Seattle-Vancouver High Speed Rail Part 3: Bellingham to Vancouver

Racing Amtrak Cascades

[Readers have been asking about our 4-part series on Seattle-Vancouver high speed rail.  With Zach moving on to new adventures, we’ve asked Alon Levy of the excellent blog Pedestrian Observations to finish out the series.  Enjoy part 3 below. – Ed.]

Seattle Transit Blog has looked at special challenges involved in high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest, between Seattle and Vancouver. I briefly explained the problem a few years ago, and earlier this year, Zach Shaner here began a series examining the Seattle-Vancouver corridor segment by segment. Part 1 dealt with the Seattle-Everett slog, and part 2 with Everett-Bellingham, an easier but already less slow segment. In this post, I will look at Bellingham-Vancouver.

The Bellingham-Vancouver segment has four important decisions:

  1. How to go around Bellingham?
  2. How to get between Bellingham and the built-up area of Vancouver, roughly around Surrey?
  3. How to complete the last 20-25 miles into Vancouver?
  4. Where should the Vancouver terminal be?

Decision #4 is the subject of part 4. In this post I’d like to examine the first three decisions.


Continue reading “Seattle-Vancouver High Speed Rail Part 3: Bellingham to Vancouver”

Ending “Vote Splitting”

Correction and Update: Some have pointed out that instant runoff voting doesn’t mathematically eliminate the possibility of “vote splitting”. They are correct. While it provides a way around the problem, it doesn’t guarantee everyone will fill out all the rankings. I stand by my claim that, in general, it is a solution to the forced vote splitting inherent in single-choice elections.

Some in the comments thread have claimed that approval voting eliminates vote splitting. I have offered trivial examples to show it does not, and contacted the Center for Election Science, a group that advocates the use of approval voting, whether that claim is true.

Here is the response from Aaron Hamlin, CES’ director:

This is more of a game theory issue. Approval voting allows voters to simultaneously hedge their bets while also supporting their favorite candidates. IRV fails to do this because IRV can divide first-choice votes and eliminate good candidates prematurely. IRV is, however, more resistant to this effect than plurality voting because of the way it can deal with candidates who are genuinely weak.

See here for an example:

We can also tell this from polling data (blog links to polling data) that compares voting methods.

CES agrees generally that both ranked-choice voting systems and approval voting systems are better than single-choice voting systems.

In short, approval voting does not mathematically eliminate vote splitting. I stand by my claim that Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy (which advocates instant runoff voting) was libeled in the comment thread below.

/End Correction and Update


The open mayoral election has exposed how inadequate our first-past-the-post voting system is for a modern city.

We have three urbanists running for mayor (Jessyn Farrell, Cary Moon, and Mike McGinn), seemingly splitting the urbanist vote and cancelling each other out. We have two strong lefty candidates, who are threatening to knock each other out in favor of the most popular urbanist, whoever that ends up being. We have fifteen other candidates, most of them more fiscally conservative than the anointed six front-runners, essentially cancelling each other out.

The conventional wisdom is that Jenny Durkan will survive the primary election, not just because of her financial advantage, but also because she represents a constituency that has managed not to split its votes among multiple candidates, at least in this election.

It would be enormously depressing to end up with a more strongly-whipped party mechanism, in which urbanists would agree to align behind a single candidate, while the anti-development coalition does likewise. I happen to like the chaos of several candidates, and the ritual of playing them off against each other to get changes made in how government works. I wish elections like these would happen more often.

Many of you are already familiar with ranked choice voting, in which each voter gets to rank all the candidates, as many or as few as she or he cares to. It is also known as instant runoff voting, as the ballots are used to simulate a series of run-off elections as the last-place candidates are eliminated one by one until someone has a majority of votes among all the ballots that didn’t run out of expressed preferences.

Among the commonly-mentioned benefits of ranked-choice voting are: Continue reading “Ending “Vote Splitting””

Sound Transit to Buy I-405 BRT Land Early

Snowy I-405 in downtown Bellevue

The Sound Transit Board approved $45m for the early acquisition of two properties for the future I-405 Bus Rapid Transit Project during Thursday’s meeting.

Although the project development phase for the BRT project has not yet begun, ST wanted the board to approve the acquisition of the land today while both properties are currently on the market and therefore at risk of being developed.

One property, at the corner of Rainier Avenue S and S Grady Way in Renton, is the potential site of a new transit center and parking garage. The other parcel, a potential bus operation and maintenance facility, is located at 21516 23rd Drive SE in the Canyon Park area of Bothell.

The future I-405 BRT project system will connect riders between the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Burien Transit Center via I-5, I-405 and SR 518.

These two sites were the representative sites ST used during the I-405 BRT development stage for the ST3 package. The purchasing of these properties allows the agency to keep these sites as options while the project goes through an environmental review process, the agency said.

Sound Transit acknowledged there was a risk in acquiring the property before the board selects the final sites for the BRT facilities and prior to the completion of a preliminary engineering and environmental review, which could deem one or both of the parcels unsuitable for the project. The agency says alternative sites for the BRT facilities will still be considered as the project moves forward.

There was little discussion as the board approved the $45m purchase.

Continue reading “Sound Transit to Buy I-405 BRT Land Early”

News Roundup: High Performance Transit

This is an open thread.

Metro Survey for SODO Commuters

King County Metro has a survey up, aimed at people who work in the SODO area, which the agency defines as between Royal Brougham Way and Lucille Street. This is part of Metro’s Community Connection program, “in which Metro works with local governments and community partners to develop innovative and cost-efficient transportation solutions in areas of King County that don’t have the infrastructure, density, or land use to support regular, fixed-route bus service.”

I have several questions in to Metro about how these alternative services might be applied to SODO, and whether any changes to SODO’s fixed-route service could be possible. While I’m waiting for answers, I wanted to get this survey link out, as the deadline is tomorrow, the 27th, so if you’re a SODO commuter, go fill it out.

Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

Continue reading “Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding”

May 17 Sound Transit Ridership – Still Strong

Sound Transit has released their May Ridership Report and Link is still going strong, up 11.9%.

Average daily ridership for Link in May was:

  • Weekday: 73,208 (+11.9%)
  • Saturday: 54,273 (+17.1%)
  • Sunday: 42,497 (+16.5%)

Other weekday modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder: 16,970 (+0.6%)
  • Tacoma Link: 3,570 (+3.6%)
  • ST Express: 65,853 (-0.8%)
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +5.0% Weekday, +8.9% Total Boardings

My charts below the fold: Continue reading “May 17 Sound Transit Ridership – Still Strong”

A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?

Another initiative by Tim Eyman

Eighteen years ago, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman decimated funding for public transit with his first $30 car tab initiative, which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).

His latest initiative, I-947, once again proposes to replace the current MVET with a flat $30 car tab fee. The initiative is estimated to cost Sound Transit between $6.9 billion and $8.1 billion. By Permanent Defense’s count, this is Eyman’s sixth attempt to kill funding for transit.

Currently, car owners pay several different fees depending on where they live when renewing vehicle tabs. The Department of Licensing provides a calculator to estimate vehicle tab fees.

  • Everyone in the state pays a standard fee of $38.75 plus a weight fee which helps fund highway maintenance and construction projects, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington State Ferries.
  • Local jurisdictions have the option of charging car owners an additional fee by forming a transportation benefit district. These districts are allowed to collect up to $20 a year without voter approval, or up to $100 if approved by voters. Approximately 50 cities have established transportation benefit districts around the state. Seattle collects an $80 fee to expand bus services and distribute bus passes to middle and high school students through the Youth ORCA program.
  • Car owners living in the Sound Transit taxing district pay an additional fee. With the approval of the ST3 package, the MVET rate increased from 0.3% to 1.1% of the assessed value of the car.

If I-947 passes it would roll back the standard fee to $30 and eliminate all MVET. It would end weight fees imposed by the state government, transportation benefit districts fees and all car tab taxes helping to fund Sound Transit, according to the initiative’s website. Under the initiative, car owners would pay a $30 annual fee. Weight fees and TBDs could be restored by voter approval.

The initiative would also eliminate a 0.3% tax on retail car sales that funds the state’s multimodal account. This account provides grants for regional mobility, rural mobility, special needs, and vanpools.

Although I-947 eliminates the only MVET in the state, it also requires any future MVET to use the Kelley Blue Book value to compute the tax. As Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon explained on STB, this technique cannot be bonded against and effectively rules it out as a funding tool for major capital projects.

Continue reading “A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?”

Open House: Northgate Pedestrian Bridge

Northgate Ped/Bike Bridge Project Area map
On August 3rd, SDOT is hosting an open house for the Northgate Pedestrian/Bike bridge project:

At the open house:

Join us

Thursday, August 3
5:30 — 7:30 PM (drop in any time)
Hampton Inn & Suites
9550 1st Ave NE, Seattle

This project is a culmination of years work by transit and walkability advocates, elected officials around the region, and people who live in the neighborhood. It will directly connect the region’s transit spine to an a college, a park, a business district oriented around medical services, and a still-relatively-affordable neighborhood with lots of multifamily housing. If you live nearby, or will use this bridge, show up to show your support, and to make sure the design will work for you.

Verdict on Platform Decals: Meh

Photo by Oran

Beginning last winter, you may have noticed platform decals in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel attempting nudge new-ish Seattle rail riders to follow the universal etiquette of not blocking the door as people exit. That experiment is over. ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason:

The decals at Westlake were temporarily installed on a six-month trial period to see if they would help separate the bus riders from the Link riders, as we were experiencing crowding and delays at the DSTT platforms from riders gathering at the forward ends of the platforms.  Our goal was to create efficiencies around boarding/alighting to ultimately improve performance.  Additionally, riders with low vision noted that the high contrast signs at the door openings may be beneficial. The trial period ended last week.

 Here’s what we found:

 ·       No real performance efficiencies in dispersing riders across the length of the platform from using the decals were observed.

·       Instead, with the roll-out of three-car Link trains, we observed riders naturally moving away from the forward platform and toward the rear for the opportunity to ride on the third car.

·       We anticipate any remaining crowding issues will be resolved when buses are removed from the DSTT and between-car Barriers are applied across all DSTT stations next year or two.

Although it’s easy to exaggerate how perfect the etiquette is in other cities, the battle to help riders speed up their own ride continues.

News Roundup: New Volunteers

Intersectional Three Ways 1

This is an open thread.

The Path to Transit Lane Enforcement

Buses moving slow Flickr: clappstar

State Legislators have already approved the use of automated traffic cameras to monitor speeds and discourage drivers from running red lights. Why not also use this technology to ticket cars using transit-only lanes?

The efficiency of transit-only lanes hinges on keeping cars out. All it takes is a one impatient car blocking a bus to delay hundreds of commuters. Today, keeping the city’s transit-only lanes car free is contingent on the communal cooperation of drivers. This doesn’t always work too well, especially during rush hour when any inch gained is a win.

“The only way you get consistent enforcement of either bus-only lanes or block the box is automatic enforcement,” Scott Kubly, director of SDOT, told the Seattle Transit Blog during a podcast interview. “If you can build a driverless car I’m pretty sure we can figure out automatic enforcement of any type.”

Currently, police officers have to actually see the violation occur before a ticket can be written. Periodically the city conducts transit-only lane enforcement events, ticketing drivers using bus only lanes or blocking the box at intersections. But manual enforcement, not always practical nor constant, is time intensive, often requiring 6 to 8 police officers plus an area for vehicles to park that doesn’t block traffic while tickets are being written.

Continue reading “The Path to Transit Lane Enforcement”

Roosevelt RapidRide goes before Council

Last week SDOT released new designs and introduced legislation seeking funding for Roosevelt RapidRide. A culmination of two years of process, the Locally Preferred Alternative SDOT is taking to Seattle City Council, and soon thereafter the FTA, represents some wins and losses for transit riders compared to the design shown at last year’s open houses.

The most exciting news is that Roosevelt BRT, now officially called Roosevelt RapidRide, gets a lot closer to rapid, especially through SLU and the Denny Regrade. In addition to using the existing Stewart BAT Lanes southbound as previously proposed, SDOT intends to invest in new Transit Only Lanes on Virginia St northbound, creating a transit couplet between the 3rd Ave Transit Spine and SLU. Unfortunately, it appears that the transition in the Denny Triangle between the couplet and SLU, such as the short southbound segment on Boren Ave, will have the route go through mixed traffic.

In SLU, the plan is for BAT Lanes in both directions along Fairview Ave, from Valley St to Denny Way. This shared bus/bike lane is a huge improvement compared to last year’s concept that had the BRT route fight through mixed traffic by the Mercer Mess. Continuing the good news into Eastlake, the line is now slated to travel on Transit Only street/car lanes on Fairview Ave between Valley St and Yale Ave.

North of Yale Ave N, the line continues in mixed traffic as previously proposed through the rest of Eastlake and into North Seattle, splitting into a couplet, with queue jumps at unspecified intersections, though presumably similar to the ones explicitly mentioned last year. Importantly, the funding proposal sets the terminus by the future Roosevelt Light Rail station, with no extension from Roosevelt to Northgate in the near future, and SDOT still intends to electrify the route. For bicyclists, the project invests in protected bike lanes throughout Eastlake through Roosevelt, such as along 11th/12th Ave, Eastlake Ave, and parts of Fairview Ave.

The legislation will be heard by the Transportation Committee on July 18th at 2pm. Should the Full Council adopt the Locally Preferred Alternative and accompanying funding measure (this is separate from Move Seattle funds which is already secured), the City can go to the FTA this fall to seek additional grants, with an outcome next summer. If federal funding cannot be secured, the Roosevelt-Downtown HCT project will have to go back to the drawing board for revision. In the mean time, now is the chance to learn more about the project and engage elected officials as they formally consider Roosevelt BRT.

Sound Transit Proposes Station Names For Lynnwood Link

Edited map of Lynnwood Link with new station names (by author; original by Sound Transit)

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Capital Committee passed its recommended names for Lynnwood Link’s four stations, until now known as NE 145th, NE 185th, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood. The recommendation will be up for final board approval later this month, giving the public a chance to comment one last time on the names.

The proposed names are as follows:

Temporary Name Public Suggestion Recommended Name
NE 145th Jackson Park Shoreline South/145th
NE 185th Shoreline Shoreline North/185th
Mountlake Terrace Transit Center Mountlake Terrace Mountlake Terrace
Lynnwood Transit Center Lynnwood Transit Center Lynnwood City Center

Continue reading “Sound Transit Proposes Station Names For Lynnwood Link”

Have You Used Your Democracy Vouchers?

This is the first year of the City of Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher program, created by the City and passed in a 2015 referendum.

You should have received in the mail four vouchers, each worth $25 to a recipient candidate.

You can give as many of your vouchers as you want to each eligible candidate, including giving all four to one candidate, which may make a lot of sense this year.

Only city council candidates and city attorney candidates are eligible to receive democracy vouchers this year. The mayor’s race will be covered by the program starting in 2021. There are two council races on the ballot, in which STB has endorsed Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González. González is widely expected to win easily. Mosqueda is in a very competitive contest.

Mosqueda’s website gives an address to which you can mail your democracy vouchers.

Answers to questions such as how to request replacement vouchers are available at the City’s website.

You are still free to donate money directly to candidate campaigns, up to $250, if the candidate is partipating in the program, or $500 if the candidate is not.

The primary election is Tuesday, August 1. You should have received your ballot by now. Drop boxes are open 24/7 until 8 pm on election day at many locations. If you send your ballot through the US Postal Service, be sure to affix first-class postage worth at least 49 cents. Accessible voting centers (open to all voters) are open at various locations during limited hours.

STB has also endorsed Jessyn Farrell for Mayor and made endorsements in various other races.