Updated Designs for Lynnwood Link Stations, Including Public Art

Aerial view of Mountlake Terrace Station, looking southwest (courtesy of Sound Transit)

After a bit of inactivity, the flurry of Lynnwood Link news continues for yet another week. The baseline schedule for Lynnwood Link has been set, and the last round of design open houses we mentioned have been scheduled for later this month and late next month.

Like all open houses, the online version has all the renderings and explanatory text that one could ever ask for. Lynnwood Link’s four stations have not quite reached 90 percent design, the final step before things can be locked in and ready for construction, but have progressed substantially. Thanks to the cost-savings measures adopted by Sound Transit, there’s been quite a few changes from 60 percent design, including slightly smaller garages in new spots and skinnier platforms that come one escalator short of a pair.

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NYC to Offer Low-Income Half Fare; TriMet Rolls Its Out on July 1

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Assembly Speaker Corey Johnson have struck a deal that will give low-income New York City transit riders a roughly 50% fare discount starting next year, under a program called “Fair Fares”. Up until the past week, Mayor de Blasio resisted the discount, saying the state should pay for all things transit.

The council had already approved $212 million to cover the subsidy for all of 2019, for riders earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level (the same standard King County Metro uses). The deal will have the City covering just $106 million of subsidy next year, with the expectation that most of the estimated 800,000 New Yorkers who would be eligible would not take full advantage of the opportunity.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has been in the process of moving to smart card and cardless fare payment for several years. Regardless, the magnetic-strip MetroCards will be able to handle the low-income discount, just as they do for senior and disability discounts. Riders are able to reload MetroCards most of the ways we can reload ORCA cards. The main difference is you have to choose an “unlimited-ride MetroCard” (a pass) or a pay-per-ride MetroCard.

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Could West Seattle Have a Tunnel – and Housing, Too?

West Seattle and Downtown Seattle from the air (Wikimedia)

The West Seattle Link extension was promised to voters as three stations (Delridge, Avalon, and Alaska Junction) running on an elevated guideway. Some West Seattle residents are advocating for the removal of Avalon station to pay for a tunnel under the Junction.

Sound Transit has pushed back on this idea, arguing that removing a station is inconsistent with the voter approved plan, and that routing the train through the golf course would be frowned upon by the FTA, which doesn’t like infrastructure projects befouling local parkland. But what there were a way to keep all three stations and afford a tunnel under the Junction.  Could West Seattle have its cake and eat it, too?

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New Housing Coming Near Northgate Link Stations

A few of the planned and permitted projects near Roosevelt Station (Source: RDG/GGLO)

While work Northgate Link moves past construction and into cleanup and testing, developers have been busy drawing up plans for new housing near its stations. Opening day is only three years away, so projects that have started early design review should be able to finish up around the same time that light rail service begins running, though some sites are further behind than others. Using the Seattle in Progress map (which is slightly outdated due to changes at SDCI), it’s clear just how popular Roosevelt and U District stations are, while Northgate is seemingly lagging behind in terms of active proposals.

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Minimizing Downtown Transfer Pain in ST3

Sound Transit Central Link Light Rail Pulling Into SoDo Station... in FZ40 "Dynamic Art" HDR Mode

SODO Station and the SODO busway: Future home of West Seattle – southside train transfers
Photo by Joe Kunzler / flickr

When ST3 is built out, it will have two major downtown transfer hubs, at already-very-busy Westlake Station and International District / Chinatown Station. In all likelihood, transfers at these stations will not be fast, and transfer volume may be one of the factors setting minimum headway on the busiest line.

There will also be transfers going on that don’t have to happen at those two stations, and some that will certainly be happening at SODO Station. For this post, I will be focusing on the transfers that can and should happen in the SODO.

The suggestions below are probably not in alignment with the Level 1 options going forward, but there is still time to give some attention to SODO station-area details.

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News Roundup: Small Apartments

Streetcar at Yesler Terrace

This is an open thread.

Streetcar at Yesler Terrace by SounderBruce in the STB Flickr Pool

Dockless Bike Share is Popular, Now Infrastructure Needs to Catch Up

Unlocking a Spin bike Image: Lizz Giordano

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly a year since Seattle became the first American city to have a large dockless bike share presence.

With the initial permits set to be reviewed this summer, SDOT’s Joel Miller reported to the committee last week on the system, which now includes 10,000 bikes provided by 3 companies (presentation slides and video).  Thanks to a unique deal the city crafted with the companies, anonymized user data is provided to UW which is then analyzed and passed to SDOT, which is how we’re able to get such accurate data (only through December of last year – this year’s data will come soon).

Overall, the results were positive.  The number of rides per day seems to get lower as the weather gets lower, but not catastrophically so.  The city conducted a professional survey of residents and found that 74% had a favorable impression of bike share.  Miller contrasted that with the unsolicited comments the city received via phone and email, which were 85% negative. That’s not surprising, but it’s helpful to contextualize how residents really feel about these things. Most relevant for our purposes, 75% used bike share to access transit at least once while 30-40% used it to access transit often.

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Beginning of the End for Convention Place Station

Demolition work at Convention Place, as seen on Saturday

This week, crews started demolition work along the 9th Avenue wall that runs along the edge of Convention Place Station and its bus layover lot. The demolition work will be conducted primarily on weekends from now until October and is being done to prepare for the eventual turnover of Convention Place to the convention center for its $1.6 billion expansion approved last month.

Once the dust settles, the former retaining wall along 9th Avenue will be replaced with a temporary ramp that allows buses to access the transit tunnel without using the two existing entrances along Olive Way (which feed into the platforms at Convention Place). 9th Avenue will be reconfigured as a two-way transit street, with new stops to replace Convention Place Station. Northbound riders will see an average of 3 to 5 minutes of travel time added to every trip because of traffic signals and on-street congestion, especially affecing Route 255 in trying to reach Olive Way with a four-turn maneuver. The ramp will only be in use for a few months before convention center construction requires full use of the block, which is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.

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ST Releases SR522 BRT Details

Last week, Sound Transit kicked off a summer of public events centered around SR 522 BRT. “Project Refinement” will be done in early 2019, the board selects a final project for preliminary engineering in January 2020, and the line should actually open in 2024. This phase collects input on station locations, parking location and type, road and sidewalk changes, access, branding, and connections to other transit.

Daytime headways will be 10 minutes between Bothell and Shoreline; only every other bus will continue to Woodinville. Service would be 19 hours a day, except for 17 on Sundays.

Moving West to East, the level of priority treatments will vary. On N 145th St, there is currently no bus lane, but the project will add these around stations.

As the bus turns North onto SR522, there will be a new northbound Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane to compliment the existing Southbound one. Through Kenmore, there are already BAT lanes both ways. Through Bothell, there is currently nothing but BAT implementation will be only partial.

All of these improvements are a significant step forward. Yet they serve as a reminder that there is no free lunch in the real world of North American transit planning. When agencies make the decision to economize down from light rail, whether to BRT or some other cheaper measure, the most expensive piece of that investment — right-of-way — has to give way.

On the other hand, At the moment, ST is assuming light-rail like off-board payment along the line — meaning there would be a ticket machine at each stop, and no means of paying on board. It’s still quite early in the process, so these preliminary ideas are subject change. Nevertheless, 100% off-board payment is relatively low-hanging fruit and it’s good that wasn’t value-engineered away.

ST Spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham says ST is working on a distinct brand for I-405 and SR522 BRT to separate it from both ST Express, Metro, and Community Transit services. This would add a seventh bus brand to King and Snohomish County.

Large Residential Projects Approved by Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace

The site of Mountlake Terrace’s “Terrace Station” project, seen from a passing bus

When Lynnwood Link begins construction early next year, it will be joined by two major residential projects in southern Snohomish County as cities begin to attempt their own transit-oriented development.

In Mountlake Terrace, work has begun on the “Terrace Station” project, which will build a complex of three apartment buildings just south of the future Link station at 236th Street Southwest. The first phase, expected to open 2020, will consist of a five-story building with 250 apartments and ground-floor retail space along a new street that leads directly to the Link station. At full buildout, the complex will have 600 apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space.

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A Few Words About Housing Supply

In response to several requests, this post is adapted from a recent Twitter thread that readers seemed to like, even though I impulsively started it during a break at work while irritated at some tweets.

There’s a straw man that gets a lot of abuse in online housing debates: that the more-market-oriented variety of pro-housing activists (like several of us at STB) think “housing is simple” or “supply will fix everything.” That’s never been true, and I thought it might be helpful to clarify what’s driving the refrain of “add housing supply.”

When we talk about supply, what we’re saying isn’t remotely “supply will fix everything wrong with housing.” It’s “without more supply, it’s really freaking hard to fix anything.” Adequate supply makes it much easier and cheaper to do lots of good things, both in and beyond housing. The environment of extreme housing scarcity (which has been around throughout the adult lives of many West Coasters under 35!) corrupts every public effort not only to house people, but to improve their lives in myriad other ways.  In an environment of housing scarcity, landlords have so much leverage that they can completely hijack progress on many goals that have consensus support among all factions of the West Coast left.  Wage increases, subsidized health care, and subsidized child care end up allowing people to pay more for rent–and, where housing is scarce, landlords can & will demand that they get all of the extra money such efforts put in people’s pockets.

Making housing public (while it may be desirable for other reasons) doesn’t address housing scarcity on its own.  A government agency that operates public housing is still a landlord, and it still has leverage, even though that leverage may get exercised in ways other than higher rent.  Where there’s scarcity, public homes often get allocated according to connections, insider relationships, seniority in the area, or just plain luck.  Rich people make illicit deals with the lucky winners to occupy units.

Scarcity gives landlords leverage.  But the best way a tenant can exercise leverage over any landlord, private or public, is to say “Screw you, I’m moving.” That can’t happen where housing is scarce.  But it can happen.  I’ve experienced it: in my 20s, making $11-12 per hour, I moved out of an apartment where the landlord was trying to sharply increase my rent, because other apartments were readily available at reasonable cost.

Getting to an environment where “screw you, I’m moving” is a credible threat can’t happen immediately.  But it is possible, and it requires three policy changes: 1) tenant protections to make moving cheaper (which might include lower penalties for early move-out, lower security deposits, and a uniform low-fee application); 2) serious fair housing enforcement that is strong enough to address widespread discrimination against renters of color and renters with disabilities; and 3) yes, sufficient supply.

“Sufficient supply” has to be at a local level.  A frequent criticism of supply-side housing advocates is that more supply helps at a region-wide level, but can have localized negative effects that people ignore. That’s valid! It doesn’t give a tenant any helpful leverage when new supply is all in other places, or when it’s all extremely expensive because there’s not enough of it.  Saying “screw you, I’m moving… 20 miles away where there’s housing” isn’t real leverage.  Real leverage for tenants is the ability to move locally, so that a move doesn’t upend a tenant’s life or create a horrible commute.

How to achieve that will vary, a lot, between neighborhoods.  In wealthier areas with less risk that low-income tenants will be displaced, it’s good enough to say “upzone, and let developers build as fast as possible.” But we need to add supply in poorer areas too, because tenants there are so much more prone to exploitation and displacement when there is housing scarcity.  It’s impossible to address housing scarcity in an area without adding lots of housing there.

And, again, supply by itself is not enough.  More supply in low-income areas will not fix poverty.  It won’t ever provide housing for the lowest-income populations, which don’t tend to be served well by housing markets.  Initially, it won’t even provide working-income tenants with any leverage, until enough is built that scarcity is eased. All these things are true.  And, even so, we still need to build everywhere in the area to have any real effect on the condition of scarcity.

If we don’t fix scarcity, other efforts will continue to spin their wheels like an articulated bus on ice. Anti-displacement and tenant activists will be Sisyphuses, trying to roll a heavy rock of landlord leverage uphill.  Anti-poverty efforts will founder, because money will go to landlords instead of staying in the pockets of people with low incomes.  Public housing won’t serve residents with very low incomes well, because people with more money will muscle in.  New market construction will all be for the rich, even where it’s basic; so-called “luxury” apartments are rarely much different from cheap ones, except for their location.  Housing abundance will ease all of these issues.

Supply is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. But enough of it would make all of the other work that housing advocates do much easier, and is absolutely necessary to ease the stranglehold that landlords currently have on their tenants.  It’s a huge project, that will take years of building, and there will certainly be problems to address along the way.  But we need to keep building for the dream of a future without housing scarcity to have any possibility of coming true.

East Link Photo Tour (Part 2: Bel-Red and Overlake)

The falsework for East Link’s future crossing of I-405 in Bellevue

The third and final (for now) installment of our photo tours is here, and covers the most exciting and fastest-changing part of East Link. Continuing from Tuesday’s tour, the downtown Bellevue tunnel will emerge at the east end of Bellevue Transit Center, and has a mixed bag of public views. These photos were all taken throughout the month of May, so they may not be completely up to date.

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Pollution Fee and $30 Car Tabs Using Same Signature Gatherers

Smog Over Tacoma Harbor, photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration / wikicommons

Correction: The original post referred to a “carbon tax” in I-1631. The initiative actually refers to a “pollution fee”, a methodology different from the carbon tax in Initiative 732.

I recently ran into a couple stack petitioners seeking signatures for four initiative petitions, starting with Tim Eyman’s latest $30 car tab effort, and ending with a petition to “stop corporate polluters”. The cognitive dissonance between the two petitions was a sure sign they were paid gatherers. While one was argumentative and making up answers (but honestly admitted he travels all over the country), the other seemed forthright and gave me straight answers to my questions.

It turns out that the firm employing the paid gatherers is Your Choice Petitions, an outfit known for regularly including Eyman petitions in their efficient multiple-petition efforts. The petitioner confirmed the number of the bottom petition as Initiative 1631, the latest state carbon tax pollution fee initiative.

Your Choice was nowhere to be found on the campaign’s PDC filings. However, a $150,000 debt, for “signature gathering”, to AAP Holdings, Inc., was.

Per I-1631 spokesperson Nick Abraham, AAP Holdings was indeed contracted to collect a certain number of paid signatures (an overwhelming portion of the paid signature costs), and the campaign discourages, but has no control over, whether petitioners can carry other petitions which the member organizations in the campaign tend to be ideologically aligned against. However, since the paid petitioners are hired by the contractor, the campaign does not have an easy way to communicate directly with the petitioners to express such wishes. He also stated that this is a common practice by serious initiatives, and that “There are only so many petitioning firms” in the state.

AAP Holdings has also received at least $658,000 from the no-grocery-tax initiative campaign (which is part of the stack the paid gatherers asked me to sign). No campaign with serious money behind it turned up for the Eyman initiative.

Per Abraham, the campaign has 1300 volunteers, who have collected the majority of the signatures turned in so far. He expressed confidence the campaign can reach the signature requirement, but that both the volunteer and paid effort are needed.

On the question of whether going through paid gathering firms helps indirectly finance other initiatives, Abraham argued that campaigns do not achieve economies of scale by doing this, but campaigns are generally not set up to hire petitioners directly, and that the petitioning firms also do no achieve economies of scale, since gatherers are paid by the signature.

Abraham pointed out furthermore that the initiative (See full text) lists public transit as one of the delineated recipients of funding from the carbon tax pollution fee. [Section 4(1)(d)(2)]

I-1631 is an initiative to the People of the State of Washington, with a July 6 deadline for the campaign to deliver the petitions to the Secretary of State.