At last Thursday’s Growing Seattle candidate forum, moderator Erica C. Barnett asked the six participating mayoral candidates to perform a simple but revealing exercise: rank transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers in order of priority. The candidates’ answers varied widely. The answers of Jenny Durkan and Sen. Bob Hasegawa are notable, though, because they illustrate a common and fundamental blind spot about successful transit. Let’s have a look:
Both candidates put transit on top. But neither seems to think walking deserves much attention. That is inherently contradictory.
Especially in the city, where very few riders drive to transit, almost every transit trip requires a walk on public streets. Very few riders are lucky enough to have a bus stop outside their door on both ends of their trip. So every transit rider is also a pedestrian. And if the walk to or from a transit trip is impossible or unsafe, that transit trip doesn’t work well as a whole. Riders with poor pedestrian access are less likely to ride transit instead of driving, more likely to be unsatisfied with transit when they do ride, and more likely to suffer injury at the hands of car drivers.
For all those reasons, walking safety and comfort are an integral part of building a successful transit system. It makes no more sense to say “transit deserves more priority than walking” than it does to say “make the pizza better, but don’t worry about cheese quality.” Transit doesn’t really have priority over car drivers unless pedestrians do too. Ms. Durkan and Sen. Hasegawa would render many transit trips less workable, and undermine their own stated preferences for transit, by putting pedestrians at the back of the line.
After twoyears of government observance shenanigans, Independence Day is back to being a one-day holiday and has brought along some great gifts to those enjoying the nighttime fireworks show. Sound Transit will be running Link light rail trains every 30 minutes between midnight and 2 a.m. and Metro will deploy extra buses on 20 routes until midnight, as suggested by the King County Council earlier this year. The last northbound train leaves Angle Lake Station at 1 a.m. The last southbound train leaves University of Washington Station at 2 a.m. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel closes at 2:20 a.m.
Before we even get to the 4th of July schedules, however, there is a major service disruption for the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel this weekend. From Saturday, July 1 to the end of Sunday, July 2, buses will not operate in the tunnel due to construction at Convention Place Station; instead, tunnel routes will use their respective surface stops. Link light rail trains, however, will operate with normal weekend service at Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square and International District/Chinatown stations. 4th Avenue will also be closed between South Washington and South Jefferson streets due to Yesler Bridge construction.
This is the last week to take the survey on proposed revision to SR 520 bus service. The survey closes Friday midnight.
With the planned closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, the transit agencies have offered two alternatives that would extricate SR 520 buses from anticipated congestion on Seattle surface streets. Both would require most bus riders from Kirkland and Redmond to transfer to Link Light Rail at UW Station. Option B is frequency-focused, with more service truncated to UW at all hours, but more frequent service on major routes from Kirkland and Redmond. Option C is connections-focused, with somewhat less frequent buses, but more connections between more markets.
We described the alternatives here, and a recent open house here. Our complete One Center City coverage is here.
Road pricing doesn’t get much love, but it eases gridlock ($). Notably, transpo chair Sen. Curtis King claims tolling should not try to “change the dynamics of what people want to do” despite that fact that all transportation infrastructure does precisely that.
Community Transit has released a draft version of their 2017–2022 Transit Development Plan (TDP), which will guide the expansion of bus service across Snohomish County in the lead-up to Lynnwood Link’s opening in 2023. The 0.3 percent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2015 has now been funding expanded service for a full year, and will enable CT to spend an additional $30 million annually for new service and capital improvements. In total, Community Transit will use $1 billion in sales tax revenue and grants from state and federal sources to fund service improvements and capital projects.
The Regional Fare Coordination Board (ORCA Joint Board) has been working toward a new version of the ORCA product to be rolled out in 2021, currently dubbed “Next Generation ORCA”. As part of the new product, London-style daily caps on fares were high on the list of elements to be considered for development, with software development to commence in 2018.
The Regional Transit Committee, a panel of elected officials from around the county that has some authority to block council decisions on policies covering King County Metro, recently gave its green light to a report from a 2016 Fare Forum convened by the ORCA Joint Board. While referring the report to the RTC was not mandatory, it is a common practice to keep that panel in the loop.
• Eliminate zone-based fares in order to reduce Next Generation ORCA system development time and costs, reduce customer confusion, reduce operator interactions, and improve boarding times.
• Eliminate trip-based peak fares but allow for time-based peak fares in the ORCA system design, in order to reduce Next Generation ORCA system development time and costs, increase regional fare coordination, and make fares simpler for customers to understand.
• Not to pursue fare capping because it could increase Next Generation ORCA system design complexity and costs and is expected to negatively impact agency revenue.
This recommendation not only means the ORCA pod does not plan to institute day caps, but also that it will not even develop the software to make it an option. The intent is not to preclude such a feature, but developing it would cost additional money down the road.
Calling it “good news,” Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, told the board during the June 22 meeting that the agency had secured a second low-interest TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Last year, Sound Transit signed a $1.99 billion master credit agreement with USDOT that included four low-interest loans. Rogoff estimated the master credit agreement will save taxpayers between $200-300 million in borrowing costs.
This is the second TIFIA loan the agency has secured and the first under the new presidential administration. In January 2015, ST was awarded its first below-market loan from the federal program. Two more low-interest loans are expected in 2018 — one for the Lynnwood Link extension and the other for the Federal Way Link Extension.
Sound Transit applied for TIFIA loans “to insulate the agency from unexpected downturns in the economy and provide taxpayers savings from agency borrowing costs,” according to a press release.
With the amount of federal funding still uncertain for the Lynnwood and Federal Way link extensions, the agency warns it would not be “prudent” to assume a specific amount of additional financial capacity from the loans.
Rogoff also updated the board on the status of federal funding or grants, telling members not to expect clear answers for several months or even years.
He said the current presidential administration has reiterated its opposition to funding any new projects. “Board members should be aware this is likely to be a long and difficult slog in terms of getting a firm fix on what our federal assistance will continue to be, if any.”
In a unanimous vote, Sound Transit board members moved forward a proposal to elevate the downtown Redmond Station, directing staff to complete an environmental review and preliminary engineering on the changes. The proposed design changes by the City of Redmond shift the Redmond Town Center station, previously proposed as an at-grade station near Leary Way, to an elevated station closer to 166th Ave. NE.
During the June 22 meeting, the board concluding the project was too far along in the process declined to also consider changes to track alignment.
“Without major backtracking we are probably at a point where it’s too late to consider other alignments,” said Claudia Balducci, King County Council member and Sound Transit Board member. “It’s always worth questioning where we have been, but when there is this much public work and planning, it’s not just the cost to lay the tracks and build the stations. It’s also the cost that’s gone into the land use planning, and the development and park work that been done,” she said.
During public comment, the former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel and Redmond resident, Josh Benaloh, had urged Sound Transit to reconsider a previous track alignment studied in 2011 now that an evaluated downtown station was being considered.
The older alignment, referred to as E4, leaves State Road 520 west of the Sammamish River stopping at the downtown Redmond station first, before continuing south east. In an STB guest post Benaloh argued, “the E4 alignment has far more potential to be extended in future years to the foot of Sahalee Way where it could provide service to the significantly underserved city of Sammamish.”
Instead, in the approved alignment the light rail tracks follow SR-520 traveling east to the Southeast Redmond station then turning steeply west to head to the final station in downtown Redmond.
The Sound Transit Board approved a $10 million settlement agreement with Mercer Island after residents lost special access to Interstate 90 due to the expansion of light rail. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Sound Transit board member, cast the only dissenting vote during the board’s June 22 meeting.
“As a fiduciary of this organization I’m not going to be able to support this today,” Strickland said. “We have to look at things such as equity and fairness.”
“Some of this agreement does include the mitigations we would make, but it’s not a $2 million settlement, it’s not a $4 million settlement, it’s not a $6 million settlement, it’s a $10 million settlement,” she added. “In the world of Sound Transit maybe that’s budget dust, but we are setting a precedent. It’s not about the amount, it’s about setting a precedent, despite the fact that we, Sound Transit, keep winning in court.”
In February the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the town lost special access to I-90’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to make room for light rail. Mercer Island drivers would now have to abide by the HOV-2 standards. Mercer Island argued that a 1976 agreement provided them with lasting rights to HOV lanes, while WSDOT said that single-occupant vehicle (SOV) access to HOV lanes was intended to be temporary, and allowing continued SOV use of HOV lanes would violate federal law and jeopardize funding agreements.
Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.
“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”
“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.
King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.
This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.
Three options were presented:
No change to service
“Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
“Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.
Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.
Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.
Together, Metro routes 3 and 4 form a critical bus corridor connecting the Central District, First Hill hospitals (including Harborview), downtown, Belltown, and Seattle Center. The segment between downtown and Cherry Hill is one of the highest-ridership parts of the Metro system, with standing-room-only buses running every 5 to 7 minutes during the day. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less reliable segments, almost entirely because of traffic delays on the short part of James St that the routes use. That part of James includes a major interchange with I-5, and suffers from gridlock during most afternoon peak hours.
For years, Metro has studied moving routes 3 and 4 from James to much less congested Yesler Way, only between 3rd and 9th Avenues, to address the problem. (Our own Bruce Nourish suggested the move in 2011, and Metro staff were already on it then.) The move wasn’t practical, though, until SDOT completed its Yesler Bridge Rehabilitation Project, after which the bridge will accommodate trolleybus overhead. Now that SDOT’s project is nearing completion, Metro is formally proposing the move, and has provided a survey to complete.
Metro’s own analysis indicates that the move would save up to four minutes per trip during afternoon peak hours. Notably, this is average saving per trip, which masks some much longer delays (to which I, a semi-regular route 3 rider, can testify). Bruce’s chart below, based on historical Metro data, shows how much more consistent Yesler was in 2011—before recent increases in I-5 traffic. The very worst trip on Yesler was more than six minutes quicker on average than the worst trip on James, and several other trips on Yesler had a similar advantage. Today, the differences would even be greater, given higher volume on James.
Moving routes 3 and 4 to Yesler would be a huge benefit to Harborview, First Hill, and Central District afternoon commuters. It would also substantially improve transit service to Yesler Terrace, which is expected to add around 5,000 residents (including over 1,000 net new low-income residents) and several employers within the next few years, but has only a half-hourly bus to downtown. The move does have one downside, though. The stretch of James Street that would lose service includes several of the steepest arterial blocks in the city, and access to some destinations along James could get more complicated. Although only two stops would lose service, at 5th and 8th Avenues, each serves some major destinations. The stop at 5th serves core King County and Seattle government buildings, including Seattle City Hall, King County Administration, and King County Jail. The stop at 8th serves the Jefferson Terrace public housing complex, with about 350 residents, and Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank. We have already heard objections to the move on the basis that the walks from 3rd or 9th Avenues to these destinations are too steep for some users to manage.
These objections are overblown, and do not justify subjecting the great majority of riders to long and unpredictable afternoon delays. Most of the James Street destinations remain accessible. Between them, the King County Courthouse and King County Administration buildings allow a flat, fully accessible passage from 3rd to 5th Avenues, which in turn allows access to the other government buildings along 5th. There is also transit access to 5th and James along very frequent Sound Transit routes 512 and 545, with fully accessible connections in both the Westlake and International District areas. Jefferson Terrace has an elevated, accessible entrance along Jefferson Street that provides easy access to 9th Avenue bus stops, which will continue to be served. The only major destination of concern is the Northwest Harvest food bank. It would be worthwhile for Metro to work with Northwest Harvest to determine how many food bank customers are unable to walk from 9th Avenue bus stops, and find a solution for those users (for example, a routing change for Solid Ground’s free circulator on days when the food bank is open).
If you use routes 3 and 4, we encourage you to take Metro’s survey and help Metro implement this time- and hassle-saving change.
All ST service was higher or flat (ST Express decreased by 13 riders/day) in April of 2017 than a year earlier. With University Link opening in March of 16 this is the first full month with U-Link numbers. However Angle Lake didn’t open until September of 16 so it is not fully apples to apples.
Average daily ridership for Link in April was:
Weekday: 71,328 (+17.3%)
Saturday: 50,154 (-4.0%)
Sunday: 33,215 (+2.4%)
Other weekday modal ridership stats:
Sounder: 17,172 (3.8%)
Tacoma Link: 3,279 (3.5%)
ST Express: 64,080 (2.6%)
Sound Transit Systemwide, +20.8% Weekday, +19.7% Total Boardings
Lynnwood Link, which we last saw in 30% design last November, has now reached 60% design. An open house for 145th and 185th Stations was held on May 24. Mountlake Terrace Station will have an open house June 28th, and Lynnwood Station sometime in the fall. Travel times from Lynnwood are featured on the project page: 20 minutes to UW, 28 minutes to downtown, 60 minutes to Sea-Tac airport, and 60 minutes to Overlake Transit Center. The rest of this article will focus on 145th and 185th Stations.
ST has a new kind of online open house site at lynnwoodlink.participate.online. Each page has renderings above and a comment form below so you can refer to the information as you type. There’s a row of circles below the image; be sure to click all the circles to page through all the renderings. The comment period will be open through the Lynnwood open house. Unfortunately the site doesn’t have all the information that was on the slides and posters in the Shoreline open house. That should be motivation to attend future open houses.
145th Station still has the bus turnaround loop at 148th. My biggest concern is there’s only one lane into the station for both buses and cars. Both will turn left into the station and then on for a half-block before they separate, buses to the turnaround, cars to the garage, and other cars to a separate turnaround to drop people off. I’m concerned about cars getting in the way of buses there, and wondering if they need separate lanes. However, more lanes means more asphalt and ugliness.
Last week I read with great interest Dan Ryan’s excellent post on the proposed refinements to the Redmond Link Extension that is expected to begin service in 2024. As a resident of Redmond and former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, I have followed this process intently for more than a decade. The process has been open, and every step along the way has been reasonable and justifiable; but it may be a good time to take a step back and consider whether we’ve landed in the best place.
The 2011 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) considered several possible light rail alignments through downtown Redmond including the E2 preferred alignment (shown above) and the E4 alignment (shown below).
These two alignments take very different paths through Redmond. The E2 travels from Overlake along SR-520 to Southeast Redmond and then hooks back along the BNSF railway corridor to a terminus in downtown Redmond. The E4 departs SR-520 much earlier—west of the Sammamish River – goes directly to downtown Redmond and then follows the BNSF corridor in the opposite direction to a terminus in Southeast Redmond.
In 2006, while the EIS process was underway, Redmond endorsed the E2 alignment as the only way to reach the Redmond Transit Center (RTC). By the time the EIS was complete in 2011, Redmond and Sound Transit had abandoned the goal of reaching the RTC because it would have added at least $100-200 million to the cost. However, a “preferred” version of the E2 route was selected – largely because it came closer to the RTC than any of the alternatives.
Last month, Redmond and Sound Transit presented a set of proposed refinements which improve E2 further by moving the Downtown Redmond Station location and elevating a portion of the alignment. While these refinements are very reasonable, it is interesting to note that the newly proposed station locations precisely coincide with those considered in the E4 alignment.
An Objective Comparison
So, given that the refined E2 now reaches exactly the same station locations as the original E4, it is appropriate to compare the two options.
When Sound Transit put together their plan last year, more South Sounder service was an important component of building a winning coalition. However, the number of train trips purchased for a certain amount of money is subject to negotiations with BNSF. Last spring, ST exec Ric Ilgenfritz was optimistic that there would be more specifics to share with the public before the election.
That was not to be. “We pursued a path to have specifics in ST3 vetted with BNSF, but it wasn’t feasible to complete because BNSF has been clear that additional service will require capital projects,” said ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “There hasn’t been intensive work” on this issue since they abandoned hope of an early agreement.
So what are the next steps for South Sounder? First, this September will see a ninth peak round trip and third reverse-peak round trip, the last of the ST2 trips. The published plan says no more than that new trips will roll out between 2024 and 2036. (!) In this period, the first priority in the South Sound will be Link because “in public involvement, Link was the greatest focal point” and the Board allocated early resources accordingly, with Link reaching the Tacoma Dome in 2030.
However, ST will hire consultants, probably in the next year, to formulate a strategy for engaging BNSF. It’s hard to say what the timetable is for reaching an agreement without that strategy in place. The extension to Dupont is firmly planned to open in 2036. Patrick says the third piece of the plan — extending platforms to accommodate longer trains — may move around as needed to accommodate whatever timetable is feasible to add trips.
The negotiation process is not simply a bid on how much money to hand over to BNSF. Instead, ST is offering to make capital improvements, in particular segments of adjacent track, to allow additional runs without undue impacts to BNSF freight operations.
For several months, a group of King County cities and other stakeholders have been meeting as part of a Regional Transportation System Initiative (RTSI). Their goal is to identify a funding solution for County roads and regional arterials in King County. A Technical Committee is working to define the scope of the regional roads network and its unmet needs. An Elected Officials Committee had their first meeting last Tuesday, considering a strategy for a regional package with funding options that could be authorized by the Legislature in 2018.
The RTSI is convened by Sound Cities Association (SCA) and King County. SCA represents the cities of King County other than Seattle. Seattle staff are also participating. Other staff support is provided by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).
While billed as a transportation system initiative, what is taking form is a roads program. As described by SCA, “while significant investments were recently approved for the larger system of freeways, major highways, and high-capacity transit, there remains a significant funding shortfall to address mobility and maintenance on the system of principal arterials, state routes, and collector arterials that connect communities in King County”.
The Technical Committee identified a draft regional network of some 1,366 center-line miles of King County roads. These comprise principal arterials (32%), minor arterials (54%), other freight routes (2%), frequent transit routes (6%), and county-designated arterials (6%). Those categories overlap so there are, for instance, other frequent transit routes within the principal and minor arterials.
It will be up to the Elected Officials Committee to define funding options, and to take those to the Legislature in the 2018 session. Their preferences have not been publicly discussed, but a County-wide Transportation Benefit District (TBD) is preferred by rural members of the King County Council and some mayors. TBDs have limited taxing authority, and could levy up to 0.2% sales tax and $100 MVET with voter approval. The intent to work with the Legislature suggests higher taxes or other funding sources. Continue reading “Is a roads ballot measure in our future?”