Sound Transit to use PTC on all Sounder trips by December

Sounder South at Safeco Field. Credit: Andy Tucker

Sound Transit will implement positive train control (PTC) on all Sounder trips by the end of 2018, according to Sound Transit Director of Systems Engineering Peter Brown.

In a presentation to the Sound Transit board on Thursday, Brown summarized the progress of PTC implementation. In 2008, the federal government mandated that all commuter rail systems implement PTC on all trips by 2020, and show progress on implementation by the end of 2018. Sound Transit expects to beat the deadline by two years.

Continue reading “Sound Transit to use PTC on all Sounder trips by December”

Last Call: Donate to STB

Friends, I was struck by something I heard Chris Hayes say on a recent podcast, in the middle of a conversation about the tumult in the country today and how we might turn a corner.  He said:

And then finally I think about how do we create shared public life, civics based institutions. The thing that I think of, as a New Yorker, always is the subway, which is right now a total disaster. But the subway is a little like … The subway in New York is a little like the NHS in England, which is that it really is used by everyone. It is a public thing that people commute to their Wall Street jobs in, and they commute to their nursing jobs in, and their teaching jobs in, and their janitorial jobs in, and homeless people use it, and it is a genuine shared public entity of which we have so few in American life.

Not many cities in America have a public transit system used by people from all walks of life. But Seattle kinda does. And the main reason I keep this blog running is that I really want to keep it that way.  Because “shared public entities” are at a premium right now. They can give us empathy, help us get over our fears, and help create a shared understanding.  Transit in particular gets us out of our steel boxes and into the public realm. And I love it, even if it frustrates me sometimes.  I love riding it to work, or with my kids or home late at night. And I want everyone to have the opportunity to use it. I want it to be better.

We’re lucky to live in a city with such a diverse media ecosystem that can cover the transit system. But even in Seattle, the landscape for journalism is changing  radically.  We need your support more than ever.

Each year hundreds of donors have stepped up with a generous one-time donation or a monthly subscription to support our work. While advertising does contribute to our bottom line, it is the donations from the small percentage of our readers who provide the lion’s share of our operating budget. This year we hope you’ll consider joining them.

This is (hopefully) the last time I’ll bug you in 2018.  So go ahead and make a donation before you head out on that holiday weekend.  And thanks.

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Oh, and since we’ve gotten a few requests for it, we’ve set up a Patreon page if you prefer to give that way instead. (Update: link fixed)

News Roundup: Finally

Streetcar at Yesler Terrace

This is an open thread.

Bellevue Prepares for Autonomous Vehicle Transit

The CommutePool service (image: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue is planning a “CommutePool” network of autonomous rideshare services. The goal is to launch the service in 2019, connecting riders from southeast King County to major employers in Bellevue and Kirkland.

Last week, Bellevue and Kirkland jointly submitted a $3 million grant application to the US Department of Transportation’s ATCMTD program (Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment). That program funds model deployments of new technologies for transportation safety and efficiency. A decision on the grant is expected by October. The project also anticipates matching funds from both cities and contributions from major Bellevue employers in the Commute Trip Reduction program. Employers already pay for employee use of vans, so this can be an important source of matching funds. The projected cost of launching the program is about $9 million.

Riders will access the system via a smartphone app which Amazon will develop. The app can select pick-up and drop-off locations, find available parking at park-and-rides or leased parking areas, and reserve seats at specific times. Luum, a Seattle firm actively managing commute options at many Eastside firms, will coordinate the program at participating businesses.

The CommutePool service would connect SE King County cities to major employers in Bellevue and Kirkland (image: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue would like to operate the service with autonomous vehicles, but could lease non-automated electric vehicles as needed to start service by mid-2019. An RFP to obtain vehicles is likely soon after the grant is approved. Waymo plans to purchase 82,000 autonomous vehicles for deployment beginning 2019, and General Motors have also said they will deploy autonomous vehicles commercially next year.

In Bellevue, the CommutePool vans will serve major buildings and designated curb pick-up and drop-off locations.

The proposal has buy-in from many of the largest Bellevue and Kirkland employers. Employers with some 33,000 employees on the Eastside have signed letters of commitment to support the program.

Continue reading “Bellevue Prepares for Autonomous Vehicle Transit”

To Get More People Riding Transit, Make it Faster

Ask any dieter: the last ten pounds are the hardest.

For the past several years, Seattle has been racking up amazing year-over-year declines in the percentage of downtown commuters who arrive by single-occupancy vehicle, despite adding tens of thousands of new jobs and residents.  This didn’t happen magically – it required hard work and coordination from various agencies and employers (and voters) to create viable alternatives to driving.

But even though a 25% drive-alone rate is pretty darn low, and the envy of our peer cities in America, it’s not low enough. Downtown will be a mess for the next few years, and we need to take even more cars off the road to have a chance of keeping things moving.

The last few percent are the hardest.

Continue reading “To Get More People Riding Transit, Make it Faster”

City Council votes to reject private bus service, reallocate Transportation Benefit District funding

The City Council voted yesterday afternoon to kill a controversial private bus pilot program proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan. The pilot was opposed by unions and transit advocates, who mounted a last-minute advocacy push to defeat the program over the past two weeks.

The bill will also, as Martin reported, reappropriate unused Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funds for bus service improvements, and provide ORCA cards to Seattle primary and secondary students. Durkan is expected to sign the ordinance.

Continue reading “City Council votes to reject private bus service, reallocate Transportation Benefit District funding”

Suburban construction freezes can kill density—or create it

New multifamily construction in Sammamish. Courtesy Sky Sammamish.

The Puget Sound region’s extreme growth hasn’t gone over well with some residents. (To put it mildly.) That backlash has caused some frustrating policy snags, like the lawsuit that has placed Seattle’s MHA upzones on hold.

But construction in Seattle continued on plenty of multifamily projects. That hasn’t always been the case in the rest of King County. In recent years, several suburban cities, including Issaquah, Sammamish, and Federal Way, halted construction on new projects by enacting construction moratoria.

Under the Growth Management Act, a city can pause work on any or all kinds of new projects by enacting a construction moratorium. The power is broad, but not unlimited. A city has to cite specific detrimental impacts caused by new construction, and use the period of the moratorium to enact code changes that address the problem. A moratorium only lasts six months at a time, but can be renewed indefinitely. Issaquah, for example, renewed its moratorium three times before letting it expire earlier this year.

You might think that those laws are the product of NIMBYism. In some cases, that’s true. But the reality is more complicated.

Continue reading “Suburban construction freezes can kill density—or create it”

Open Letter to Sound Transit: Study First Hill Station

by KATIE WILSON and SAM SMITH, Transit Riders Union

Dear Members of the Sound Transit Board,

The Transit Riders Union is concerned that Sound Transit is passing up an important opportunity to serve the densest neighborhood in Washington: First Hill. Thousands of constituents in each of your districts commute to First Hill each day. And while we understand that there are some cost concerns with the slightly additional track length and tunneling twice beneath Interstate 5, we urge you to conduct a study of this possibility with sincerity and in good faith.

We recommend relocating the Madison Street station from 5th or 6th Avenue to a location between 8th and Boren Avenues. This relocation would make much of First Hill walkable to the thousands of workers, residents, and medical patients. Meanwhile, it would decrease the walkshed redundancy of building a station so close to the existing line beneath 3rd Avenue.

First Hill is a large employment center for many sectors, from nursing to administrative to custodial, that historically and presently employ mostly women, and they deserve to be considered equitably in comparison to other regional employment centers with white-collar, mostly male tech workers (South Lake Union) and blue-collar, mostly male workforces (Paine Field), which will rightfully be served upon completion of ST3.

Presently, some First Hill commuters ride Sounder to King Street Station, where they then must either:

  • connect to a slow and circuitous streetcar,
  • ride Link into Downtown and walk to a connecting bus as many as three blocks away (as in the case of Metro routes 2 and 12), or
  • ride two buses or a combined distance of one mile

Each of these options is unnecessarily sluggish. Imagine if these workers could walk out of King Street Station, cross over the International District Station, and ride in minutes directly to First Hill. For the many other First Hill commuters whose irregular schedules prevent them from accessing Sounder, they deserve, and would exponentially benefit from, a direct connection the regional Link system.

Many people access First Hill for medical services, including many people with disabilities. Disabled passengers, for whom approaching and waiting for a bus on the steep eastbound streets of Downtown Seattle can be difficult or prohibitive, deserve simpler, faster, more comfortable, and more accessible service to First Hill.

The Transit Riders Union is very grateful for all the work that Sound Transit does for the riding population of the Puget Sound, and we thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

Katie Wilson is the TRU’s General Secretary. Sam Smith is the Disability & Access Committee Co-Chair.

News Roundup: Breaking Ground

Convention Place Station from above

Convention Place Station from Above by SounderBruce in the Flickr Pool

This is an open thread

Beacon Hill Tunnel Now Has Cell Service


Fifteen months after the DSTT, ST announced T-Mobile had service in the Beacon Hill Tunnel, though as of Tuesday evening Bruce Englehardt was unable to use it there. AT&T was supposed to launch Monday, but as of Tuesday had run “into technical issues” and was targeting later in the week for data. A voice signal was available Tuesday morning. Verizon should also follow later this week. Though delayed from its original target of late 2017, this meets the mid-2018 target set last November.

As someone who has done most of his transit travel in the internet age, it can be hard to fathom the uncertainty and monotony of riding without an internet connection. While reading a book is a decent substitute for swiping on your phone, the inability to communicate with your appointments, check on the timeliness of transfers, and plan trips on the fly seems hard to live without. Those things were all possible even with an interruption at the Beacon Hill tunnel, but now they require a little less anticipation.

King County restarting Northgate TOD project over City Council objections

A map of the site from the original RFP’s fact sheet. Courtesy Metro.

In a surprise move earlier this month, King County officials decided to restart the process that could eventually construct hundreds of affordable housing units within walking distance of the Northgate Station.

The decision will likely delay construction of an eventual dense, mixed-use transit oriented development project. The revamped process could yield hundreds more units of housing, including additional affordable housing.

Why King County cancelled the RFP

Metro, which owns the parcel that will eventually become the site of the TOD project, cancelled a request for proposals on June 5. Two companies, Lake Union Partners and Stellar Holdings, answered the original RFP. The developers did not respond to requests for comment.

In a notice sent to the bidders, and in subsequent public comments, county officials explained that they cancelled the RFP to incorporate new and anticipated changes to laws governing the RFP process.

A new state law, which came into effect June 7, allows local governments to give surplus property to developers for free, as long as the property will be used to house families who earn 80 percent or less of the locally adjusted area median income.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering whether to upzone the Northgate TOD plot. As Bruce pointed out, an upzone could make Northgate a major urban center.

Northgate Station under construction from the TOD site. Courtesy Sound Transit.

Diane Carlson, Metro’s Director of Capital Projects, was involved in the decision to cancel the initial RFP. Carlson says that the county wants to take advantage of the statutory changes because of the site’s potential.

“We’ve given [ourselves] an opportunity to potentially create more housing on that site, and we want to take advantage of that,” Carlson says.

What might go into a new RFP

Continue reading “King County restarting Northgate TOD project over City Council objections”

We Need Your Support

This past week I was contacted out of the blue by someone who’d newly returned to Seattle, found an old post of mine here on the blog, and wanted to meet to learn more about the history of transit and land use in the city and how she could help make things better.

It reminded me that there are tens of thousands of people moving to the Puget Sound region right now and many of them immediately get curious about our transit system, how it came to be, and why the city is built and designed the way it is.  They find their way to STB, where we try to tell the story of Seattle transit and give the context for why things are the way they are and how they could be better  We don’t try to be the first to report on a transit story, but we do try to be the best.  We strive to show the real impact of transit and land use decisions on every day lives, and to cover what actually matters in the fast-changing world of urban mobility.

Thanks to the support of our readers, the past few years we’ve been able to open a paid staff position to augment our volunteers and improve our coverage. We’ve been very happy with he results and are proud to welcome our third staff reporter, Peter Johnson.

With your support, we intend to continue this work for years to come. Today we’re kicking off our annual fundraising campaign. Each year hundreds of donors have stepped up with a generous one-time donation or a monthly subscription to support our work. While advertising does contribute to our bottom line, it is the donations from the small percentage of our readers who provide the lion’s share of our operating budget. This year we hope you’ll consider joining them.

In the next year, we will have more than enough to keep us busy: scoping and analysis for the next round of Link extensions, a new SDOT director, the fate of the Move Seattle Levy and the Streetcar, and much more.

If your contribution has lapsed, now is a great time to start up again. We have lots to do!

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Monorail can be HCT, Study Says


Earlier this month, VIA architecture released its study of the potential for higher capacity and usage of the Seattle Center Monorail. Though activists had been asking for years for ORCA integration to bring the independent line into the fare system, it was the commitment to bring big-time sports back to Key Arena that finally made Seattle serious. Mike Lindblom summarized the key figures ($) in the study.

VIA identified a series of improvements that could double the monorail’s capacity to 6,000 people per hour per direction. Each train can hold 300, but 250 is the maximum for timely boarding and deboarding. More than 6,000 would have diminishing returns: at off-peak times today Link can comfortably carry about 2,700 people/hour, expanding as Link goes to higher frequencies and 4-car trains in the 2020s.

To get there, the monorail has to fix the cluttered station arrangement at Westlake and make it faster for people to get on and off the trains. Faster loading and unloading (a ponderous process today) can get headways down from 5 minutes to 2.5. The trip itself only takes 90 seconds.

Continue reading “Monorail can be HCT, Study Says”

Seattle May Revamp its TBD

Back in 2014, Seattle voters approved a $60 license fee and 0.1% sales tax for a Transportation Business District (TBD) that would fund bus service through 2021. Originally conceived as a way to avoid bus cuts after a countywide measure failed earlier that year, before the election this was re-framed as an opportunity to increase bus service on overcrowded and/or unreliable corridors that mostly lie within the City of Seattle.

So far, so good. But Metro doesn’t have the bus base capacity or drivers to run all the service Seattle wants to pay for:

Today, the STBD buys about 270,000 annual service hours, equivalent to 41 buses running 18 hours per day, every day. Non-service expenditures include fare discounts, equity programs, the low-income rebate on the VLF, planning and administration, etc.

Given this problem, or opportunity, the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee on June 5th endorsed some amendments to the STBD to allow several new initiatives:

  • Reduce the threshold for the definition of a “Seattle” route from 80% to 65% of stops. This makes the 106, 120, 124, 345, 372, 373, and E Line eligible for funding by Seattle voters. While these routes have significant suburban tails, most reasonable observers would agree that they are important to Seattle residents. Some of these routes use different Metro bus bases and are therefore not as constrained.
  • Extend free ORCA passes from 61% to 100% of Public High School students, plus “Seattle Promise” college students.
  • Funding capital transit improvements, both correcting the worst deficiency in the original measure and shoring up troubled projects from Move Seattle.
  • Most controversially, fund “contract pilot transit services” — small, privately-operated transit vehicles to serve markets with unusually high SOV shares (read: Uptown and First Hill) and solve last-mile problems in the Rainier Valley and Alki.

The changes sailed through the committee with only minor amendments, but Committee Chair O’Brien postponed the scheduled June 11th review by the Full Council. Kevin Schofield reports that the two-week delay is because labor has some concerns about the fourth provision.

It’s probably not surprising that a town like Seattle would have second thoughts about partially privatizing transit services using non-union vendors, even when there is no alternative. However, one might also wonder how effective these services will actually be. It’s hard to scrutinize a concept with essentially no details, but there’s a reason Metro doesn’t send many smallish vans buzzing around second-order demand lines: it’s a very expensive way to serve a small number of people, however much it improves the lot of a handful of riders. Indeed, some of discussion in June 5th’s meeting cast doubt as to whether the new routes would even make up the 3,000 car trips the city is looking to eliminate during the period of maximum construction through 2021. One hopes that this program would provide reasonably direct and frequent routes while remaining extremely well-integrated with the network of Metro buses. If it does, it would be a worthy augmentation to our transit system.

It’s Time to Make the ORCA Passport Program Work for All

By Joel Sisolak, Senior Director of Sustainability and Planning, Capitol Hill Housing

If you have an ORCA card, there’s a good chance you got it through your employer or your apartment building. The largest group of ORCA users get their pass that way, taking advantage of one of two “Passport” programs (ORCA Business Passport Program for employers and the Multifamily ORCA Passport for apartment-dwellers).

Either way, you are a beneficiary of the most effective transit pass program in the system. In 2017, King County brought in $76 million in revenue from the ORCA Passport programs for approximately 35 million boardings.

The ORCA Passport Program is both effective in getting people on transit and popular, but unfortunately, it doesn’t serve most low-income people. In 2016, Capitol Hill Housing (CHH), a city-wide affordable housing developer and community development organization, surveyed people living in apartments along Pike Street. We found that in market rate buildings, 68 percent had an ORCA pass subsidized by their employer. In contrast, only 22 percent of the residents in affordable housing buildings had Passports.

Far fewer affordable housing residents are offered an ORCA Passport by employers. These residents must resort to more expensive individual passes or walking long distances to work, school or appointments. Continue reading “It’s Time to Make the ORCA Passport Program Work for All”

News Roundup: Housing, Housing, Housing

Cascade neighborhood

  • King County Metro restarts affordable TOD process at Northgate link station, hoping to get more affordable units
  • Lakewood’s SR 512 P&R closing for 4 months, here are alternatives
  • Naming the new Seattle tunnel
  • City scores a victory in MHA process
  • 160 affordable units near the Rainier Beach Link station
  • Rezoned, revitalized Aurora
  • Vancouver looking at up zoning single family neighborhoods, correctly realizing that small-scale development will lead to greater variety and affordability
  • Nice to see some pushback against the “millennials fleeing the cities” narrative
  • Elliot Bay Trail getting improvements courtesy of Expedia
  • ST says Beacon Hill Station cell service coming in the next few weeks
  • Sightline helps you have “the talk” about housing with friends and family
  • Drawings and plans of never-built Seattle
  • Speed humps make people drive faster?
  • Relatedly, pedestrian and bike deaths double
  • Employee Hours Tax is dead. Here’s the housing and homelessness plan: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is an open thread.

Cascade Neighborhood by SounderBruce in the STB Flickr Pool

Lyft and Uber Tackling Last-Mile Problems

Lyft geolocation
Geolocation around Westlake station. Courtesy of Todd Kelsay.

The latest update to Lyft’s app will include a trip planning feature designed to encourage passengers to consider combining rideshare or carpool with transit, walking, and bikeshare. The move comes as part of a large push by the ride hailing company and its arch-rival, Uber, to try and capture a share of the first mile/last mile market. The service will go live by the end of June.

Lyft has won contracts with agencies around the country to provide final mile service, and recently launched pilot final mile programs on Mercer Island and in Pierce County. Eventually, ride hailing services could reduce the need for park and ride spaces.

“If we can get more people to solve the first and last mile problem with rideshare, that’s good for us. Ultimately, if that gets more people on light rail, or taking buses, that’s good for the environment, and that’s what we’re about,” says Todd Kelsay, Lyft’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest.

Continue reading “Lyft and Uber Tackling Last-Mile Problems”