Mercer Island Giving LimeBike a Try

LimeBike at UW Station

Last year Mercer Island settled its lawsuit with Sound Transit for some money to improve access issues for the future Mercer Island Station. I’m pleased to say that one of those programs will be easy to like: a 25-Ebike pilot program with Limebike, running from mid-July to mid-October.

The Mercer Island Reporter says that Limebike would have shared data, responded to safety and parking issues within time limits, and rebalanced bikes weekly for free. For a monthly subsidy of up to $1,625, Limebike will rebalance bikes every weekday. Enter the settlement money.

Riders will pay the usual E-Bike rate of $1 plus 15 cents per minute.

Most of Mercer Island’s road network is poorly optimized for buses. Alternative measures like this one come at nominal cost and are likely to somewhat improve transit accessibility on the island. Unfortunately, it’s not clear there are enough “reverse commuters” heading deeper into the community in the morning to insure adequate turnover of bikes and reliable supply in the afternoon. The City should do what it can to encourage trips other than peak-direction commutes to make this a program that helps more than 25 people a day.

This Year’s Climate Initiative

“AirPollutionSource”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

True to their word, climate activists that found reasons to oppose I-732’s carbon tax have gathered the signatures for a new measure, I-1631. It’s now virtually assured of appearing on your November 2018 ballot.

The measure would levy a “pollution fee” on the carbon content of all consumed fossil fuels, and electricity generated or imported here. On January 1, 2020, this would be $15 per ton of Carbon. In each new year, this would increase by $2/ton plus inflation, until Washington’s mandated 2035 greenhouse gas goals are met, and the board judges that compliance with the 2050 goals is likely.

The revenue, after administrative costs, has numerous specified uses. The Department of Commerce would develop a budget (“investment plan”) for approval by a Board appointed by the governor. Some limits on the spending:

  • 70% must be used for “clean air and clean energy”, broadly defined as projects that can reduce emissions. The definition of these projects is very long, but includes public and nonmotorized transportation, as well as “affordable transit-oriented housing”. The investment plan must reduce annual carbon emissions by 20m metric tons in 2035 and 50m tons in 2050. 15% of this fund must “directly reduce the energy burden of people with lower incomes.” Beginning in the mid-2020s, a further $50m of this fund would be dedicated to support workers leaving the fossil fuel industry.
  • 25% is for “clean water and healthy forests” to improve their resilience to climate change and ocean acidification.
  • 5% is for “healthy communities,” basically wildfire preparedness and relocating tribes threatened by sea level rise.

There are further restrictions: 35% of the total must be spent to benefit “pollution and health action areas” (read: poor census tracts) and 10% must be supported with a formal resolution of an Indian tribe.

Utilities can get pollution fee credits for some carbon reduction activities. There are other fuel exemptions for fossil fuels to be exported, aircraft fuels, fuels for “agricultural purposes,” coal plants that will close by 2025, and so on.

This is not a perfect measure: in my view, it would be better to focus the spending more on maximizing carbon reduction and less on carving out funding for various constituencies. But this is a standard that little legislation can pass: building a coalition requires compromises. In any case, the spending seems remarkably focused on emissions reduction and mitigating climate impacts.

This measure would support transit use and dense neighborhoods in two directions, by both discouraging more energy-intensive versions of traveling and living, and providing direct funding to increase the supply of both.

Most importantly, as with I-732, the critical thing is to address the emergency of climate change and not obsess over secondary political priorities. It’s clear that conservatives won’t embrace a climate action plan that addresses many of their policy priorities, so the only coalition that can do something about this issue is one that embraces the entire center and left. This is a good initiative. But even if you have reservations, I urge you to support it strongly if you want Washington to do something about climate change.

Study: Uber Can Boost Transit Ridership, But It Increases Congestion

By [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
According to a University of Toronto paper published in June, the growth of Uber has increased transit ridership in cities across the United States, with some caveats.

The conclusions of the paper support the premise behind last-mile pilot projects on Mercer Island and in Pierce County, and backs up Lyft’s strategy to integrate ride hailing with public transit. It also validates certain parts of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s controversial proposal to reappropriate Seattle Transportation Benefit District funds towards last mile service at Rainier Valley Link stations.

The paper posits that “Uber reduces transit ridership in smaller MSAs [Metropolitan Statistical Areas] while increasing ridership in larger cities.” The paper also finds that Uber has a greater ridership effect on rail lines and in wealthier areas.

In cities with a robust transit network, Uber is more likely to become a viable last-mile option. In that context, Uber can and does amplify the marginal value of reserving exclusive right of way for transit, as “results suggest that Uber reduced commute times for public transit users while increasing congestion.”

Continue reading “Study: Uber Can Boost Transit Ridership, But It Increases Congestion”

News Roundup: Attracting Imitators

Route 410 at Westlake Park

Route 410 in Westlake Park by SounderBruce in the Flickr pool

This is an open thread.

Convention Place Station Set To Close Permanently on July 21

Convention Place Station, not long for this world

Mark your calendars for July 21. That’s the date that Convention Place Station will close permanently, heralding the upcoming end of bus service through the downtown transit tunnel.

As we mentioned last month, buses will access the tunnel using a temporary ramp from 9th Avenue between Pine Street and Olive Way. The ramp is nearing completion and the adjacent bus stops, located on 9th Avenue on the north side of Pine Street, will be installed in the coming weeks.

After the changeover takes effect, all seven bus routes in the tunnel will use these two bus stops, eliminating the long-standing tradition of spotting the next inbound bus from the mezzanine level before rushing down the stairs to one of three bays. According to Metro’s Jeff Switzer, the new stops will appear as time points in GTFS data (including One Bus Away) in early August and on printed timetables in September, but until then we can use the 3-to-5 minute delay for peak trips spelled out by the convention center environmental review.

Continue reading “Convention Place Station Set To Close Permanently on July 21”

Call for Primary Endorsements

Credit: Secretary of State’s website

For the ten years this blog has existed, STB has been offering endorsements in public elections.

This year, we are planning to be a little more nuanced, and offer some ratings in various races, along with endorsements where there is a clear and obvious best choice. We look solely at the candidates’ records and positions on transportation and land-use policy, and only at candidates who have a credible chance of getting elected. While the generic Democrat is superior to the generic Republican on these issues, we’re focused on races where there is something more than party difference.

For the primary election, we are looking at races where there are at least three credible choices, such as the Congressional District 8 open race.

Are there races where you think there is a candidate who merits our endorsement? Are there races where you want us to do a run-down on the candidates and offer ratings? Let us know in the comments below.

You can peruse the list of candidates by county, or at the state level.

The deadline to register online to vote in the August 7 primary election is today.

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

What’s in the One Center City Action Plan

Credit: Bruce Englehardt.

The One Center City (OCC) Advisory Group, tasked with developing a plan to increase mobility in central Seattle during the impending period of maximum constraint, released its recommendations for near term capital projects in June. The plan must still be approved by the Seattle City Council and other stakeholders.

Early discussions proposed transformational changes downtown and large-scale bus service restructuring, neither of which materialized in the final list of projects and improvements.

The OCC group was formed in order to proactively keep megaproject-related pain to a minimum over the course of 2019-21. During that time, Highway 99 will move from the viaduct to the new deep-bore tunnel, the Washington State Convention Center expansion will close critical parts of the grid, a critical bridge in South Lake Union will be closed and rebuilt, and the transit tunnel will close to buses forever.

5th and 6th Avenue northbound lanes; 4th and 2nd Avenue improvements

The most significant changes that the OCC group endorsed are northbound transit-only lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues. Some Metro routes will move to those streets from 4th, while Community Transit and Sound Transit buses would remain in their original configuration.

The hope is that the 4th Avenue buses will benefit from a lower volume of bus traffic. SDOT would also invest in queue jumping and signal priority for buses on both 2nd and 4th. However, since overall traffic on all downtown streets is expected to increase during the period of maximum constraint, the gains for 4th Avenue buses might be marginal.

The OCC group punted on major proposals

Continue reading “What’s in the One Center City Action Plan”

News Roundup: Payroll Tax

End of the Line for @KCMetroBus 124 at Tukwila Station

KC Metro Bus 124 at the end of the line by AvGeekJoe in the STB Flickr Pool

This is an open thread

Puget Sound region added most U.S. transit boardings in 2016-17

Rush hour buses on 3rd Avenue. Credit: Bruce Englehardt.

The Puget Sound region’s transit investments are paying off. In recent years, ridership has grown faster in the Seattle region than anywhere else in the United States, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC.)

That trend is true over the long term, as total ridership in the Puget Sound region has grown by 19 percent since 2010. That growth is larger than any U.S. peer city’s over the same timeframe. In the short term, Puget Sound transit agencies saw a larger absolute increase in boardings—5,108,582—than any other urban area in the United States during 2016-2017.

Continue reading “Puget Sound region added most U.S. transit boardings in 2016-17”

East Link News: Downtown Redmond Almost Ready For Proposals, Construction Elsewhere Progressing

The future Bellevue Downtown Station, at the north end of the almost finished tunnel

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Board was briefed about progress on East Link and the related Downtown Redmond Link Extension. East Link construction has been well underway for a few months, with visible progress from Mercer Island to Overlake, while the Downtown Redmond extension is still in early design and is awaiting the publication of supplemental environmental documents.

For the Downtown Redmond extension, Sound Transit plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) in October that will kickstart the selection process for the project’s design-build contract. Similar to the contract used to build South 200th/Angle Lake, the design of the stations and construction of the entire project will be left to a single contractor and would compress part of the planning timeline. Sound Transit expects to have development agreements with the City of Redmond, King County, and WSDOT in place by early next year. The 3.4-mile Downtown Redmond extension is expected to begin construction sometime next year and open in 2024, with two stations and 1,400 total parking spaces.

Continue reading “East Link News: Downtown Redmond Almost Ready For Proposals, Construction Elsewhere Progressing”

Podcast #63: On an Optimistic Note

  • 0:00 – intro
  • 2:19 – CCC to Trolleybus
  • 9:19 – ORCA
  • 10:50 – Gondola
  • 15:41 – Montlake transfers
  • 22:48 – Northgate truncation?
  • 27:04 – Strategies for advocacy
  • 31:15 – Rainier BRT
  • 32:25 – CCC’s future
  • 33:39 – link transfers
  • 40:09 – Colman dock
  • 42:10 – escalators in link stations
  • 43:53 – advocacy for HOV lanes
  • 50:06 – miderm elections
  • 52:04 – Sounder expansion
  • 54:44 – Northgate Link restructure

Apologies for the audio quality on my end… Skype wasn’t cooperating.

ORCAized RRFPs Now Free For the First One

As part of the fare restructure that brought King County Metro’s $2.75 regular flat fare, effective this week, King County Metro has gotten all four counties in the ORCA pod to make the first Regional Reduced Fare Permit free for each recipient, also effective this week.

Regional Reduced Fare Permits are for seniors 65 or older, or riders with a qualifying disability.

The original proposal was just going to cover King County. Now Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties are all waiving the $3 RRFP fee for first-time recipients, as well as for renewing expired RRFP ORCAs. Trading in non-ORCA RRFPs for the ORCAized version has also long been free.
Continue reading “ORCAized RRFPs Now Free For the First One”

Olympia Quietly Helps Affordable Housing

Before and After (Mt. Baker Housing/Mithun Architecture)

Transit and Urbanism advocates are used to a defensive crouch when hearing news from Olympia. But buried in a supplemental budget earlier this spring, the Departments of Ecology and Commerce created a great new program.

The Governor’s Budget request included $7.4m for the Healthy Housing Remediation Program (HHRP) . Nonprofit organizations identify contaminated sites that would be good candidates for affordable housing, and the Program selects some to clear up to reduce costs of that development. The first round of applications was due Saturday. Scott O’Dowd of the Department of Ecology says that two applications are submitted, and three more requested an extension to tomorrow. They span the state from Kennewick to Bremerton, and include a project in Seattle’s Chinatown.

The prototype for this approach is happening at Mt. Baker. Ecology is cleaning up the legacy of a gas station and dry cleaner on behalf of Mt. Baker Housing. In addition to planning grants for the process described above, the appropriation awarded $6.2m for this. This will enable construction of Maddux: a 144-unit, $55m affordable project to begin in 2019 and open in 2021.

The Maddux is unusual: the process for nonprofits to get State grants requires them to go through their municipal government to create a “Redevelopment Opportunity Zone”, a process that few can complete.  Historically, Ecology has cleaned up a site and then passed on the cost to a market-rate developer, resulting in less affordable units, O’Dowd said. The HHRP will dramatically streamline this process, though much depends on Ecology’s 2019 budget request this fall.

There’s no telling how many seemingly obvious development opportunities are wasting away due to these kinds of obstacles. It’s great to see the State stepping to up to address contamination issues that affect the entire community, since the actual perpetrators are long gone.