Seattle Council Proposes Budget Without Further Threats to CCC Streetcar

First Hill Streetcar (Image: Atomic Taco)

Last evening, the Chair of the Seattle Council Budget Committee, CM Lisa Herbold, released her initial package of budget changes. This is a set of proposed amendments to the budget the Mayor proposed last month. The initial package reflects updated revenue assumptions and council member requests.

For transit advocates, the most notable elements are (a) the absence of any request to cut Center City Connector funding; (b) the statement of intent to consider speed and reliability improvements in South Lake Union and First Hill;  and (c) several pedestrian improvements. Without an amendment to reduce streetcar funding, that part of the mayor’s proposed budget moves forward.

Budget pressures were eased somewhat by $2 million in extra general fund revenues identified in the revenue update, mostly due to increased construction activity. There were also $2 million in other savings identified by staff across city operations. Those updates eased any pressure to seek new savings in the budget.

Continue reading “Seattle Council Proposes Budget Without Further Threats to CCC Streetcar”

Expanded Carpool Permits Start Tomorrow

All Permit Parking Locations (Republic Parking)

In January, Metro rolled out free carpool parking permits at 6 park-and-rides around the County. Like the 9 park-and-rides under a similar Sound Transit program, the permits reserved spaces for permit holders until 8:30am. The program is meant to increase parking predictability and increase the yield of riders per parking space by encouraging carpools. In each case, the vast majority of spots are unchanged.

Beginning November 1, nine more park-and-rides are in Metro’s offering: Green Lake, Aurora Village, Shoreline, Kenmore, Bear Creek, Bothell, Kingsgate, Wilburton, Renton Metropolitan Place, and Tukwila.

The number of reserved spaces depends on the number of permits issued. The six lots in Metro’s current program average about 100 permits combined. Northgate is the most popular location.

A more straightforward way to encourage carpooling is simply to charge for parking, but for some that raises equity issues and accusations of a revenue grab. The permit program neatly sidesteps those issues, although parking remains among the most expensive ways to bring riders to a transit hub.

You can apply for a permit here.

The Practical Pitfalls of Link’s Distance-Based Fares

Queues at ticket vending machines don’t have to be long and slow.

Distance-based fares have a lot of fans among transit nerds, for a number of reasons, from practical – raising more revenue when the train lines become really long – to the patently absurd, such as that they will incentivize people to live closer to their jobs or incentivize Sound Transit not to build really long lines. The latter has already been disproven.

Distance-based fares have had some practical impacts we didn’t see coming in 2009. Continue reading “The Practical Pitfalls of Link’s Distance-Based Fares”

A Job With A View

In a tight workspace with barely enough room to turn around, light rail operators enjoy some of the most unusual views of Seattle from their cabs as they traverse the city.

Like all Link operators, Kevin Gumke started out driving for King County Metro Transit, before transferring over to the light rail side in 2010. To qualify, bus drivers must have a squeaky-clean driving record and complete 8 weeks of paid training, starting with a week of classroom instruction.

Continue reading “A Job With A View”

City Kicks Off Mobility Planning in North Downtown

Planning for the North Downtown Mobility Action Plan Credit: Lizz Giordano

This week Seattle kicked off planning for the North Downtown Mobility Action Plan to identify and prioritize transportation improvements in the Uptown, Belltown, and South Lake Union neighborhoods.

Potential changes are coming to the area, including the redevelopment of Seattle Center Arena and a new downtown public school on the Memorial Stadium site. SDOT is partnering with SLU Community Council, Uptown Alliance and Project Belltown to improve movement throughout the North Downtown area.

SDOT’s goal is to have a list of projects identified before the draft environmental impact statement for the renovation of the Seattle Center Arena, expected in the spring of 2018. SDOT acknowledges that “sustainable transportation options are fundamental to the long-term success of the arena project.” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who represents the district where the Seattle Center is located, was present at the October 23 workshop.

In a deal negotiated by former Mayor Ed Murray, and still needing council approval, the Oak View Group will spend $600m to overhaul Key Arena to NBA and NHL standards, nearly doubling its size. Included in the agreement is an additional $40m for a transportation fund, which will pay for some projects in the North Downtown Mobility Action Plan.

The plan is part of the broader One Center City strategy of near-term and long-term comprehensive transit and traffic projects to connect ten of central Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Continue reading “City Kicks Off Mobility Planning in North Downtown”

Credulous Reporting on Climate

Jinyoung Lee Englund (King Co. Elections)

It’s a routine pastime among local pundits to trash opinion in The Seattle Times for being banal, internally inconsistent, factually inaccurate, disingenuous, morally repugnant, or all five at once. That’s easy, and at this point no longer news. It’s still news, however, when some of these afflictions reach the newsroom. For the latest example, see the credulous and misleading twin pieces on the 45th District race (Dhingra, Englund) ($) by Joe O’Sullivan in Sunday’s paper.

The second paragraph of the Englund profile tries hard to establish her moderate bona fides, to reassure moderate 45th District voters that she’s not one of those Republicans:

Englund, a 33-year-old who believes in human-caused climate change and supports closing some business-tax exemptions and enacting certain gun-safety regulations, didn’t hesitate.

“I am not,” she said. “ I am anything but the status-quo Republican, if you look at me.”

She believes in climate change! So voters concerned about the environment but uneasy about taxes can vote with a clear conscience. Let’s hear some more about her plans to do something about the climate!

She criticizes the increased taxes voters approved for Sound Transit 3…

To reduce congestion on Interstate 405, Englund said she would convert one of the two HOV toll lanes into a free, general-purpose lane.

And that’s it. That’s as close as O’Sullivan gets to exploring the climate issue and whether or not the “moderation” described up front has any real world implications whatsoever.

I’ll fill in the rest. Englund is going to vote for the Republican Senate leadership that doesn’t believe in climate change. They won’t allow climate bills to come to the floor, so Englund will never have to test if any actual climate legislation is good enough for her to act on her beliefs.

Continue reading “Credulous Reporting on Climate”

News Roundup: Suquamish

MV Suquamish under construction

The MV Suquamish, photo by SounderBruce

This is an open thread.

Center City Connector Survives Budget Hurdle, May See Improvements

Seattle Streetcar (Image: SDOT)

Last week, the Seattle City Council Budget Committee reviewed SDOT funding for 2018, and some members appeared ready to reconsider city funding for the Center City Connector. The Mayor’s budget proposal would finance $50 million of the projects $177 million capital cost via bond sales backed by Commercial Parking Tax revenues. Another $14 million is funded via utility funds, with the balance from other sources including $83 million in federal grants.

Ridership on the CCC. Green is incremental, baseline in red. (Image: SDOT)

To amend the Mayor’s budget, the first procedural step is a “green sheet” sponsored by three Council Members (so called because they were once printed on green sheets of paper). In a lengthy Committee discussion last week, Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, and Kirsten Harris-Talley all appeared likely to support such an amendment. The deadline for submitting amendments was on Thursday, October 19.

The green sheets were published this morning ahead of a 9.30AM meeting of the Budget Committee. No proposal to reduce or delay Connector funding appeared. This moves forward the Mayor’s proposal to fund the streetcar as the budget is finalized over the next four weeks.

There was no comment at this morning’s meeting why members hadn’t introduced a green sheet proposal. Instead, CM Mike O’Brien introduced a Statement of Legislative Intent to extend additional funding for “speed and reliability recommendations for the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines”. The SLI is co-sponsored by Council Members Sally Bagshaw, Lorena González, Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant. SLIs do not specify funding levels, but indicate a policy direction that Council Members wish for staff to evaluate.

Continue reading “Center City Connector Survives Budget Hurdle, May See Improvements”

Are Ride-Hailing Services Helping or Hurting Transit?

As ride-hailing services grow in popularity and transit use declines in many cities, a new study reports Uber and Lyft are luring bus and light rail riders from the public transportation system. The study collected data from 7 major U.S. cities, including Seattle.

Previous studies suggested shared mobility services were complementing public transit, but researchers at the U.C. Davis Institute of Transportation Studies found ride-hailing services have reduced the use of bus services by 6 percent and light rail by 3 percent. The data did show ride-hailing serving as a complementary mode of transportation with commuter rail services, with ridership increasing 3 percent. High-quality, long-haul transit actually benefits from improved access while short-haul, low-quality transit has a lot to lose.

2016 U.C. Berkeley study found that of Seattle’s 54,000 Car2Go members at the time, about 3 percent sold their car and a further 9 percent abandoned plans to purchase another. Although most Car2Go users increased their Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by moving trips from transit to Car2Go, this gain in VMT was more than offset by people that sold their vehicles and therefore paid for car use by the mile.

However, there are important differences in ride-hailing and car-sharing; cost, ease of access, and likelihood of traveling in a group.

“Although we found that ride-hailing can be complementary to transit and reduce vehicle ownership for a small portion of individuals, we found that (overall) these services currently facilitate a shift away from more sustainable modes towards low occupancy vehicles in major cities,” wrote the lead author of the report, Regina Clewlow, in a statement.

“It’s a sign that those transit systems aren’t meeting the needs of the traveling public,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, transit and mobility director at SDOT.

However, with increasing transit ridership in Seattle, that conclusion doesn’t apply here, said Hastings.  Instead, he argued that “we can’t meet demand fast enough, and ride-hailing services are filling that need.”

With Seattle’s rising transit ridership, Hastings said other cities are beginning to follow the city’s lead reconfiguring their transit and street system, in part by prioritizing lanes for transit. And SDOT continues to make investments in HOV lanes, Hastings said, pointing to the seven RapidRide corridors planned — two-thirds of the Madison Street BRT line will be a dedicated transit lane.
Continue reading “Are Ride-Hailing Services Helping or Hurting Transit?”

I-405 Express Lanes Successful, Necessary for I-405 BRT

ST Express bus enters the ETL lane at Bellevue (Image by author)

WSDOT’s express toll lanes on I-405 opened in September 2015. Having recently passed the two-year mark, the Legislature may consider next year whether they should continue. At stake is not only the improved efficiencies of the managed lanes. As Peter Rogoff highlighted last week, an end to tolling would force a rethink of the Sound Transit BRT program that only makes sense if buses can move reliably in well-managed lanes. The loss of tolling revenues would also defer highway investments benefiting drivers.

By many measures, the lanes have been a success. At peak, each express lane carries more vehicles than each general-purpose lane. In some places, vehicle throughput in the tolled lanes is up to 30% greater than the regular lanes. Overall, the busiest parts of the corridor are now transporting 20% more vehicles, or 30% more people, than before. Pricing allows more people to travel with greater reliability and higher speeds than the congested GP lanes.

The lanes have been popular with drivers from the beginning. Politically, they were less favored at first. Improved operations, a strategic retreat on night and weekend tolling, and toll-funded investments at the north end, have made the lanes more popular.

Transit Performance: The lanes also deliver faster and more reliable transit performance. Metro travel times on I-405 have improved 15-29% in the PM peak, and 3-7% in AM peak. Community Transit times have improved 7% northbound, and are more reliable in both directions. In 2015, Community Transit added $2.6m in schedule maintenance costs on I-5 (added service hours so buses could arrive at their scheduled times). Community Transit has not needed to make similar investments in the more reliable I-405 corridor. The variability of travel times on I-5 remains twice that of I-405.

Sound Transit reports a +1% improvement in performance on I-405 routes, vs. a 6% deterioration on other routes in the same time. Ridership has increased 4%. Continue reading “I-405 Express Lanes Successful, Necessary for I-405 BRT”

Issues to Watch in the Seattle ST3 Alignment

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

Last month, Sound Transit announced an ambitious plan to wrap up alternatives analysis in 18 months for the Ballard-to-West Seattle ST3 plan. They’re not promising that this will actually bring delivery forward from 2030 for West Seattle and 2035 for Ballard, but it should reduce risk of further slippage.

We have a pretty good idea of where this line will go, as indicated by the “representative alignment” at right. However, there are three interesting questions that will affect how much this project costs and how many people it serves. Remember also that money is time; a more expensive project increases risk of not having enough money in time, and slipping out opening day by a few years.

The ship canal crossing. In a guest post last month, Seattle Subway covered a lot of the issues. A relatively inexpensive bridge would include a drawbridge that would open fairly frequently. More height means fewer openings and more costs. This is a fairly clear tradeoff of budget and schedule risk for escalating train reliability.

Or, with more cost and technical risk, Sound Transit could tunnel under the crossing. Given the depths involved, this would mean running deep underground through a lot of Ballard. This limits the number of potential stations but also avoids various mitigation headaches.

Similarly, a relatively low crossing could replace the current Ballard Bridge, with adequate space for cars, pedestrians, bikes, and transit. SDOT loves this idea because it would take paying for it off their plate.

Midtown Station. The default is for this station is 5th & Madison, which is well within the walkshed of today’s stations. Pushing the station further up Madison would bring dense neighborhoods and massive ridership generators into the system. Besides a pile of apartments, adding the hospitals and even Seattle University to the high-capacity transit network would right a historic wrong.

On the other hand, the downtown tunnel would have to be a few hundred meters longer, and the station would have to be deeper. Both would increase cost and risk. Moreover, it would require two undercrossings of I-5 instead of zero. Sound Transit performed this technically complicated operation once to build University Link, and has little interest in doing so again. Lastly, the known coalition in favor currently consists of the First Hill Improvement Association, a certain high-level transportation official, and me. That’s not enough.

Alaska Junction. From well before the ST3 vote, the segment to West Seattle has always been advertised as an elevated segment. For fans of Chicago, Tokyo, or the Seattle Monorail Project, segments of elevated track are a delightful part of an urban scene and often a welcome respite from the rain.

However, it’s worth observing that this region has never built elevated track through heavily populated areas. Sound Transit has always opted for an underground, retained cut, or surface alignment after receiving community input. Opposition even forced the monorail off Second Avenue, onto the current track on Fifth, before it died. Undoubtedly, some people will look at mockups like this West Seattle Blog photo and be horrified. Or they will ask — simplistically — why others are getting a tunnel and they are not.

That said, burying that track is essentially a beautification project, while the other modifications would be material improvements to the efficiency or usefulness of the train. So it’s a little harder to justify spending more money and possibly delaying delivery.

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There is a very real tension between getting everything cheaply, and as soon as possible, and having light rail do everything we would like it to do. The coming process will be a strong indication of what people really care about most.

Metro Shuttle Service to Seahawks Games Ends

CenturyLink Field from 4th & Weller (Image: Bruce Englehardt)

Metro will no longer operate shuttle service from several park-and-rides to Seahawks games at CenturyLink Field.

The news came in an email from the Seahawks to season ticket holders:

The Federal Transit Administration has ruled that Metro Transit is no longer permitted to operate its game day bus service from the Eastgate, South Kirkland and Northgate park-and-ride lots. Seahawks fans that normally use this bus service will need to find alternate means of getting to CenturyLink Field for Seahawks games.

There are a number of great alternatives already in place, including regular Metro service, Sound Transit ST Express buses, Sounder Trains, and Light Rail service.

To find the best mode of transportation to CenturyLink Field on gamedays, visit Metro’s Trip Planner. Enter your address and find schedule information for transit options throughout the Puget Sound.

Long-time readers and Seahawks fans will recall that FTA rules restricting shuttle operations to sports events are not new. In 2008, the FTA declared that public transit operators could not operate shuttles to sports events if a private charter operator was willing to do so. After a charter operator entered the market, Metro was unable to offer game-day shuttles. Metro shuttles were restored in 2010, thanks to an appropriations bill amendment inserted by Senator Patty Murray. The amendment granted Metro an exemption from the FTA rule. The charter operators who had briefly taken Metro’s place were more expensive, less convenient to access, and did not accommodate handicapped fans. A subsequent lawsuit by charter operators against the Murray amendment was unsuccessful.

Metro’s exemption expired in 2016. During the 2016 season and early 2017 season, as Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained to us, the Seahawks contracted for game-day operations and that partner subcontracted to Metro. The Seahawks now appear to have ended the arrangement with their contractor.

Continue reading “Metro Shuttle Service to Seahawks Games Ends”

News Roundup: Natal Creeks

POTD 02/7/07 - Future city

This is an open thread.

Supporting Transit-Oriented Development

An architectural rendering highlighting future possibilities near the Rainier Beach Station.
Credit: VIA Architecture

Building transit doesn’t automatically bring growth and development. Just look at the Rainier Beach Station: eight years after opening, there are still are no multi-story apartment buildings towering over the track or mixed-use retail lining Martin Luther King Drive. Instead, there is little new development aside from a series of townhomes to the northwest.

In recent months during the working week, on average roughly 1,980 riders boarded the train daily at that station — about a quarter less than at other nearby stations.

“Why does transit-oriented development happen in some places, but not others?” was a questioned posed to a panel of for-profit developers speaking during Building Transit, Building Opportunity. The day-long conference, organized by the Puget Sound Regional Council, focused on techniques used around the region to build transit-oriented development.

“Upzone, that’s really the most important thing,” said Eric Campbell, CEO of Mainstreet Property Group, offering his advice to cities preparing for light rail. “The quicker we get there and think about what we are planning, the [sooner the] reinvestment will happen.”

And think big, don’t just do 10-acre upzones, he added.

Campbell pointed to Kirkland as an example. Because the city is not upzoning, older single-families are being torn down and replaced by larger homes. That doesn’t add density to the city, a key ingredient in creating walkable communities linked by transit.

Continue reading “Supporting Transit-Oriented Development”

STB Endorsements Beyond Seattle for November 7

These are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for the November 7, 2017 elections outside Seattle. In Seattle, we endorsed Cary Moon for Mayor; and Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González for City Council.

As always, we choose candidates entirely based on their positions and record on transit and land use.
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45th Legislative District, Senate: Manka Dhingra supports the continued expansion of the regional transit network. Her opponent, Republican party operative Jinyoung Lee Englund, is focused on “skyrocketing car tabs” and familiar but ill-defined promises to reduce traffic congestion. Lee Englund is likely to continue the current Senate majority’s attacks on Sound Transit if elected.

King County Executive: Dow Constantine has a long list of accomplishments, including ST3, ORCA LIFT, the multi-agency U-Link restructure, the end of Metro’s 40/40/20 rule that kept it from rolling out new service in Seattle, getting ST into the transit-oriented development and affordable housing business, and the list goes on. Constantine’s opponent is running to oppose East Link.

Continue reading “STB Endorsements Beyond Seattle for November 7”

Everett’s New Transit Network: Frequency, or Coverage?

Will this bus travel further or more frequently? (photo by author)

Everett Transit’s ongoing work on a 20-year Long Range Plan has reached its halfway milestone, marked by the presentation of service options for the public to discuss. The service options will be up for public feedback until the end of the month, either in person or via an online open house. A draft Long Range Plan will be released early next year and a final version is planned to be adopted by the end of March, guiding the agency’s service standards well into the 2030s.

Continue reading “Everett’s New Transit Network: Frequency, or Coverage?”

Cary Moon for Seattle Mayor

Although the stated transit and land use policy differences in the Seattle mayor’s race are small, we believe that urban planner Cary Moon has the stronger commitment to transit priority, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and adding all types of housing stock to serve all who would like to live in Seattle.

Much more than allied organizations, Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsement emphasizes a strong track record of improvements, rather than policy statements, for transit and denser land use. Admittedly, for both candidates the record is rather thin. To make things even more difficult, they have broadly similar policy proposals. But when Cary Moon has participated in public life, it has been to struggle against the primacy of the automobile and create more inclusive communities.

Both candidates broadly support the HALA plan currently in motion. Both also want to pursue duplexes, townhouses, and accessory dwelling units in our single family zones, which would correct the most glaring deficiency in the plan. There isn’t much to go on, but their biographies suggest that Moon is more committed to this outcome, which will require a willingness to offend significant constituencies. The Seattle Times endorsement of Durkan says it quite well:

“It’s unclear how much Durkan would disrupt the status quo on housing and traffic.”

On transit, the outlines of future investment are established: Sound Transit 3 and the Move Seattle plan. Luckily for us, both candidates broadly support these plans. The real question is implementation: in the thousand conflicts that will arise between high-quality transit, safe bike infrastructure, and maximizing car throughput and storage, what will win? Again, Cary Moon’s history of fighting for the first two, her training as an urban planning professional, and the signals sent by the respective endorsers of each candidate suggest an answer. Again, the Times:

As mayor, Moon would accelerate the city’s transit planning. She says Seattle’s streets are too “convenient” for drivers and more must be done to persuade people to ride buses or bicycles.

As people concerned that driver “convenience” is killing pedestrians and bicyclists, and blocking the rapid flow of buses, we couldn’t agree more.

STB is also endorsing Teresa Mosqueda for Position 8 and Lorena González for position 9 on the Seattle City Council, as we did in the primary.

Mosqueda earned the support of urbanists by pushing back against calls to require 25% mandatory “affordable housing” set-asides in new developments — a number that has stalled housing construction in San Francisco. She understands that the right number is different for each development. She will neither give away too much to neighborhood associations that have been at odds with renters (of which she happens to be one), nor to developers. Her opponent, Jon Grant, was on the HALA committee and was the one dissenter from the final list of 65 tactics to grow the housing supply.

González waltzed into office with her support of HALA, and once again is running against a neighborhood activist, this time Pat Murakami. Murakami was part of a group of individuals who filed petitions to hold up upzones around various Link stations. If you haven’t used your democracy vouchers yet, González has not maxed out on her spending limit (while Mosqueda and Grant have).

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Dan Ryan, and Brent White.