West Seattle & Ballard Link Get Green Light

Representative project alignments for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions (courtesy of Sound Transit)

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board signed off on a $285.9 million budget for preliminary engineering for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions Project, as well as a $24.4 million contract with HNTB to start project development. The project will include both extensions, despite their planned operation as separate lines, and will be the first ST3-original component to be planned.

The project will have an “aggressive” schedule, with alternatives development compressed into one year. By early 2019, with a preferred alternative identified after three rounds of public hearings, Sound Transit aims to wrap up all environmental review and early design work by 2022. Despite the “aggressive” schedule, construction would not begin until 2025 for West Seattle and 2027 for Ballard, leading to their respective openings in 2030 and 2035.

Continue reading “West Seattle & Ballard Link Get Green Light”

News Roundup: Rise and Fall

Sounder Cab Car 327

This is an open thread.

Sound Transit Offers Olive Branch to Homeowners in Shoreline

Lynwood Link Extension Credit: Sound Transit

Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, promised better outreach after residents voiced complaints about the agency’s property acquisition process for the Lynnwood Link Extension during Thursday’s board meeting.

Half a dozen impacted residents from Shoreline urged the board to think about the human cost when displacing residents for the expansion of light rail. Many felt they were being left in the dark and attended the board meeting looking for more information after receiving a letter from Sound Transit indicating their properties were being considered for acquisition.

“We need a lot of information, like when, how soon we can get paid and try to find another place,” said Nancy Treibel, a Shoreline resident. “This came as a terrible shock for us.”

Others worried they would not be able to stay in Shoreline if they are forced to sell their homes to Sound Transit.

“We really need to be made whole again and we not quite sure how that is going to happen,” said Carol Ortiz, a Shoreline resident.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Offers Olive Branch to Homeowners in Shoreline”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray


For many people, Ed Murray’s time as mayor will forever recall the horrific allegations against him, and his arguably tone-deaf response to those allegations — and rightfully so. While acknowledging the significance of that story, I feel fully unqualified to address it in any detail. So I’ll set the ominous cloud to one side, and summarize the state of transit as Ed Murray resigns from office.

With the exception of Sound Transit 2, Ed Murray inherited a transit landscape in disarray. The west half of the city was stuck in traffic with no end in sight. Metro’s years of budget shell games were finally running out, and big bus service cuts threatened.

In response, the Murray administration led two successful ballot measures, and had a part in a third:

  • After a county effort to raise funds for Metro failed, a 2014 city-level vehicle license fee funded bus service increases (as the originally-threatened cuts disappeared in economic growth).
  • The 2015 9-year, $930m Move Seattle levy built on the McGinn-era transit master plan to fund a revision of most major corridors to better serve transit, bikes, and pedestrians, and bring RapidRide to every corner of the city.
  • Although most of the praise for 2016’s Sound Transit 3 lies elsewhere, the Murray administration did produce an intriguing concept for a rail line that addressed needs in the Denny corridor instead of just rehashing the monorail. It also fought for infill stations at N. 130th St. and Graham St., and Seattle voted for the measure convincingly.

On top of these signature achievements, Murray’s SDOT, under appointee Scott Kubly, continued the shift away from prioritizing car throughput toward safety and considering needs of all modes. It also secured funding to build the Center City Connector between our two streetcar line. Thanks to dedicated right-of-way along 1st Avenue, this will be more of a low-grade light rail than a mixed-traffic streetcar.

Although Kubly was hired largely thanks to his bikeshare experience, the city’s Pronto bikeshare opened and then collapsed due to a constellation of problems. Luckily for Seattle, three private bikeshare companies soon followed with service that was in most respects vastly superior. SDOT deserves credit for creating a favorable regulatory framework for these companies.

Continue reading “Seattle Mayor Ed Murray”

Senate Committee Grills Sound Transit

The Sept. 26 ST3 investigatory work session with the Law and Justice Committee Image: Lizz Giordano

A Senate committee questioned several Sound Transit employees, a law professor and anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman during the first of two “investigatory work sessions” looking into Sound Transit’s conduct leading up to the vote on Sound Transit 3.

Union members packed Kent’s City Council chambers, listening to testimony before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on whether the bill language for ST3 was unconstitutionally drafted and if Sound Transit misled the legislature on the size of the final ST3 package.

State Senators Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, and Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, requested the work sessions after accusing Sound Transit of deceiving legislators and the public. Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, issued a statement Tuesday, calling the assertions “baseless.”

Trying to sum up the first issue, Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill that authorized the ST3 taxes, SB 5987, adopted a motor vehicle excise tax schedule that had been repealed back in 1996, rather than setting a new schedule.

David DeWolf, Professor of Law at Gonzaga University, told the committee he found SB 5987 to be noncompliant with the state code because it “didn’t set forth in full what the existing statute is that would be affected and how it would be affected.”

“The only way you could figure out what the new rule would be would be to hunt down the provision 82.44 (RCW), which isn’t even cited to the specific section, and find it in the older, now repealed statutes,” DeWolf said.

Continue reading “Senate Committee Grills Sound Transit”

Sound Transit Rebuffs Claims Agency Misled Voters, Senate Investigation Begins Tuesday

Northgate Link Extension under construction Image: Lizz Giordano

This afternoon the Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold the first of two hearings for an “investigation” of Sound Transit.

Longtime opponents of light rail, State Senators Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, and Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, requested the hearings, claiming the transit agency “may have engaged in a systematic effort to confuse and misrepresent the impact and cost of the Sound Transit 3 authorization to legislators and the public.”

After many residents reacted to an increase in car tab fees, O’Ban and Rossi accused Sound Transit of using “unconstitutional MVET” valuations. The Senators also claim Sound Transit misrepresented the total length of the ST3 package, which they say grew to $28 billion in total taxes from the proposed $15 billion.

In response to the Senators, Sound Transit released a memo and corresponding chronology.

According to the memo, “the ST3 authorizing legislation adopted in 2015 clearly and explicitly directed that the increased Sound Transit MVET use the older vehicle depreciation schedule from the 1990s.”

Sound Transit has used this same depreciation schedule for car tab fees since 1999, according to Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick. A revised MVET valuation was created in 2006 by the legislature, but the new schedule has never been applied to any vehicles in Washington. Prior to the 2016 election where voters approved the ST3 package, Sound Transit provided a cost-calculator on their website for voters to estimate the additional taxes ST3 would bring.

O’Ban previously voted to approve the 2015 bill which authorized the ST3 ballot measure, including the current MVET valuations. Rossi was not in the state legislature at the time of the 2015 vote.

Last legislative session, O’Ban sponsored Senate Bill 5893 to cut car tab fees. The bill passed the Senate but languished in the House. In a letter published in The Seattle Times, O’Ban asserts the transit agency could afford to cut car tab fees, estimating that SB 5893 would leave Sound Transit with “93 percent of the funds approved by ST3.”

However, Patrick said the passage of SB 5893 would result in a much larger loss of revenue which would then also reduce bonding capacity for ST3.

Patrick said the fiscal impact of the bill would have “left a $12 billion hole” in ST3’s financial plan, which could delay projects, pushing out completion dates.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Rebuffs Claims Agency Misled Voters, Senate Investigation Begins Tuesday”

SDOT Installing Transit Lane on Denny This Week

SounderBruce (Flickr)

Update: The bus lane won’t happen until spring 2018.

Good news is coming for riders of heavily-traffic-impacted Metro route 8. This week SDOT is installing a bus lane on Denny Way, between Fairview Ave and Stewart St, and painting it red.

The eastbound bus lane will be sandwiched in between a left lane for traffic headed further east on Denny, and a right lane for traffic turning onto Yale Ln and I-5. The bus lane is projected to save 1-2 minutes on each eastbound PM peak trip, but that may be a conservative estimate, given the bus stops that get backed up by the I-5 queue.

A westbound lane will be lost, but SDOT expects any impacts to westbound AM peak trips to be brief.

Road work will start after 7 pm Monday, and is expected to be complete by Thursday.

The new lane is part of a slew of improvements announced last December.  The Route 8 corridor improvement project is funded from $1.4 million in federal grants, and slated to be complete in early 2018.

Celebrating 133 Years of Mass Transit in Seattle

On September 23, 1884, Seattle’s first public mass transit system commenced operations. The inaugural Seattle Street Railway line ran from Pioneer Square to Pike Street via Second Avenue. It only took 3 1/2 months to build the first line but planning for mass transit in Seattle had been going on for quite some time. In 1879 a franchise had been granted for a street railway system that included a line along Front Street (First Avenue) which was then Seattle’s main commercial district. The local merchants along Front Street however opposed the plan to lay tracks in front of their stores believing that the street railway would be a detriment to their fine businesses. After the original franchise expired, a young man who had recently arrived in Seattle, Frank Osgood, along with financial backing from Thomas Burke, David Denny and George Kinnear, proposed the Second Avenue line and they were granted a franchise by the Seattle City Council to build Seattle’s first street railway line. The original system consisted of 3 miles of track, 4 cars and 20 horses. Yes, Seattle’s first street railway was powered by one horse “engines”.

Fare on the original system was 5 cents and the system appears to have been popular. By the end of 1885 the line had been extended to provide hourly service to the Queen Anne neighborhood via First Avenue. Service to Lake Union was also provided every 2 hours. But there were some serious operating issues that were threatening the system’s viability. First, one horse wasn’t sufficient to pull the cars on the steep hills of downtown Seattle. In 1885 downtown Seattle hadn’t yet been regraded so it was necessary to add an extra horse to each car to maintain service. Unfortunately, the extra horses and the oats they ate were straining the system’s solvency. The corner of Front and Pike was also the scene of numerous derailments and a few injury accidents when the horses were unable to slow down while coming down the steep, pre-regrade hill from Pine Street. By 1886 it was clear that the horse-drawn rail car system was financially doomed and the investors began a search for a better propulsion system. Eventually the Seattle Street Railway system was converted to electric power and Seattle’s streetcar system expanded rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1884, Seattle’s population was about 6,000 citizens. Today, the Seattle metropolitan area population is about 3.5 million. Transit service is still difficult to fully fund, the planning process is still too often dominated by short-sighted local interests and there still can be issues with service reliability. But it all started 133 years ago on September 23, 1884.

News Roundup: Frequency in Tri-Cities

Ben Franklin Transit system map

This is an open thread.

Sounder South Line Gets New Trains and New Trips

One of the new cab cars during an earlier test run (Sound Transit)

Beginning this coming Monday, September 25, the Sounder South Line will have two new roundtrips, bringing the total number of daily roundtrips to 13. The trips will bring Sounder frequencies down to every 20 minutes during peak hours and 40 minutes during the early afternoon peak.

Continue reading “Sounder South Line Gets New Trains and New Trips”

SPONSOR: Transportation Planning Internship at City of Redmond

Minimum Salary: $12.51 per hour
Maximum Salary: $21.77 per hour
Posted Date: 09/14/2017open until filled

Preference will be given to applications received by September 27th.

This Transportation Planning Intern will assist staff in the City of Redmond’s Transportation Planning & Engineering Division (TP&E) to plan and deliver multimodal transportation projects and programs in this growing community and regional jobs center. Major projects underway light rail station area planning, long-range transportation project list development, and the development of Downtown Redmond into a mixed use urban center.

TP&E is in particular need of assistance in two skill areas:

  • Cartography, graphics, and urban design. This includes the ability to use ArcGIS and Adobe Illustrator to create polished, professional-quality map products. Other responsibilities include graphic design for planning documents, document production, and 3D renderings. Design experience (e.g. layout of a streetscape) is a plus.
  • Geospatial analysis, statistical analysis, and data management. This includes intermediate to expert level of experience with ArcGIS, including the Network Analyst tool. The successful applicant will be able to create network datasets and use them to quantify the benefits of transportation investment, among other GIS tasks. Also needed is a strong familiarity with Excel and the ability to construct advanced spreadsheets. Experience with MS Access is a plus.

Depending on the pool of applicants, TP&E may hire more than one intern to ensure that these areas of expertise are covered. It is not necessary to be proficient in both areas to be considered for employment.

Apply online

Continue reading “SPONSOR: Transportation Planning Internship at City of Redmond”

Community Transit Fills Network Gaps and Adds More Trips

Route 209, one of several “dead end” routes being extended.

Community Transit will add 68 new bus trips on Saturday, September 23, with new and extended routes and additional commuter trips. The service change, the first of a two-part service proposal that extends to March 2018, focuses on improving connections between routes in the county. Community Transit accomplished this with short extensions to existing dead-end routes in Lynnwood and Marysville, along with new service to Boeing/Paine Field in Everett, that will prove to be effective for the little investment in hours they require.

Continue reading “Community Transit Fills Network Gaps and Adds More Trips”

Parking Remains Concern at Future Link Stations

Federal Way Link Extension Route Image: Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s route to Federal Way is no longer just a vague line extending south from the Angle Lake Light Rail Station to residents attending an open house as the extension project moves into the pre-construction phase.

With design plans still developing for the stations, residents had little to react to during open houses hosted by Sound Transit last week. However, residents expressed concern about the accessibility of the stations and what they say is a lack of parking planned at each station. Comments included providing better bus service to the station and the need to build future parking adequate for the next 30 years.

Sound Transit plans to build parking at each station. At the Kent/Des Moines station, a 500-space garage is planned directly east of the station. A 1,100-space garage will replace a 600-space surface parking lot at the 272nd Street Station, and at the Federal Way Transit Center, Sound Transit is planning a second garage adding 400-spaces to the existing garage which currently holds roughly 1,200 cars.

Despite that the future Federal Way Station planned near the downtown area of the city, several residents doubted Federal Way could become a walkable city with the rainy weather.

With one resident commenting, “Sound Transit hasn’t planned for the people. They want us to be a walking city, but it’s the Pacific Northwest.” Another resident chimed in suggesting Sound Transit should make it easier for commuters to be dropped off at the station.

Continue reading “Parking Remains Concern at Future Link Stations”

Federal Dollars Critical to Delivering Lynnwood Link on Time

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (center) tours the future Northgate Link Station Image: Lizz Giordano

The Northgate Link Extension is on schedule and on-budget, but without a $1.17 billion grant from the federal government the continuation of the light rail north toward Lynnwood will likely be delayed, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said Tuesday.

Touring the construction site of the future Northgate Station with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, Rogoff said, “In 2016, the administration made a commitment of $1.17 billion for this project (Lynnwood Link); our plan and work now is about getting the current administration to keep to that commitment.”

Rogoff added the agency was “dumbfounded and disappointed” earlier this year when the new administration sought to zero out funding for light rail to Lynnwood.

Jayapal promised to do everything she can to “ensure that the Federal Transit Administration follows through on funding the Lynnwood Link.”

The future Northgate Link Station under construction Image: Lizz Giordano

“Our entire delegation understands the need to protect transit dollars here, and we are going to continue to make sure that we deliver as a federal government,” Jayapal said. “We understand we have a rough road to hoe to make sure we get these federal dollars, but I’ll tell you, I think our region has an enormous case to make for why this is a bipartisan necessity for transit in our region.”

Rogoff credited Jayapal, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Rick Larsen for securing $100 million in 2017 for the Lynnwood project. Congress has yet to approve a second installment of $100 million for 2018.

According to Sound Transit, the agency is in the final stage of the process of securing a $1.17 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement through the Federal Transit Administration for the Lynnwood Link extension under the Capital Investment Grant Program, also known as the New Starts program. A Full Funding Grant Agreement, scheduled to be executed in 2018, would guarantee the entire $1.17 billion grant for the Lynnwood extension.

Continue reading “Federal Dollars Critical to Delivering Lynnwood Link on Time”

Will Metro’s New Union Contract Bring More Service?

ATU International logoA few weeks ago, Lizz reported that the union representing Metro bus drivers, mechanics, and service supervisors (among others) approved a new collective bargaining agreement with significant changes to work rules.  The most notable of these changes is that part-time Metro drivers can work on weekends.  In exchange, union negotiators secured two big concessions from Metro.  First, Metro accepted a lower ceiling on the number of part-time drivers, with the limit changing from 45 percent to 33 percent of all drivers.  Second, Metro agreed that no drivers, either full- or part-time, will have to work split shifts on weekends.  The changes will be effective in September 2018.

King County Metro logo

Far from being the arcane, inside-baseball news you might think, this is a major win-win for Metro and the union, and a big deal for Metro riders.  If implemented well by Metro, it could result in more service on the road for the same amount of money.  Depending on how drivers ultimately choose to pick their work under the new rules, it could also make driver recruitment easier—important in an era where Metro has been struggling to keep enough drivers to operate current service, let alone add significant service hours as funded by the City of Seattle and contemplated by Metro’s own Long-Range Plan.

To explain why this is such good news, we’ll have to dive into the murk of bus-driver work rules a bit, below the jump.

Continue reading “Will Metro’s New Union Contract Bring More Service?”

Fix Route 12 for Colman Dock Accessibility

Map showing stops described in post
Graphic by Bruce Englehardt.

The south half of downtown, set on a steep hill, has always presented accessibility problems.  With elevation changes of as much as 50 feet per block, people with impaired mobility frequently have difficulty traveling even one block in the east-west direction.  For the transit network, this results in an intermodal transfer challenge: there is more than 100 feet of elevation gain in the four blocks between the Colman Dock ferry terminal and Metro’s Third Avenue transit spine.

Historically, Metro handled this challenge by having one or two north-end routes serve Colman Dock directly, laying over on Alaskan Way.  The routes climbed to Third Avenue via Yesler, providing accessible transfers to other service, before heading north.  But when waterfront construction began in earnest in 2012, Metro had to leave Alaskan Way.  Instead, it began using First Avenue, which is at nearly the same elevation as the upper level of Colman Dock and accessible from the dock via a safe, flat pedestrian bridge.  First route 16, and then route 62 starting last year, picked up on First and used Seneca to bridge the elevation gap between First and Third.

But now, Metro is again getting displaced, this time by Center City Connector construction along First.  On September 23, route 62 will begin using Third exclusively.  And this presents a significant problem for users who have difficulty making it up the hill.  During the day on weekdays, there is an accessible route from First to Third, using public elevators or escalators inside two downtown buildings.  But the accessible route is not available nights or weekends.  The only meaningful transit service that will now serve the vicinity of Colman Dock is route 12, a frequent east-west route using Madison and Marion Streets.

And it gets worse.  Route 12 doesn’t make the trip to Third easy, because it has no stop near Third.  Uphill stops are located on Marion at First, near the end of the Colman Dock bridge; at Second; and then on the far side of Fourth.  Given that the vast majority of transfer connections are on or under Third, this stop placement is perverse.  Mobility-impaired users making connections from Colman Dock benefit very little from having the 12 available, and other users transferring from buses on Third to the 12 have to walk unnecessarily far.

Fortunately, the problem should be easy to fix.  There is no physical obstacle to locating a stop on Marion at Third, next to the north side of the Central Building.  To maintain schedule and reasonable stop spacing, the stop at Second (which is actually less than a block from the stop at First) could be removed.

Metro and SDOT may be reluctant to fund this fix, despite its simplicity, because bus service on Marion is going away.  RapidRide G, the “Madison BRT” route on which SDOT will soon begin construction, will run eastbound along Spring rather than Marion.  From Spring, the new route will provide easy access to Third.  But RapidRide G will not begin service for two more years.  Mobility-impaired users are losing route 62 now, and deserve this easy, inexpensive accommodation in the meantime.

All-day Transit Lanes Considered for 3rd Ave

Bus lane recommendations Image: One Center City

The latest iteration of the One Center City plan considers 3rd Ave transit-only all day, a cycle track on 4th, and some 4th Avenue buses moved to 5th and 6th.

A delay in the convention center project gave bus riders a reprieve, as buses can use the Downtown Transit Tunnel until 2019. But as the “period of maximum constraint” rapidly approaches, the list of near-term projects to ease congestion is not yet final.

“We need to move on this fast,” said Tom Brennan, a consultant with Nelson Nygaard working with SDOT, King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Downtown Seattle Association on the One Center City plan.

During the One Center City advisory group’s monthly meeting Thursday, Brennan presented the latest recommendations to ensure the city keeps moving when a handful of large construction projects begin.

To speed up bus travel times and improve reliability, Brennan said an all-day car ban was being considered for Third Avenue. Currently, during the week the street is reserved only for buses between 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m. The proposed recommendations for Third Avenue would also extend the transit-only lanes north to Virginia Avenue and enable off-board fare payment at all stops between Jackson and Stewart Streets to allow for all-door boarding and lower dwell time.

After the group previously debating several options for a north/south bike lane, the latest recommendation places a protected two-way bike lane along the west side of Fourth Avenue between Main and Vine Street. SDOT anticipates the section between Seneca and Pine Street will be finished by the end of October. The segment from Pine to Vine Street would open in 2018, and the last portion between Main and Seneca Street by 2020.

Continue reading “All-day Transit Lanes Considered for 3rd Ave”