once you factor in higher borrowing costs. This bill was passed by the House Transportation Committee and seems well on its way to approval by the House as chronicled by the blog here.

Let’s recap for a quick moment how we got to this point. In 2015, as part of a deal on the Connecting Washington Transportation package, the Legislature granted Sound Transit the taxing authority to seek voter approval for a transit expansion plan. At the same time, it voted to approve an increase in the gas tax to fund road projects without requiring a public vote. It was a deal that advocates including Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) made for a chance to complete the high capacity transit system that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.

Fast forward to 2016, hundreds of meetings and tens of thousands of public comments later, the agency put forth a $54B transit expansion plan the details of which has been discussed in great depth on this blog.  A grueling six-month campaign ensued and despite the best efforts of the opposition spearheaded by the Seattle Times, voters approved the plan by nearly 54%. The Puget Sound region finally embraced its transit destiny. Or so we thought.

As 2017 kicked in, higher MVET renewals started appearing in mailboxes, a media feeding frenzy ensued, and anti-transit legislators seized the opportunity to attack the voter-approved plan and the agency. TCC which led a broad coalition of business, labor, transportation, environmental and social justice advocates to pass the ST3 responded with a broad strategy which included an on-the-ground staff presence in Olympia, a joint coalition letter signed by 26 business, labor and community groups, and thousands of emails and petitions to legislators urging a measured approach that does not derail projects.

Yet here we are, battling bills that jeopardize projects, in the name of tax payer relief.

TCC cannot support HB 2201 as it is currently proposed. We appreciate the need to address tax payer fairness and find reasonable solutions that do not impact voter-approved projects.  We suggested improvements to the legislation to address tax fairness for working families while keeping voter-approved projects on track including:

  1. The reimbursement or credit should only be provided to cars valued at or below $30,000, providing relief to middle and low-income families who need it the most.
  2. Find solutions to reduce the $780 million revenue gap created by this bill, either by limiting the tax adjustment to working families or other policy options that address the loss of revenue to Sound Transit.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much traction to move these changes forward.

Let us pause for a moment to consider the irony – the most progressive taxing source available to pay for transit, the MVET, is being undermined in the name of fairness in a state that has the most unfair tax system in the nation (Seattle Times $). That a measure approved by 700K residents which took three years and an incredibly robust public dialog to shape, can be so easily be scuttled by so few.

It will be easy to point fingers and assign partisan blame. Instead I encourage you to consider the following – transit is under attack at the federal and state level. Transit funding is being politicized for bigger battle – the control of the State Legislature. We should be careful to separate the policies from the politics. Voters want more light rail to more places. It is why ST3 passed last year. Now more than ever transit advocates and our broader coalition will need to stick together to defend our gains at the ballot. I urge you to join us in our fight by signing up for updates and opportunities to engage with your elected  representatives to hold the line on transit.

Democrat Bill Reducing ST Funding on House Floor

Robert Ashworth (Flickr)

House Bill 2201, which would reduce Sound Transit 3 funding by as much as $3 billion, has moved quickly in the legislature. In a rare move, it got heard in the House Transportation Committee and voted out on the same day Monday. (Start at 23:00 in the video.) Even more unusually, no fiscal note was available to the public. Then Tuesday, it moved out of the House Rules Committee onto the House second reading floor calendar. It could come up for a vote at any time.

Two pro-Sound-Transit groups came out against the bill quickly: Transportation Choices and Seattle Subway.

The bill would reduce the valuation used to calculate Sound Transit’s motor vehicle excise tax from the formula used by the 1994 legislature to the formula used by the 2006 legislature for the 0.8% ST3 portion. Both formulae are based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), but the newer one features a quicker depreciation schedule which charges less for newer cars and a little bit more for older cars, making the 2006 formula less progressive. The ST1 portion of 0.3% of the vehicle’s value would continue at the 1994 formula until ST1 bonds are paid off, which is expected to happen after the last of the bonds mature in 2028.

Once the ST1 bonds are paid off, the ST1 portion of the MVET will go away. The Sound Transit sales tax rate will also drop from 1.4% to 0.9%, reflecting the end of the ST1 sales tax.

The bill that authorized ST3, Second Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5987 (from 2015) specified that the MVET would continue to be calculated under the 1994 formula until ST1 bonds are paid off, and then it would be calculated at the 2006 formula. (See page 69 of the bill as passed, and page 8 of the final bill report, and also listen to the staff testimony from the HB 2201 hearing.)

Sound Transit provided a calculator to estimate individuals’ taxes during the 2016 ST3 campaign.

Rep. Mike Pellicciotti

HB 2201 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way). Rep. Pellicciotti put out a press release on Monday making his case for the bill.

In a provision reportedly added by Joe Fitzgibbon (D – West Seattle), the bill would require Sound Transit to cut parking projects, commuter rail, and bus service, in that order, to keep light rail projects on schedule.

Tell your legislators to respect the will of the 55% of voters who passed ST3, for whom transit expansion is more important than lower car tabs. A new provision in the bill would only use the 2006 schedule if the

You can find your legislators and contact them using the district-finder tool. You can also contact the governor using this form.

Action Alert: Ask Governor Inslee to Veto Transit Cuts

Governor Inslee at U-Link Opening. Photo by Joshua Trujillo, seattlepi.com.


Democrats in the Washington State House have passed a bill out of committee that will cut $2.3 billion dollars from the voter approved Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package. Following a well worn Democratic strategy of caving to the slightest pressure from the right, this signals that Democrats intend to pass the bill out of the State House. The bill will then be sent to the Senate where it will be further degraded (the Senate version cuts $6 Billion in transit) and then sent to the Governor.

In passing this bill, Democrats seem to give in to magical thinking:  “While this would reduce a stream of revenue on which Sound Transit depends for future expansions, Democrats said it won’t impair the transit agency’s ability to carry out the $54 billion worth of projects in the Sound Transit 3 plan as promised.”  This is an entirely unsupported statement.  Overriding the will of the voters and cutting transit funding will, in 100% of cases, lead to less transit and to transit built more slowly.

House Democrats now appear to be a lost cause.  Let Governor Jay Inslee know that this attempt to override voters is entirely unacceptable. Puget Sound voters were clear in their support of transit expansion. Further, making changes after the vote is an act of bad faith in regards to the state transportation bill passed in 2015. ST3 funding was a hard fought win for the Puget Sound Region in that negotiation – which also funds billions in highway expansion without any public vote.

Transit has a sad history in this state and tends to be the focus of constant second guessing and lack of investment. Washington is dead last in transit funding at the state level and has the most regressive taxes in the country.

Here the issues intersect:  The most progressive funding source in our state is being attacked in an effort to cut transit funding.

At the same time Democrats in Olympia are pushing cuts to local funding, Trump and Republicans are pushing for billions of dollars of cuts to ST2 and ST3 projects at the Federal level.

Governor Inslee:  This is an opportunity to be on the right side of history and support a better, more environmentally responsible future for our state.  Please veto this bill.

Contact Governor Inslee here and let him know you support a veto by emailing him, faxing him at 360-753-4110, or calling his office at 360-902-4111.

House Committee Passes Bipartisan MVET Bill

Crowded Link Train on April 6 (Seattle Subway – Twitter)

As ST3’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) drama continues, yesterday the House Transportation Committee passed HB 2201 by a bipartisan 20-5 vote. The compromise bill would require Sound Transit to use the newer 2006 vehicle depreciation schedule, and to offer credits and refunds to those who had already paid under the old one. In addition, the bill requires Sound Transit to find the money to do this without impacting project delivery. The bill states that if this new valuation method threatens project delivery, the agency has trim project elements in a specified order:

If, when implementing the program, the RTA is not able to deliver the plan as approved originally, the RTA must identify savings and cost reductions first, from parking facility projects; second, from commuter rail projects; third, from transit-bus related projects; and fourth, from light rail projects.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been six weeks since Sound Transit 3’s (ST3) Motor Vehicle Excise Taxes (MVET) took effect. Car tabs have always been a political minefield. People pay them up front in a lump sum, and those who drive but don’t take transit experience them as a punitive taking. On March 1, the voter-approved MVET went up by 266%, from 0.3% to 1.1%. Endless digital ink and legislative oxygen has been spilled decrying the MSRP-derived depreciation schedule that calculates the MVET. That formula tends to inflate car values over their realistic resale price for the first decade or so of a car’s life.

The resulting sticker shock has proven a golden opportunity for disingenuous legislative grandstanding. To hear Republican legislators tell it, this controversy proves that Sound Transit is an agency in need of sweeping accountability reforms after hoodwinking voters and stealing from them.

But this framing is like a hunter blaming the bear for stepping into a trap it set. The depreciation schedule was not a Sound Transit creation, but a legislative directive clearly contained in the 2015 transportation revenue package (SB 5987). From the Final Bill Report:

Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). An MVET is a tax paid on the value of a motor vehicle. For the purpose of determining any locally imposed MVET, the value of a vehicle other than a truck or trailer is 85 percent of the manufacturer’s base suggested retail price of the vehicle when first offered for sale as a new vehicle, excluding any optional equipment, applicable federal excise taxes, state and local sales or use taxes, transportation or shipping costs, or preparatory or delivery costs, multiplied by the applicable percentage listed in the depreciation schedules. [emphasis mine]

And from the bill itself:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this subsection or chapter 82.44 RCW, a motor vehicle excise tax imposed by a regional transit authority before or after the effective date of this section must comply with chapter 82.44 RCW as it existed on January 1, 1996, until December 31st of the year in which the regional transit authority repays bond debt to which a motor vehicle excise tax was pledged before the effective date of this section. Motor vehicle taxes collected by regional transit authorities after December 31st of the year in which a regional transit authority repays bond debt to which a motor vehicle excise tax was pledged before the effective date of this section must comply with chapter 82.44 RCW as it existed on the date the tax was approved by voters.

So the ST3 MVET was intended to have a business-as-usual formula, just at a higher rate, and this language passed the Republican-led Senate 37-7 and passed the Democratic-led House 54-44. If anything, it was the conservatism of the package’s framers that has caused the controversy, as all parties involved simply grandfathered in an existing structure rather than create a new one.

None of this is intended to say that voters haven’t experienced unpleasant surprise at their car tabs, or that certain low-income or high-income-cash-poor citizens haven’t found it burdensome. Talks to rework the formula, or to add low-income rebates, etc, are valid discussions. Whether you support a rate reformulation or not, this sort of legislative back and forth is normal and healthy.

But the political posturing about Sound Transit’s conduct throughout this process continues to be dishonest and misleading. The aspersions cast upon the agency neglect the layer cake of process and filters through which all of these proposals must pass before they see the ballot box, the tax bill, or groundbreaking. It is all a painstakingly conservative process by design, and Sound Transit has been following the rules to the letter. If legislators want to change the letter of the law, that’s their prerogative. But Sound Transit works with what they are given, and they cannot bill us a penny without our aggregate consent.

Study Shows No Significant Impact to Mercer Island

Joe Wolf (Flickr)

Last Wednesday, CH2M submitted the I-90 and Mercer Island Mobility Study prepared on behalf of Sound Transit.

If you’ve not been following the drama, a quick recap: Mercer Island has been making considerable noise since 2015 about perceived loss of mobility due to East Link construction. Whereas prior complaints were more generic and white-hot, of late the complaints have been much more focused on mitigation for the closing of the express lanes for East Link construction and the coming SOV-to-HOV conversion of the westbound ramp from Island Crest Way to I-90. Islanders maintain that they are owed mitigation for this by the 1976 agreement granting their solo vehicles special access to the I-90 express lanes, and also by a 2004 amendment to the agreement holds that:

[t]o the extent of any loss of mobility to and from Mercer Island based on the outcome of studies, additional transit facilities and services such as additional bus service, parking available for Mercer Island residents, and other measures shall be identified and satisfactorily addressed by the Commission, in consultation with the affected jurisdictions.”

To date, WSDOT and Sound Transit have held that the agreement clearly and permanently committed the center lanes for transit and that Mercer Island SOV access was a temporary and conditional use. The agencies noted in a letter to Mercer Island that SOV use of HOV lanes, even temporarily, would be a violation of federal law and a trigger to repay grant funds to the federal government. In response, Mercer Island announced its intent to sue Sound Transit, threatening both the schedule and budget for East Link.

Things have softened a bit since then. Mercer Island reneged on its threat to revoke shoreline permits for Sound Transit, and the ST Board committed in March that the city and agencies meet regularly to negotiate issues around Mercer Island Station beyond traffic. The current study was an olive branch between the agencies and the city, seeking data to quantify the scale of any lost mobility, in the spirit of the 2004 amendment.

Well, the study results are out. In a memo to Sound Transit board members last week, Secretary Millar summarized that:

the Mobility Study concludes that the overall mobility for people traveling to or from Mercer Island will be similar to or slightly improved compared to existing conditions during the six-year East Link construction period, and will be improved once East Link light rail service begins in 2023.   A short summary of the study is attached. [emphasis mine]

Continue reading “Study Shows No Significant Impact to Mercer Island”

Who should use the park & ride?

Riders walk to a shuttle bus near Eastgate P&R

Every morning, dozens of riders board shuttle buses one block from Eastgate Park-and-Ride. All but a handful are coming from the parking garage, after storing their cars there for the day. This particular shuttle bus travels to Amazon’s Brazil building in South Lake Union. Other companies appear also to use suburban transit parking as pickup points. Unmarked white buses are frequently seen adjacent to other Eastside P&Rs.

A few riders arrive by bus. Absent direct shuttle service, many might take transit to work. So one may ask whether we should be concerned that publicly funded transit parking is being used by private transit services.

Maybe it depends on what we think these shuttle riders would do in the absence of shuttle buses. Would they use public transit, or drive to South Lake Union? Shuttle buses to South Lake Union are filling a gap in the transit market, albeit one Metro is endeavoring to serve.

At the same time, transit parking is expensive to build. At many locations, it is insufficient for demand. Utilization at Eastgate hovers near 100%, so shuttle riders may be displacing other transit users.

The wholesale parking market is increasingly competitive. Churches and other parking lot owners who have surplus parking on weekdays find it easy to lease space to nearby offices. Many office employers, squeezing more people into smaller spaces, use offsite parking and shuttles for employees. When Sound Transit went looking for parking in Bellevue to replace lost capacity at South Bellevue P&R, there were no nearby alternatives. Every lot in the area was already fully used. Residential neighborhoods near popular transit routes find an increasing number of ‘park-and-hide’ users.

Generally, we should welcome this. It means parking, on- and off-street, is being used more efficiently. The first step to moving beyond ubiquitous driving in the suburbs is to use existing parking more intensely.

But parking scarcity creates a search for less regulated parking. Where can I park for free without getting a ticket? Transit lots are lightly monitored and maybe more readily abused.

Visualizing DSTT Audible Announcements

Nine minutes and 24 seconds of audio in the DSTT. Dark shaded areas indicate times when announcements were playing

For several months, the elevator at the east end of the pedestrian overpass at SeaTac/Airport station was out of service. Riders requiring the elevator needed to ride Link to Tukwila International Boulevard station and then ride Metro’s RapidRide A Line bus service to South 176th Street. If you were unaware of this, take pride that you didn’t have to listen to the frequent audible reminders played every few minutes throughout Link’s alignment.

That elevator has since been repaired, but right on cue another nonredundant elevator has failed. Not to worry, Sound Transit has you covered with another announcement:

The Tukwila International Boulevard Station ground level elevator is out of service. Southbound Link passengers requiring elevator service, ride Link to SeaTac/Airport station, and from International Boulevard and South 176<supth Street, transfer to northbound RapidRide A Line to Tukwila

If you missed part of that 19 second monologue, never fear, because 22 seconds after it finished it will be replayed in its entirety. And if you missed it the second time around, you needn’t wait even four minutes to hear it twice more.

This message, much like the previous elevator messages, are far too long and play far too often. I had to re-listen to the clip multiple times in order to type an accurate transcript (albeit from a low quality cell phone recording). The fact that the DSTT stations are cavernous echo chambers certainly doesn’t help their intelligibility, but if the announcements are so difficult to understand the answer should be improving their understandability and not increasing their frequency. Further, since the announcement only applies to southbound Link riders, the announcement need not play more than the headways of southbound trains. And much like the train warning announcements, they need only play on the southbound side of the station.

These announcements are in addition to the usual barrage of noise pollution alerting riders to policies that are clearly spelled out with signage and pavement markings throughout the tunnel. Yesterday I recorded the audio during my wait on the platform. For this sample, the total duration of audio announcements is 113.2 seconds which equates to a solid 20% of the time. It would have been slightly longer if one of the quot;train now arriving" message hadn’t preempted one of the security announcements.

With so many announcements playing so frequently they become noise both figuratively and literally. And since the routine announcements sound exactly the same as the urgent announcements, they may have just done the opposite of their intent and trained regular riders to completely ignore them.

Continue reading “Visualizing DSTT Audible Announcements”

When Common Sense is Wrong, and Intuitions Fail

Bike lanes are clearly the problem. (5th Avenue, SounderBruce, Flickr)

A recent blog post by well-respected local meteorologist Cliff Mass, “Fixing Seattle’s Traffic Mess,” offered an anti-urbanist grab bag of bad ideas. Bemoaning the current state of traffic, Mass distills Seattle’s traffic woes to 9 problems:

  • Road diets that “promote congestion and substantially reduce maximum throughput”
  • Poor road conditions resulting from “Seattle Council members paying [less] attention to the traffic-producing bad roads than kayaking out to oil platforms destined for Alaska”
  • Excessive draw bridge openings
  • Sounder is too unreliable, and the trains are “less than half full”
  • Distracted driving 
  • Link serves the Rainier Valley: “It takes forever to travel that segment and sometimes the trains get into accidents with cars.”
  • Undersupplied parking at Link stations: “Folks need a place to park if they are going to use the train”
  • Bike lanes: “The only safe way to commute is to be totally separate from cars, not the side lanes of the “road diet” streets”
  • Continuing lack of bus service

Many local outlets piled on the criticism, including The Strangerbut I see no reason to single out Mr. Mass. His assertions are widely held, intuitive, and derived from common sense. They are also completely unsupported by data.

To wit, road diets haven’t greatly increased travel time or reduced throughput, drawbridges must open by Coast Guard mandate, Sounder is 95% reliable and carries 500 passengers per trip, Sounder mudslides have gone down markedly due to intensive work by WSDOT, a Duwamish Bypass for Link would cost $1B and only save 3-4 minutes, transit parking is a niche product that cannot scale, and our local and regional bus service levels are at historic highs.

Just as Mass’ diagnostic skills are lacking in his post, so too are his 3 prescriptions: passenger ferries, flexible app-based carpooling, and a Big Data approach to signal timing, etc. Perfectly reasonable sentiments, but none of them remotely sustainable. To the extent that app-based carpooling diluted transit ridership, it would make things worse. While Big Data can optimize flow at the margins, the fundamental use-of-space problem is immutable. And when it comes to passenger ferries on Lake Washington, King County’s official report showed that they would suffer from low ridership and would incur costs three times higher than Sounder.

Collisions Down, Traffic and Travel Times Flat. Road Diets Work.
From the Q4 2016 Ridership Report

But if you’re stuck behind the wheel, it’s reasonable that you’d think “two lanes would be better than one”. Link’s Rainier Valley deviation feels slow, even when it only costs a couple minutes for people like Mr. Mass who likely view it as an airport shuttle. If you would love to ditch your car but the park and ride is full,  you’ll wish there were more spots. In each of these cases, people’s lived experience contradicts what the data clearly says. Accordingly, we should cut such folks some slack, and do a better job of showing our work.

If you drive everywhere, it may well look like madness, and Seattle’s urbanist policies are a visible and convenient foil. But if bike lanes et al were to blame for traffic, you wouldn’t expect traffic problems in car-focused places such as Kennydale Hill, the Fife Curve, or Joint Base Lewis McChord. But we know that each of those places are equally choked by traffic. So if you find yourself thinking, without irony, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” it’s time to take a step back and learn to distrust your intuitions. It’s hard to get things right, especially outside one’s area of expertise. Mistakes are acceptable, but we shouldn’t assert without evidence.

News Roundup: Farewell

Metro and PT bus stop flags in Federal Way

This is an open thread.

Farebox Recovery Efficiency

photo by VeloBusDriver

By unfortunately-unchallenged tradition, most transit agencies obsess with a deceptive metric they call “Farebox recovery ratio” — the amount of fares collected over a specific period of time, divided by operational costs over the same period.

King County Metro has a goal of 25% farebox recovery. Sound Transit has varying farebox recovery goals on its different services: 20% for ST Express, 23% for Sounder, and 40% for Link Light Rail.

These numbers are actually gross farebox recovery, and can be cooked simply by redefining the divisor.

A somewhat more useful metric would be net farebox recovery, which is what is left over after the costs of fare collection are subtracted from gross fares received. These costs include costs for printing fare media, cash handling costs, costs for fare collection equipment replacement, costs for staff devoted to fare collection and enforcement, and operational costs caused by extra dwell time to collect fares. Metro estimates its annual cash fare collection costs at $2.5 – 3 million (page 28), not counting operational inefficiencies caused by cash fumbling.

I’d like to suggest a third metric, which would involve no additional data collection beyond what is needed to calculate gross and net farebox recovery: farebox recovery efficiency, which is to say, net farebox recovery divided by gross farebox recovery.

This metric could help bring a reality check to how the current fare systems and fare changes being considered are impacting agencies’ bottom lines.

As covered last month, Metro is in the process of considering a fare change. Metro has three oddball aspects of its fares that don’t mesh with the fare systems of other agencies in the region.

* a peak-hour surcharge
* a zone boundary that isn’t a county line.
* paper transfers

The committee vetting Metro’s fare change proposal will likely get to see how getting rid of the first two features will impact gross farebox recovery. The third feature, which adds confusion to inter-agency transfers, is a political hot potato unlikely to be touched by the committee.

But dealing with that third feature could impact what level of flat fare Metro could afford. Eliminating paper tranfers would immediately wipe out $200,000 of annual printing costs, and likely yield a significant reduction in change fumbling. However, such savings would not be reflected in the gross farebox recovery projections.

Bringing the net farebox recovery and farebox recovery efficiency data to the table, and putting the elimination of paper transfers on the table, could make the difference between a less efficient $2.75 Metro flat fare and a more efficient $3.00 Metro flat fare.

Author’s Note: It took over a year for the author to notice he got “more” and “less” backward in the last paragraph of the original post. He apologizes profusely for the error undermining the whole point of the post, and curses his poor editing skills.

As Bertha Nears the Finish Line, Could the Tunnel Serve Transit?

WSDOT Photo (Flickr)

It’s nearly done. Forget the questionable process by which it came about, the undeniable lost opportunity for transit investment instead,  or the coming tax bill for litigation and overruns. Bertha will likely break through in the next few days, and there will by a highway bypass tunnel underneath Downtown Seattle two years from now. It’s time to try to look at the bright side.

The Viaduct will be gone. The Waterfront will be opened up. There will be a continuous cycle path along the waterfront, and widened sidewalks to boot. The surface highway that replaces it will be far too wide, and too many concessions have been made for car ferry access, but the net reality on the ground will be undeniably better than the Brutalist monolith above Alaskan Way today.

The question for transit advocates is how much lemonade can be squeezed from the highway lemon, if any? Just a few years ago, the highway bypassed what most considered “Downtown”, but in the intervening years Downtown has growth into South Lake Union to such an extent that direct service to Republican Street now seems like a plausible transit use.

Partially because of the tunnel’s disutility for transit but mostly due to the anticipation of West Seattle light rail, Metro’s Long Range Plan includes just one SR 99 tunnel route, “Corridor 2003”. The route would combine parts of Route 21X and Rapid Ride C, serving Arbor Heights, Fauntleroy, and Alaska Junction before running express to South Lake Union.

Screenshot from Metro 2040 Plan

These sort of boomerang routes have a long history in Seattle due to the Columbia Street express ramps. Routes such as the 79 from Lake City are long gone, but many routes from the north today still serve the south end of downtown first, including Route 355 and a number of Community Transit routes. Similarly, routes such as AM Route 577 serve Seneca, 4th, and Pine Streets before turning down 2nd to serve South Downtown.

But though Metro doesn’t anticipate such a route until 2040, access issues are perhaps most acute in the next few years, when the shiny new tunnel will lie unused while the surface streets suffer all number of constraints. Maybe we should look at such routes a bit sooner?

Consider that the traditional approach from West Seattle to Pioneer Square will continue to be served by Rapid Ride C and Routes 21 and 120. There is a good case to be made for supplemental peak service that serves SLU and Belltown first. “RapidRide CX” could run from Fauntleroy to SLU, perhaps replacing Route 116. “Route 126” could run from SR 509 to SLU, providing bypass service for Burien and complementing Routes 121 and 122. These routes could terminate in SLU, or more likely could continue into the Central Business District via Dexter/7th/Bell/3rd or Westlake/Lenora/3rd.

Such route designs deserve study going into the One Center City years of “maximum constraint”. We’ll have a huge new tunnel that we’re afraid not enough people will use. Let’s put some buses in there.

Route 550 via SR 520?

Atomic Taco (Flickr)

[Note: Not an April Fools’ post.]

As part of the One Center City process, Metro and Sound Transit are currently seeking feedback and convening a Sounding Board for proposals to restructure  SR 520 service to UW Station, with survey submissions due Sunday, April 2.

The SR 520 process is farther along because it already had a trial run during the initial ULink Connections outreach process in 2015. But though the near-term pain is far more acute in the I-90 corridor, outreach there has been far less extensive. Sometime this year, South Bellevue Park and Ride will close for 5 years. Just 2 months from now, unless Mercer Island successfully delays it through litigation, the express lanes will close for East Link construction and I-90 bus service will use the general roadway (albeit in new HOV lanes) for the next 6 years.

We’ve heard that the current proposal for I-90 – proposing to truncate Route 550 at International District Station while leaving other I-90 services relatively untouched – has been unpopular. So here’s a proposal: kill the 550, or reroute it over SR 520. 

[Action Alert: regardless of what you think of the following proposal, if you want to see I-90 service considered as part of the SR 520 restructure process, get your comments in TODAY, and/or send your comments to King County Councilmember, Sound Transit Boardmember, and Bellevue Resident Claudia Balducci.]

Continue reading “Route 550 via SR 520?”